Joi Ito points to an ongoing discussion regarding the authority of wikipedia as a source of information and knowledge. The discussion was prompted by an article in the Syracuse Post-Standard that suggests, in part, that wikipedia “take[s] the idea of open source one step too far” by allowing the user to make corrections.
The article has been correctly ridiculed by many, including Mike at Techdirt. In a later posting, he suggests an experiment: why not go to a certain page, insert something provably incorrect, and see how long it lasts.
No matter which side of the debate you find yourself on, this sounds like an interesting experiment. So, I have made not one, but 13 changes to the wikipedia site. I will leave them there for a bit (probably two weeks) to see how quickly they get cleaned up. I’ll report the results here, and repair any damage I’ve done after the period is complete. My hypothesis is that most of the errors will remain intact.
Does that invalidate Wikipedia? Certainly not! If anything, the general correctness and extent of Wikipedia is a tribute to humankind. It suggests the Kropotkin may be right: that the “survival of the fittest” requires that the fittest cooperate. It means that there are very few Vandals like me who are interfering with its mission.
Remember Al Fasoldt, the journalist who disparaged Wikipedia? He was challenged by a Techdirt writer to change an item and see if his change was found. While Fasoldt dismissed the idea, Alex Halavais thought it was an interesting idea. He made 13 changes to 13 different Wikipedia pages, ranging from obvious to subtle. He figured he’d give them a couple of weeks and then fix the ones that weren’t caught. Every single change was found and changed within hours.
It’s a terrible idea to vandalize Wikipedia like this. But it’s a wonderful thing how quickly self-healing Wikipedia is to such attacks.