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By GCN Staff

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Wikipedia comes clean quick

This week, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on how an assistant professor deliberately posted a number of errors in Wikipedia in order to see how long it would take for them to be noticed.

As anyone can contribute to this volunteer encyclopedia, we assume the material therein can be easily corrupted, either by ignorance or bias (or both, as this whimsical article in McSweeney's Internet Tendency illustrates). And that this volunteer-written encyclopedia has so many pages (well over 1.4 million at last count), we also have to assume that not even an army of volunteers could possibly double check all the entries for accuracy.

The fibs that professor Alexander Halavais slipped in were deviously subtle: that abolitionist Frederick Douglass, lived in Syracuse, N.Y. for four years, and that the Disney film The Rescuers Down Under won an Oscar for film editing. Both are false, but would you have doubted these "factoids"?

Halavais hypothesized that the obscure errors would "languish online for some time," the Chronicle reported. Instead the Wikipedia volunteers eliminated all the fabrications within three hours of being posted. And the volunteer checkers even admonished Halavais for making stuff up. We've written about both the potential power of and the uncertainties surrounding group-led network projects before, but this Halavais' little experiment certainly does bode well for the form.

Posted by Joab Jackson on Oct 28, 2006 at 9:39 AM


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