Courting controversy: WikiDashboard gathers information about the social interactions underlying Wikipedia entries and displays it to a user. The entry for former U.S. president George W. Bush, shown above, stood out as the most controversial. The researchers discovered that certain statistics, such as the number of total revisions made to an article, could accurately predict controversy.
The page on Hillary Clinton, for example, shows that the main contributor has put in about 20 percent of the edits. Chi says this suggests that this individual has guided a lot of the article’s direction. In contrast, an entry on windburn shows a much less heated scene: more even collaboration among the contributors.
The researchers released an early version of the tool in 2007 using data released a few times a year by Wikipedia. But Chi says that this version of WikiDashboard was limited, since it didn’t show the speed of change online. His team spent much of 2008 getting access to live data, which Chi says was difficult because of Wikipedia’s limited resources.
Daniel Tunkelang, chief scientist at Endeca, an information analysis firm based in Cambridge, MA, says that the tool is a step toward exploring the social context of Wikipedia entries, but he adds, “There’s some room for compressing this into something more consumable.” By this, Tunkelang means that the software could be more useful to the casual user if it summarized data more effectively. For example, he says that the list of articles that each editor has worked on could be shown as just a handful of easy-to-read tags.
At a talk given by Chi this week, Rob Miller, an associate professor at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, noted that some Wikipedia editors try to rank up a high number of edits just to gain more kudos. He wondered how that tendency might affect WikiDashboard’s measurements should the tool catch on.
Chi’s group is still working on the WikiDashboard, and on Wikipedia data more generally. He says that he’d like to see a system that measures not just simple statistics such as the number of edits made, but also the quality of those contributions.