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Is Wikipedia a vulnerable tool for propoganda?

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Wikipedia is the most celebrated example for success in Search Engine Optimization. There are hundreds of thousands of keywords that get a link to Wikipedia on the top 5 search results on Google. This being the case, Wikipedia holds tremendous clout on what internet users read and perceive.

Though it does not make financial nor commercial sense for companies to use Wikipedia for customer's perception about the company's and their competitor's products, Wikipedia still remains widely vulnerable to attack from the different intelligence agencies on political issues. Recently, Slashdot published an article on a Wikipedia admin who was found to be a former investigator of Britain's MI5. This raises questions on how much vulnerable Wikipedia is to propogate distorted information.

Where is the problem?

The problem lies in the very nature of the internet and in the way Wikipedia chooses its administrators. All one requires to become an admin on the Wikipedia network is a dedicated contribution is addition and edition of articles on Wikipedia. Such Wikipedians can then be chosen admins on request and approval. All along, the admin remains anonymous and there is no way out but to take the information that he provides at face value.

Can the problem be solved?

It is humanly impossible to manage the huge database that Wikipedia is. Hundreds of thousands of modifications happen everyday that Wikipedia cannot afford a centralized contol of information and has to rely on the admins and the approval of co-admins to the decisions taken by each of the admins.

However, a background of the admins, atleast for the policitally sensitive articles needs to be known. For this, Wikipedia needs to categorize the pages as politically sensitive or not. This can be quite easily achived by asking the very readers to rate it as sensitive or not. Such pages alone may be edited by only those admins who have provided their background and other information like the Social Security Number etc. This will help provide more unbiased editing of such articles.

Can companies use it for propoganda

Given the current scenario, can companies use it as a propoganda tool? Could Enron have used Wikipedia to tell people that nothing was their fault? Yes for reasons already said, but it is also commercially unviable. Firstly, an effective propoganda can be made only if there are quite a few admins from 'your side' who can approve of each others' actions. Repeated attempts by an admin to propogate false information can lead to his banning from other admins. Secondly, the exercise is not a one-time effort. Companies requires the admins to be dedicatedly work as long as the propaganda needs to stay. In case of companies that are looking to exist to the future, such a means is financially unviable and serves little purpose as the propaganda if exists can still be made news through other channels of communication.

On an ending note, here is an interview of Mathias Schindler, a Wikipedia admin that can give insights on the job of an admin.

Del.icio.us - Is Yahoo getting anything out of this?

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It is one and a half years since Yahoo acquired Del.icio.us, the online bookmarking service. Any acquisition goes with a long term business strategy. At most times, one of the primary reason for the acquisition of a company is to integrate the users of both the services. Other times, it is to leverage the audience of the acquired company through ads on the site. Now that sufficient time has passed since the acquisition of one of internet's most loved websites, it makes sense to introspect into what benefits has Yahoo gained out of this acquisition.

Undeciphered Reasons
Frequent users of Del.icio.us will vouch for the fact that one reason why Del.icio.us is best is because they have absolutely no ads on their pages. This makes it a pure utility website. That also means Yahoo is not monetarily gaining too much out of this acquisition.

Yahoo is yet to integrate Del.icio.us to Yahoo. Users of Yahoo and Del.icio.us still have different usernames for the two websites. So, Yahoo is yet to decipher how many of the users of these two websites are common and how many new users they have added as a result of this acquisition.

Google's happy
Does this acquisition get Yahoo any closer to Google? No. In fact, ever since Del.icio.us made it to the internet scene, Google has been able to get more relevant results thanks to the concept of tagging on Del.icio.us. Not that Google would have not got better results otherwise, but a huge directory of tagged links to numerous webpages does indeed help. Yahoo too has been able to use this to get search results closer, but nothing more than what Google probably has got. It is after all Yahoo's property.

What can be done?
This blog post comes close on the heels of the launch of SmartAds by Yahoo. SmartAds are aimed at providing more personalized ads to the Yahoo users. Traditionally, when a user searches for a keyword, "Apple" (say), the keyword is taken at face value while delivering the ads. So in this case, it could be a mixture of ads on Apple computers as well as the fruits.

SmartAds tends to infer more about the user through his activity on other Yahoo products, like Yahoo Finance, Sports, Music, etc. So,if Yahoo infers that you follow the stock of Apple computers at Yahoo Finance, the ads that relate to Apple Computer Stocks is displayed thus getting you the most relevant ads.

Yahoo can leverage Del.icio.us for the first time with SmartAds. By learning what kind of webpages a user likes to bookmark, a great deal of information can be unearthed. Added to this, SmartAds will also enable Yahoo to infer why a person is bookmarking a particular page for. If a user is storing a webpage on 'Weather in Mumbai', it can either be because he is interested in Mumbai or the weather. Tags("Weather" or "Mumbai") can greatly help Yahoo interpret the same webpage in different aspects for different users.

Del.icio.us is a goldmine waiting to be tapped. Unlike Google, which wastes no time in integrating user-ids of its hot properties with its existing user base, Yahoo has so far not done it with respect to Del.icio.us. Allowing users to login to Del.icio.us with their Yahoo ids is the primary step in this direction.


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