Who's behind Wikipedia?

Computerworld takes you on an in-depth look at the world’s largest and most celebrated open encyclopedia – Wikipedia

Notability

Perhaps the most important guideline in determining what is suitable for inclusion in Wikipedia is notability.

"Notability is a guideline and not a policy because it's a disputed area and the community hasn't really settled. You won't be able to find a hard and fast rule to apply," Laugher said.

The most prevalent instance of conflict surrounding Notability stems from commercial entities seeking inclusion in Wikipedia.

When the popularity of Wikipedia began to explode and receive higher rankings in search engine results, there was significant interest from companies seeking positive Wikipedia entries.

"So they are stopped by the notability criteria, unless they have done something special or particularly unique that nobody else has done. And in another sense they are stopped by the neutral point of view policy which means you can't have an article that is just PR fluff, nor can you stop someone putting something negative in an article if it is verifiable and appropriate," Laugher said.

For more information see Wikipedia's list of policies and guidelines.

Controversies and edit wars

Many of Wikimedia's policies and guidelines have come about as a direct result of controversies, conflicts, vandalism and edit wars.

One of the most significant and serious controversies is known as the Siegenthaler Incident, which led to the barring of unregistered users from creating new pages, as well as the addition of the biography for living people's policy.

The incident involved the creation of a Wikipedia biography on American journalist John Seigenthaler, which falsely suggested Siegenthaler may have played a role in the assassinations of both John and Robert Kennedy.

The Australian Prime Ministers Office and the Australian Department of Defence both received much publicized criticism when the Wikiscanner tool - a utility that identifies IP addresses - revealed both organisations were spending significant amounts of tax-payer funded work hours editing their respective Wikipedia pages.

Real world disputes also invariably spill over into Wikipedia and its related projects. The Israel Palestine conflict, abortion, euthanasia, George W Bush's article and conflict between rival sports teams are all real world issues that have manifested into Wiki-controversies.

"There is also a page on Wikipedia called Lamest edit wars ever, it's very funny reading. There was a really big edit war on, for example, whether the name of an article on petrol should be called 'petrol' or 'gasoline'. The same thing often happens over spelling controversies between British and US English."

Other 'Lamest Edit Wars Ever' include the following debates:

  • Where Nicolas Tesla, Freddie Mercury, Copernicus and Jennifer Aniston were really born
  • Whether the symbol for C# programming language should be written with a hash or with the musical sharp symbo
  • Whether the planet Pluto should be referred to as 134340 Pluto, or just plain Pluto
  • Whether a Queen dead for over a century should still be referred to as 'Her Majesty'
  • Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure: Was it released in 1988, or 1989?
  • The real height of Andre the Giant
  • The Death Star. Is it 120km or 160km in diameter? Even 900km? Is the hyperdrive class 3 or 4?
  • Are potato chips flavored or flavoured - as a compromise they become seasoned.
  • Periods vs full stops,
  • What really goes into an Irish breakfast

"They are all just so silly, and they will never be resolved. That is why the Wikipedia policy about that is quite useful because it doesn't aim to say one is right. The rule for spelling is if it got there first then it can stay how it is," Laugher said.

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