Please don’t do this

A week ago, I decided to test Wikipedia’s defenses, and vandalized several pages. At the time, I thought it was for the greater good. While the system could handle the small changes I made, I didn’t think of the larger social consequences.

Others have done the same, and articles on both Slashdot and Boing Boing mean that many may get the idea that they should also do the experiment themselves. If this happens, it could ruin a beautiful thing. At the very least, it will damage a beautiful thing. Please, do not make the mistake I made in thinking that one person’s changes might not hurt the resource. That may be true, but it is true only in the same way that one person’s vote doesn’t really make a difference. When thousands of people start to think that their changes are small enough that they don’t matter you start to have a significant negative effect on the resource.

When large groups of people come together to collaborate on a project, it can have multiplied effects. Wikipedia, Linux, and Slashdot are just three examples of this. If large groups decide to independently “test” Wikipedia, we could easily have another example, an example of just how destructive an online mob can be.

To correct an earlier statement: if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t. There are better, non-destructive ways to check Wikipedia’s accuracy. Please learn from my mistake and do not repeat it.

Better yet. Come to Wikipedia’s defense: get the RSS feed for Recent Changes, and watch for changes that may be fraudulent.

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  1. Rob Harwood
    Posted 10/15/2004 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    As a long-time user of wikis, including the original WikiWikiWeb, I respectfully but strongly disagree with your advice to “Please don’t do this.”
    Please, do it to your heart’s content. Push it to the limit. You will quickly learn the strengths of active and well-organized wikis like Wikipedia. You will NOT be able to bring it down or damage it in any long term way. Even large groups like Slashdot are not be able to. In fact, the original WikiWikiWeb was slashdotted dozens of times and is still alive and kicking today. It’s been around since 1995, one of the oldest websites around. Wikipedia is even stronger.
    This may sound like proud blustering, but there are underlying facts which justify the claims. For instance, saying “it could ruin a beautiful thing” shows a misunderstanding of how wikis work. There are so many distributed defense mechanisms built into wikis, that any malicious campaign would be detected and thwarted very quickly. We know this from experience. It has already been tried several times.
    Do not be afraid to test a wiki. As long as there is an active community behind it, and a good webmaster, it will recover and come back stronger.
    A side benefit of testing a wiki is that it will attract attention, and as some of the attackers realize the strength of wikis, they might even join in the community.

  2. Posted 10/15/2004 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    While it may have been Slashdotted, it wasn’t a flash mob of people specifically aiming to do damage. I agree with you that “testing” a wiki site is unlikely to do damage. But there was the possibility, a very real possibility, that you would start to see thousands of people “testing” at the same time. Those directing Wikipedia noted that this could cause more serious problems, and I have to assume that they know what they are talking about.

    The problem is moot. Concerted efforts to introduce false information into wikis will happen. The question is what can be done to help manage this.

4 Trackbacks

  1. By Mario tout de go... on 9/5/2004 at 1:23 pm

    Toutes les expériences ne sont pas bonnes à tenter…
    Alex Halavais est une personne expérimentée en matière d’utilisation des nouvelles technologies au service des apprentissages. Dans le contexte où nous venons de débuter l’utilisation d’un wiki, j’ai lu avec beaucoup d’intérêt ce billet du type “…

  2. By Micro Persuasion on 9/8/2004 at 8:42 pm

    Wikis Wobble But they Don’t Fall Down
    Online Journalism Review’s Mark Glaser: Can journalists trust Wikipedia? SUNY Buffalo’s Alex Halavais: Let’s test it by inserting 13 provably incorrect entries.

  3. […] Det är ett förfarande som nog börjar bli lite väl vanligt nu. Först var förmodligen Alex Halavais med sitt Isuzu-experiment, men många har följt i hans spår – något som Halavais själv tog avstånd från redan 2004. Vinterns Seigenthaler-kontrovers (som jag uppmärksammade i december) kan på sätt och vis också föras till kategorin “experiment med faktafel”. […]

  4. […] a écrit sur son carnet qui est du type « mea culpa », « Please don’t do this » qui suit de quelques jours celui-ci, « The Isuzu Experiment » […]

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