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WikiWash wants to help users see ‘what our defacto archive is up to’

At first, they pitched a story. They’re journalists, after all. And they wanted to look into Wikipedia. It was March, Rob Ford was still in the running for Toronto’s mayor, and they wanted to uncover the edit wars happening back and forth between campaigns.

But the whole purpose of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s TechRaking event is to bring a new perspective to journalism, and the product developers there pushed back at Luke Simcoe, a data journalist at Metro News Canada, and the rest of the digital team. What if instead of creating a story, they made a product so people could find the answers for themselves?

The result, after Metro’s pitch was picked and the team worked with product developers from The Working Group, is something that does just that, in beta for now — WikiWash. It’s pretty simple, too. Plug in a Wikipedia URL on a topic, then hit “wash.” You’ll see edits as they happen, the 50 most recent edits, plus you can click on the usernames of those editors and see what else they’ve been up to. And as of Thursday, WikiWash is now open source, meaning the code is available for people to customize and improve it.

“We learned that whilst there were lots of tools available for surfacing different types of stories, most had a steep learning curve and focussed on analyzing historical activity rather than surfacing data in real time,” said Holly Knowlman with The Working Group, in an email. “It is this real time component that makes WikiWash different, giving users the ability to track Wikipedia edits as they occur, following breaking stories as they are written.”

Simcoe and Metro’s digital team started out thinking of a story about the people behind the edit wars on Wikipedia. Now, he thinks the real story is about Wikipedia itself and WikiWash can help “promote knowledge of what our defacto archive is up to.”

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CIR’s event in Toronto was one in a series of TechRaking events, bringing together journalists with designers.

“All the design challenges focused on how to unlock access to data,” said Joaquín Alvarado, chief executive officer with CIR, in a phone interview.

“WikiWash was an amazing opportunity for us to take what we know about designing and developing software and apply that to creating a cool tool for public good,” Knowlman said.

And part of that process, she said, meant auditing Wikipedia’s current engagement tools.

“This taught us that there are many options out there already for tracking and analyzing Wikipedia edits. Examples include WikiWatchdog, a clone of the now-defunct Wikiscanner, which highlights Wikipedia pages edited anonymously from within a specified organization, and, which ranks pages based on the number of edits.”

WikiWash, however, is more simple, Simcoe said in a phone interview. And he has been surprised, he said, by the sheer volume of edit wars happening on Wikipedia. They found the page of a small town in Manitoba that’s going through a tug of war to show the town in a positive way, and they found that the person who was one of the most active editors on Rob Ford’s Wiki page also spent a lot of time grooming Gwyneth Paltrow’s.

“It’s really made me rethink a bit of what the tool can do,” he said. You can use it to catch bad-faith edits, “but it’s also a really great tool for learning more about how Wikipedia works.”

Metro launched the tool and a package about it in October. On Oct. 21, Alberta reporter Jeremy Nolais wrote a piece using the tool for Metro.

To Simcoe, it’s part of what journalism is now about — offering readers tools and services that they can use themselves.

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Any features that come next for WikiWash will depend on how people are using it. Alvarado would like to see a pop-up window, for instance, to show how active a person is as a Wikipedia editor.

“We’re really curious about what kinds of stories will emerge – and we’d love to hear suggestions about ways we might be able to improve WikiWash in the future,” Knowlman said.

WikiWash can help users have deeper engagement, Alvarado said, and it helps them better understand how the site and the internet works. And from that perspective, it’s an important tool, he said, “because so much of what we’re trying to do is reimagine our relationship with readers and users.” Read more


Publishers resurface evergreen content; Thailand’s the place to be for drone journalism

Here’s our roundup of the top digital and social media stories you should know about (and from Andrew Beaujon, 10 media stories to start your day):

— New York magazine is posting old content to its Facebook page, and Business Insider is doing so on its homepage, according to Digiday’s Ricardo Bilton. How timestamp-transparent should publishers be when resurfacing evergreen stories?

— Drone journalism won’t take off in South Africa or the U.S. anytime soon, according to Sydney Pead at PBS MediaShift. But in Thailand, “it’s considered a hobby” — and easier than playing Playstation 3 @Free PSN Codes Generator App .

— A new Twitter bot called @congressedits tracks Wikipedia edits from computers on Capitol Hill. David Uberti looks at six of the recent edits at Columbia Journalism Review. Read more

Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner (Wikimedia Foundation photo).

Knight innovation award winner selects MuckRock for $25,000 grant

Wikimedia’s Sue Gardner received the Knight Foundation’s first innovation award Monday night and she paid it forward with a $25,000 grant to MuckRock, an open government platform that eases requests for public records.

Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation which operates the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, was honored for her leadership in digital media and universal access to the Internet. Since she was named as foundation executive director in 2007, Wikipedia has grown to become the world’s fifth largest website, the Knight Foundation said in a press release. Read more


Wikipedia blackout forces Jon Stewart to turn to news outlets for SOPA information

The Daily Show
Wikipedia’s blackout to protest SOPA forced Jon Stewart to learn about the legislation another way: “With Wikipedia down, I had no choice but to turn to a notoriously unreliable source: the news,” he said, grimacing. || Related: 8 million people used Wikipedia’s tool to look up contact information for their elected officials (Techdirt) | TV news shows spotty about disclosing parent companies’ support of SOPA (The New York Times) | SOPA proponents launch TV, radio print ad campaign (Adweek) | Dilbert creator Scott Adams writes, “I have one of the most widely stolen intellectual properties in the history of the world. Emotionally, I’m okay with that. It feels like a compliment. Financially, I have no idea if piracy has hurt me in any meaningful way.”

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How to access Wikipedia during Wednesday’s SOPA blackout

Despite jokes about Wikipedia’s SOPA blackout being tough on high school students, the site is an important reference for journalists working on deadline. USC Annenberg journalism professor Andrew Lih offered a couple of blackout workarounds during a BlogTalkRadio show hosted by the Columbia journalism school:

Read more


PR firm edited Wikipedia entries to remove negative information about clients

The IndependentBBC
People at the British public relations firm Bell Pottinger altered Wikipedia entries to remove negative information and add positive statements about the firm’s clients. Wikipedia has suspended 10 user accounts, and volunteers are going through the entries to see what was changed. Among the changes, according to The Independent: removing references to one man’s drug conviction and another’s arrest for bribery. “Bell Pottinger behaved unethically and broke several Wikipedia rules in doing so,” tweeted Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, although a company representative said the company’s actions were above-board. Read more


Wales: ‘Journalists all use Wikipedia’

Foreign Policy
During a visit to Qatar for an education summit, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales told Foreign Policy that he considers the collaborative encyclopedia to be social media, but not a social network. With millions of people relying on Wikipedia, Wales says the question is not whether but how they use it.

Journalists all use Wikipedia. The bad journalist gets in trouble because they use it incorrectly; the good journalist knows it’s a place to get oriented and to find out what questions to ask. … We really look for reliable sources — we’ll say, for example, that just because someone wrote something in a blog somewhere, that doesn’t mean it’s a reliable source. We need to get sources, you know, that are quite old-fashioned about it. We’re looking for good-quality academic journals, books, newspapers, magazines — we’d prefer serious newspapers to tabloid newspapers and those kinds of things.

Related: Wikipedia is the most frequently plagiarized source among students Read more


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