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This page is part of the Proceedings of Wikimania 2006 (Index of presentations)

Schrödinger's Wiki: The Quantum Challenge of Media Attention

Author Betsy Devine
Track Projects and Content
License GNU Free Documentation License (details)
About the author
Betsy Devine has a master's degree in engineering from Princeton and many years of immersion in geek sociology, including both Slashdot and Wikipedia flame wars. See her userpage. Her blog and her Wikipedia watchlist reflect wide interests in science, politics, and reputation theory. Dead-tree publications include Longing for the Harmonies (a popular-science introduction published by WW Norton) and Absolute Zero Gravity (a science-joke collection published by Simon and Schuster.)
In quantum mechanics, you can't observe a phenomenon without affecting it. When Wikipedia makes headline news, inbound waves of new visitors challenge the project. I will describe examples of two different challenges. First, the "Swiftboating" edit war (November/December, 2005) began when political bloggers linked to this article, criticizing its POV from both left and right. Within minutes, many new IP addresses were trying to edit the article, some expressing frustration with acts of vandalism. Second, Wikipedia's increasing use as a media source motivated anonymous edits by Congressional staffers, as investigated by WikiNews in January/February, 2006. The "Swiftboating" war typifies what I would call a "vandal wave," set off by negative coverage of Wikipedia, a pointer to a specific article, and new-user frustration with editing tools in conditions of heavy use. The Congressional edits could be described as a "spin wave," where highly-motivated professional writers attempted to shift the spin of important articles. In both cases, Wikipedia gets hit by what looks like a wave of negative contributors. I'll discuss some tools and metrics for each case, including ways to detect/recruit productive contributors. I hope the audience will also contribute new insights.
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