Monday, January 31, 2011

Anarchy on Wikipedia, captured visually

There is a picture. It's from Wikipedia, though indirectly:

I found it quite amusing, along with the 99 other variations you can click at Notabilia.

More on that in a second. The reason I found it so intriguing, is because I've been backstage at Wikipedia. I was an early adopter there, back in the early 00s, I contributed to quite a few articles, and tried my damnedest to correct some of the nonsense on the highly volatile Columbine page.

In those days, anyone could change anything, without even creating a user ID, and with no audit trail on who did what. It was just a mess, and some of the articles reflected it.

In most cases, I think most people had the right idea, and would look for legit sources. But it didn't take many ignorant know-it-alls who would plunge right in "correcting" something based on hearsay they had never bothered to check anywhere. (If they had heard it somewhere, that version must be true.)

I witnessed a lot of that firsthand.

The reason Wikipedia got so popular so fast, though,
was that they figured out how to control that. They really cleaned up their act, and it shows. Now, anyone can chime in, but you have to create an account, and a record is left behind of who did what. Editors comb the site looking for weak references and especially controversial articles. They mediate. That's good.

(I finally gave up trying to correct the Columbine entry there, and settled for getting it into my Columbine book. Over time they got most of it right at Wikipedia, too. A few glaring myths keep returning, which gets to me, but I've tried to let it go.)

And now, Notabilia has captured some of that anarchy visually. I learned about it in today's VSL (Very Short List). I'll let them explain:
Now a website called Notabilia has taken 100 of the most controversial articles and turned them into something like an artwork, or a group EKG.

“We analyzed and visualized Article for Deletion (AfD) discussions in the English Wikipedia,” the site’s makers explain. “Each time a user joins an AfD discussion and recommends to keep, merge, or redirect the article, a green segment leaning towards the left is added. Each time a user recommends to delete the article a red segment leaning towards the right is added.“

Look at the visualization itself and you’ll see that the most controversial subjects tend to follow a straight line, whereas the conversations where all parties agree look like swirls.

All of the threads are clickable—they’ll take you to the actual discussion pages.

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