Last night on NPR’s Future Tense they interviewed, Virgil Griffith, the creator of WikiScanner, a tool that shows who made what edits to entries in Wikipedia. When asked why he created it he said he did it to create PR nightmares for companies that were using wikipedia as a disinformation tool. Indeed on his own blog he says he created the tool to: “To create a fireworks display of public relations disasters for all the world to sit back, and enjoy.” This is a man who is clearly annoyed to see that some companies are attempting to hide behind the anymous posting policy on wikipedia and distort entries relating to their business. An example he used in the interview was of soft drinks manufacturers removing mentions that these drinks were harmful to your health. I think it’s great that he has created this tool as I think it will help clean up wikipedia. Having lived through the nightmare of getting my own business listed on wikipedia I do worry that it will make people less likely to contribute though. When I listed Next Fifteen it created a host of comments about my independence and therefore the entry’s credibility. In truth I never tried to hide my identity and the edits I made were to make sure it was factually accurate and that it met the criteria the ‘wiki police’, as I call them, were telling me the piece had to meet.
I have to say though that if wikipedia has been so abused by big companies, I am surprised that a ‘PR firestorm’ or two hasn’t already started. Or is it simply that nobody has yet really used the tool in anger? Either way I guess from here on in PROs had better be aware that their entries are being watched. Of course I guess they could always make entries using a computer at an internet cafe given the tool relies on the IP address of the computer making the entry. No PRO is clever enough to do that of course.