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Aug 20 2007   6:06PM GMT

WikiScanner: How Googlebombing Virgil led to radical transparency for Wikipedia editing everywhere

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

Sometime this past summer, future CalTech grad student (and self-styled”disruptive technologist”) Virgil Griffith decided that he wanted to see if he could elevate his personal home page to the top of search results for “Virgil.”

While that dream may or may not come true, there’s no doubt that the “quotes” should now be removed from disruptive technologist, (along with my self-styling). Virgil hasn’t written an epic quite yet but he’s clearly provided a useful tool to journalists and inquisitive netizens alike. Meet WikiScanner.

In two weeks, Griffith created a Web site that matches the IP addresses attached to edits of Wikipedia pages with the IP addresses listed in the publicly accessible whois database for companies and media organizations worldwide.

Using a simple, minimally designed interface consisting of a form, text, dropdowns and hyperlinks, Griffith’s site allows users to first determine what the IP address of an organization is and then plug it into to discover what edits have been made from that IP range.

By providing the means to cross reference who is editing what, Virgil’s code nearly approaches poetry, at least judging by Jimmy Wales, who told the AP that “It is fabulous and I strongly support it.”

It’s not quite fair to say that the effort is all about the Virgil Google bomb, either. According to this Wired article, Griffiths was inspired by the discovery that many Congressional offices were editing their own entries. Wondering what corporations were doing the same thing, he created WikiScanner.

As Griffiths notes wryly in his WikiScanner FAQ, the reaction to the tool’s discoveries has been more or less as expected. The CIA and FBI, Disney, Diebold, Exxon and a rapidly expanding universe of other entitities, large and small, have been editing away. Take a look at Wired’s “list of salacious edits” to see how far the count of “minor public relations disasters” that WikiScanner has enabled — and be aware that any edits that you make to Wikipedia may not be as anonymous as you might think.

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