14 August 2007

Why Openness Matters - Doubly

Here's a great demonstration of why openness is so important.

Wikipedia is famously open, so in general anyone can edit stuff. But this editing is also done in the open, in that all changes are tracked. Now, some people edit anonymously, but their IP addresses are logged. This information too is freely available, so here's an idea that some bright chap had:

Griffith thus downloaded the entire encyclopedia, isolating the XML-based records of anonymous changes and IP addresses. He then correlated those IP addresses with public net-address lookup services such as ARIN, as well as private domain-name data provided by IP2Location.com.

The result: A database of 5.3 million edits, performed by 2.6 million organizations or individuals ranging from the CIA to Microsoft to Congressional offices, now linked to the edits they or someone at their organization's net address has made.

As a result, dedicated crowd-sourcers are poring over Wikipedia, digging out those embarrassing self-edits. For example:

On Christmas Eve 2004, a Disney user deleted a citation on the "digital rights management" page to DRM critic Cory Doctorow along with a link to a speech he gave to Microsoft's Research Group on the subject. Later, a Disney user altered the "opponents" discussion of the entry, arguing that consumers embrace DRM: "In general, consumers knowingly enter into the arrangement where they are granted limited use of the content."


"Removed ECHELON link, irrelevant to article," reads the comment explaining this cut. The contributor's IP address belongs to the National Security Agency.

or even:

Microsoft's MSN Search is now "a major competitor to Google". Take it from this anonymous contributor, whose IP address belongs to Waggener Edstrom, Microsoft's PR firm.

Now that's what I call openness.

No comments: