One of the most common grouses with the Web’s favourite encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, is that the content on it cannot always be trusted. There are quite a few loose statements that have no credible citation to back them up, yet a lot of people rely on the site to conduct research.
This problem might soon be seeing a solution as the grey areas of credible content get shades of colours to determine their trustworthiness.
WikiLab, a project at the US-based University of California – Santa Cruz, has been working on a technology called ‘WikiTrust’ for the past three years, which colour-codes content on the user-submitted encyclopaedia by determining its credibility.
WikiTrust assigns a colour code to newly edited text using an algorithm that calculates author reputation from the lifespan of their past contributions. It’s based on a simple concept: The longer information persists on the page, the more accurate it’s likely to be.
Text from questionable sources starts out with a bright orange background, while text from trusted authors gets a lighter shade. As more people view and edit the new text, it gradually gains more “trust” and turns from orange to white.
A demonstration of a colour-coded Wikipedia page
The current system of having human moderators judging an entry is fallible to the factor most prone to mistakes: human error. The new system takes this quotient out of the equation.
Since Wikipedia already keeps track of every revision, computer scientist Luca de Alfaro – head of the WikiTrust project – realised he could use that data to create a reputation system independent of human input.
“Machines should work for humans and not the other way around,” de Alfaro said. “So if you can get information without bothering people, via clever algorithms, this is much better.”
While it is not yet decided when the tool will be implemented, as it still has to go stringent testing procedures, the outlook is optimistic. The WikiMedia Foundation – which runs Wikipedia and all its products – told Wired that they are looking into the technology and the WikiTrust extension will be optional when released.