In what will doubtlessly come as a relief for term-paper-writing students everywhere, Wikipedia plans on offering an optional feature that will color-code its entries for reliability. The program, created by the Wiki Lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz, seems tailor-made to mitigate frequent complaints about the online collaborative encyclopedia's truthfulness.
According to a Wiki page produced by the group, the WikiTrust feature "computes author reputation, text trust, and text origin." By keeping track of the authors of each word in a particular entry, along with revisions and an "author reputation" metric based on how long a particular writer's contributions have lasted on the page, the program can theoretically determine in real-time which parts of that entry are most trustworthy.
The varying degrees of trustworthiness are then collated to colors; highly questionable text will be highlighted a bright orange. As the reliability of an entry increases, based on the "text trust," that orange shade will gradually fade to white. Hovering over a particular word will activate a pop-up "check text" tab that will display the color-coding, along with the listed authors.
"Thus, visitors can easily spot span, surreptitious changes, and information tampering," suggested the WikiTrust page. According to online reports, Wikipedia will integrate WikiTrust into its entries this fall.
As Wikipedia continues to expand, the foundation has taken more steps designed to boost the perceived trustworthiness of the information it presents. Earlier in August, the Wikimedia Foundation announced that it would introduce an editorial review process for entries that deal with living people. Updated entries on still-breathing individuals will be subject to review by a volunteer editor before posting, in a feature known as "flagged revisions."
Wikipedia is currently visited by around 60 million people a month.
Jimmy Wales, the site's founder, spent a few days this summer defending the site against claims of censorship after he suppressed updated entries about New York Times journalist David Rhode, who spent several months in Taliban captivity. Fearing that Rhode's life would be endangered if information about his status went public, Wikipedia administrators worked with The Times to deny any updates to his entry.
In total, the encyclopedia's administrators denied user updates to Rhode's entry roughly a dozen times, before unfreezing the page after the journalist escaped the Taliban. Wales said afterward that the conduct of him and his staff would be "only surprising to people who have assumed that Wikipedia is some kind of free-for-all. It is not, it never has been."