Wikipedia: to trust or not

Because anyone in the world can edit articles on Wikipedia, can we trust its content? A team of engineers led by UC Santa Cruz computer scientist Luca de Alfaro is working on a solution to this paradox. The full story is available in the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) Newsletter.

The online encyclopedia is among the world's ten most-visited websites. According to the CITRIS Newsletter, Wikipedia's English edition "has more than two million articles, and about seven percent of all Internet users are said to use the site daily. Unlike other, more traditional reference works whose authority stems from the expertise of hand-picked authors and editors, Wikipedia is a collaborative effort, written by thousands of volunteers, some of whom are experts in their fields and others who are not. Its openness to contributions from anyone with access to the Internet is key to Wikipedia's success, but it is also the site's Achilles' heel. Because anyone can edit Wikipedia, the integrity of an article can easily be compromised by a malicious vandal or even a well-meaning contributor. Users who turn to the reference seeking an important answer to a specific question, therefore, can never be sure what kind of authority lies behind any particular piece of information." A story elaborating this problem, including a description of a software program one can use to detect who is editing Wikipedia entries, recently appeared in Wired.

De Alfaro's solution is a software tool that automatically evaluates and indicates the trust value of each of Wikipedia's billions of words. You can try out a live prototype of de Alfaro's system.