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Nerd War

We like Wikipedia, but we don't rely on it much. We mostly use it to confirm our memory; we are uncomfortable accepting uncorroborated information from it.

For those not acquainted with this on-line encyclopedia, it is written and edited by anyone who wants to write and edit it. Do you see something about the Detroit Tigers you don't like? You can change the previous writer/editor's prose. You want to add something totally bogus ("Al Kaline wasn't the greatest outfielder to play the game")? Go ahead. Thing is, others then have a right to edit your edits. And the process goes on.

Here's an excerpt from Wired about Wikipedia and its editing wars:

"If you looked up Jimmy Carter on Wikipedia one morning this winter, you would have discovered something you couldn't learn from Britannica. According to the photo that accompanied Carter's entry, America's 39th president was a scruffy, random unshaven man with his left index finger shoved firmly up his nose.

"Lurking in the underbrush of Wiki­pedia's idyllic forest of reason and good intentions are contributors less noble in purpose, whose numbers are multiplying. Wiki devotees have names for many of them. First, there are the trolls, minor troublemakers who breach the principle of good faith with inane edits designed to rile serious users. More insidious are vandals, who try to wreck the site - inserting profanity and ethnic slurs, unleashing bots that put ads into entries, and pasting pictures of penises and other junior-high laugh-getters. Con­sidering how easy it is to make changes on Wiki­pedia, you'd imagine these ne'er-do-wells could potentially overwhelm the site. But they haven't - at least not yet - because defenses against them are built into the structure.

"Anybody who is logged in can place an article on a "watch list." Whenever somebody amends the entry, the watch list records the change. So when that anonymous vandal replaced a Jimmy Carter photo with a nose-picker, all the Wikipedians with Jimmy Carter on their watch list knew about it. One of them merely reverted to the original portrait. At the same time, the user who rescued the former president from Boogerville noticed that the vandal had also posted the nose-pick photo on the "Rapping" entry - and he got rid of that image just four minutes after the photo appeared."

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"It turns out that Wikipedia has an innate capacity to heal itself. As a result, woefully outnumbered vandals often give up and leave. (To paraphrase Linus Torvalds, given enough eyeballs, all thugs are callow.) What's more, making changes is so simple that who prevails often comes down to who cares more. And hardcore Wikipedians care. A lot."