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November 13, 2007

Heard the one about the Radio 1 DJ, the comedian and Wikipedia?

Wikipedia1 In general I try to avoid BBC Radio One but in a houseful of teenagers this is sometimes difficult to achieve and, secretly, I do enjoy some of the stuff.  Yesterday morning on the Chris Moyles' Breakfast Show one of the guests was Alan Carr, a UK stand-up comedian.  During the show the discussion turned to Wikipedia and the fact that it was possible to change Alan's Wikipedia entry to say whatever they liked.  Various suggestions were made and members of the studio team began making changes.  This quickly escalated with listeners joining in.  I captured the page (as shown here) very soon afterwards.

It seems to have become fashionable in the mainstream media to knock Wikipedia as an unreliable source of information - for example, I've noticed it being used as the butt of jokes in a couple of recent UK TV programmes.  However, despite the obvious issues, I remain a strong believer in the user-generated approach it adopts.

So... how did Wikipedia stand up to this limited attempt at content disruption?  Pretty well actually.  Within about 10 minutes the page was beginning to get back to normal.  Within the hour, the page had been locked and had reverted to, what looked like, its steady state.  By today, everything was back to normal.

Now, I'm happy to admit that Alan Carr's Wikipedia entry isn't an information resource that many of us worry about on a day to day basis.  But this scenario serves as a useful example of how the system self-heals quite nicely.  Yes, there are problems - but the benefits far outweight them, at least IMHO.

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I look after jazz guitarist friend Mike Walker's wikipedia page - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Walker_%28jazz_guitarist%29 . I have to admit I was quite surprised and impressed with how quickly it was picked up, corrected, flagged for it's 'inappropriate' humorous writing style (the original is at http://www.mike-walker.co.uk/biography/ ) and eventually taken down for infringing copyright, ironically from my own original version of the biog at the above link and MySpace. I ended up rewording it, apparently enough to keep the copyright checkers happy so far! Ade

Someone quoted Wikipedia at a conference I was at Friday, and I've seen a lot of presentations (indeed, probably given them) that use a wikipedia definition for something. In the past it would have been some other source - a dictionary, a different Web site - but I guess these have been dropped because 1) extra effort to find the definition and 2) wikipedia - because of its flexibility - often has a definition more suitable for the point you are trying to make. More current if you like.

Still, I couldn't help thinking how much fun it would be to look at an events page, work out who would be speaking from what and then modify wikipedia to give some misinformation and see if it turned up at the event. Probably my mischievous edit would be fixed, but would it be fast enough? :-)

And there's the classic Stephen Colbert incident, where he told everyone to change the entry for Elephants, and they did (in their thousands). And they still do, from time to time. When it is corrected, the history just says "Colbert" as the reason for changing it back.

View the clip on my blog here http://mashandbangers.blogspot.com/2007/08/colbert-on-wikiality.html

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