Now here’s an interesting tidbit from the BBC, courtesy of my daughter (who’s a graduate student in London): Wikipedia ‘shows CIA page edits.’ It seems that staffers at the CIA, the Democratic National Campaign Committee, the Vatican, and many other well known institutions (who may be trying to remain nameless) have been ‘caught’ sprucing up various wikipedia articles. (Well of course this is a tarty British take on the matter!)
And the secret sauce that pulls back the curtain? Revealed at the end of the article, a simple mashup that links the IP addresses of contributors to an article (obtained through the “history” page) with a directory of organizations owning IP addresses. Both are publicly available. The results are hardly surprising.
The point is that when information is so widely and freely available, we have to begin to worry about the sources of information and how it is presented. There’s not a lot of anonymity on the public web — and quite possibly this is a good thing. But building community also includes notions of trust, expertise, and terms of reference. For example, when starting eBay, Pierre Omidyar came up with the notion of “rate the buyer” and “rate the seller” as a way of organically building trust within the community of eBayers . . . and the rest is history.
I hate to admit it but perhaps Ronald Regan said it the best. “Trust but verify.” What’s interesting is that mashing-up sources and IP addresses provides a whole new dimension to verification. I wonder what else is possible? Let’s start a discussion — comments?