The NCLB Wikipedia Article’s Sordid History

Wikiscanner is a tool that allows people to view Wikipedia edits by the specific organizations that made them.  For example, if you type in “Wal-Mart” you discover that someone at the corporation cares a lot about video games and, of course, Wal-Mart. You can also search for edits by the specific Wikipedia page. So when you type in “2006 Duke University Lacrosse Case” you find that 1025 edits have been made to the page, including 202 by Duke University.

Needless to say, this tool raises lots of questions, uncovers questionable edits, and provides hours of entertainment. In fact, Wired magazine compiles a list of salacious edits that can be accessed from Wikiscanner’s homepage.

Using Wikiscanner, I decided to dig a little deeper into the history of the Wikipedia article on the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). As the NCLB Wikipedia page’s overview asserts, “the effectiveness and desirability of NCLB’s measures are hotly debated.” Given this, I thought I might find some controversial edits or at least some juicy debate on the article’s discussion page.

Here’s what I found: According to Wikiscanner, 648 edits have been made to the No Child Left Behind Wikipedia article. Surprisingly, the Wikiscanner results show no edits attributable to national education nonprofits, associations, think tanks, teacher unions, or similar organizations. The only federal government edit was made by the U.S. Department of Transportation and it was just a minor edit that changed the term “founding people” to “founding fathers.”

So who made all of the NCLB article’s edits? Wikiscanner’s results show a number of edits were made by universities and school districts. Interestingly, many of the school district edits seemed to break Wikipedia’s neutral point of view (NPOV) guidelines. As mentioned already, there is a lot of debate about NCLB’s measures; educators in particular have strong feelings about the law because they’re the ones who acutely experience its stipulations, sanctions, and overall impact on a daily basis. Those strong feelings seem to have funneled into questionable Wikipedia edits. The Wikipedia article includes a section called “claims made in criticism of the Act.” Currently the text in this section does a pretty good job of outlining common criticisms of the Act and attributing those criticisms to published quotes by education experts, reports, poll results, newspaper articles, etc. But the Wikipedia scanner shows that this section has historically been a place for those disgruntled with the law to air their complaints. For example, Bellevue School District in Issaquah, Washington made additions in August 2005 that stated:

No Child Left behind focuses on “Teaching to the Test” and putting high expectations on teachers without providing the support they need to meet those expectations. Some speculate that President G.W. Bush has pushed this through in an effort to topple the public education system.

It’s clear these edits were the editor’s personal opinion and were not backed up with citations from a reliable source. The Wikiscanner results reveal a number of similarly questionable edits of this type by other school districts.

Next, I navigated to the No Child Left Behind article’s discussion page. I was initially surprised to find a fairly short page of user discussion until I realized that several years’ worth of discussion had recently been archived in an attempt to clean up the page. On the current discussion page there is some intense, but very polite, debate about the law’s implications for students with disabilities. Other than that conversation, the page includes short and to-the-point exchanges on a variety of relatively mundane issues such as the pronunciation of NCLB, needed article updates, and an attempt to clean up an unwieldy list of external links.

In reviewing the article’s recent history, I stumbled across some vandalism. Someone changed the caption under an image of President Bush signing the NCLB Act to read that Bush was adopting a child to tend to his plantation farm. The vandalism was caught and corrected by another Wikipedia user within one minute.

You might think that uncovering vandalism and highly slanted edits like the ones described above would make me doubt the accuracy and usefulness of Wikipedia, but the very opposite happened. This exercise showed me that Wikipedia really does work because people care enough to fix mistakes and constantly make improvements. I really believe that as long as people keep caring, Wikipedia articles like the one about NCLB will keep improving.


July 6, 2008 at 11:04 pm 2 comments

Quantity Versus Quality

Scobleizer recently blogged about Fred, a 14-year old kid who’s gotten over 40 million views on youtube for his incredibly annoying depiction of a 6-year old with anger management issues and an alcoholic mom. I don’t blame Fred’s mom – listening to him would drive anyone to booze. He’s even worse than Mary, the screaming judge on So You Think You Can Dance.

The fact that over 40 million people would voluntarily listen to Fred’s high-pitched whining astounds me. Sure, he’s somewhat amusing and his storylines and character development are pretty impressive for a 14-year old. But over 40 million views? Really?

Scobleizer uses Fred to make the point that when it comes to web traffic, quality matters more than quantity:

If traffic is your goal, here’s the formula. Do something really stupid that’ll make people laugh.

Me? I’ll stick with having a few thousand people passionate about learning more from innovative technologists and other leaders.

Why not get into the traffic race? Because I’d rather be in the race for a smart, focused audience. That’s where the real action is.

Scoble has it right. And “action” is the right word. As I’ve mentioned before, I work at a nonprofit education association that launched an education campaign a little over a year ago. I care less about the overall web traffic on our campaign’s website, and more about the number of web visitors who have taken some sort of action. Who’s commented on our blog, downloaded our toolkits, or emailed their friends with news about our campaign? It just makes sense to measure and value action when the end goal is action.

I feel the same way about the media hits my organization gets. Five hundred “hits” in which we’re peripherally mentioned in an article or listed in a bibliography doesn’t mean that much to me. But to be the focus of one positive entry on a well-read blog or to be extensively quoted in a respected trade pub – that’s priceless.

This leads me to the “what is a quality media hit?” question. In our long tail world where the continual birth of blogs, podcasts, vlogs, and more has given rise to countless and increasingly segmented media outlets, I think the answer to the quality question changes based on our target publics and desired objectives.

Parents are a highly coveted public for my organization’s education campaign. Dare I say a mention on ParentsConnect or TotSpot might make more sense for our campaign than a mention in the New York Times?

I’d still take the New York Times though…

July 4, 2008 at 5:22 pm 1 comment

And the Tagline Is…

A Girl’s Guide to Social Media, Communications, and Life As I Know It.

I know – it’s a little long. But brevity has never been my strong suit. Take a look at my Second Life post if you don’t believe me. Finishing my work early is also not one of my defining characteristics, which is why I’m enjoying a Web 2.0 July 4th alone with my laptop while my boyfriend lounges at the pool with his friends. But I digress…

A million thanks to those of you who voted on my tagline! I had such fun reading everyone’s comments and it was great to view the spike in my blog stats.  ; )

The official tally ended up at 10 votes for A Girl’s Guide to Social Media, 1 vote for Web 2.0 from a PR Perspective, 5 votes for Beyond Press Releases: Your Daily Dose of Web 2.0, and 1 vote for Communications in a Web 2.0 World.

It’s clear A Girl’s Guide to Social Media was the overwhelming favorite. I felt compelled to tweak that tagline a bit because my blog attempts to address social media through a communications lens, which I didn’t think the original tagline made clear. And I wanted room to occasionally blog about topics of interest to me outside of Web 2.0 and communications.

Stay tuned for my custom header idea. I have the perfect design in mind, but I have no idea how to create it. I may have to employ the services of mahjesstica. Check out her custom designed smoke.

Thanks again to the tagline voters and happy July 4th to all!

July 4, 2008 at 2:17 pm Leave a comment

Meet Elaine Minotaur, AKA Me

Today is the first day of my Second Life. Second Life is a “massive multiplayer online game” (MMOG), or virtual world, where people from across the real world can create avatars that interact, buy land, create content, attend events, listen to live concerts, and participate in an online economy.

My Second Life personality is named Elaine Minotaur. She wears a fierce pink and white polka dot dress and her hair coexists with the island humidity much better than my real life hair.

But getting a Second Life wasn’t easy. I created an account only to be informed that my laptop doesn’t meet Second Life’s minimum system requirements. After installing the program anyway, I took my first halting avatar steps, somehow submerged myself up to my avatar neck in water… and then my computer froze. Not to be discouraged, I logged in again on my home computer and made my way around Orientation Island, a tutorial for newcomers to Second Life.

During my explorations I met Goldvald Enoch, a Second Life mentor, who helps newcomers to Second Life adjust to life online. He told me that Second Life has an entire culture of its own, complete with rites and myths. He also compared Second Life to a more developed version of MUDs and IRC. I never asked Goldvald what he does in real life, but based on his comments about MUDs, IRC, and wikis, I think it’s safe to assume he’s a technologically savvy person who’s emerged himself in social media over the past couple decades. He said he’s from Scandinavia and that he first visited Second Life to “attend” a lecture hosted by a local university. He never made it to the lecture, but he was hooked. Today is Goldvald’s one-year anniversary as a Second Lifer.

My burning question about Second Life is, “who has the time?” It took me a few hours to set up my account, complete a small portion of my Second Life tutorial, and chat with Goldvald. Work, classes, homework, errands, and my real-world social life eat up most of my time. It’s hard enough for me to fit in blogging, much less building an entire second life online. That’s a shame because I suspect Second Life becomes more rewarding the more you engage with it.

I asked Goldvald my time question and his response made me laugh. He suggested that many Second Lifers are jobless. He added that a number of people use Second Life as an extension of their real world social lives, where they can virtually “hang out” with their real world friends. He also said some people use Second Life as a way to build social skills for the real world. Goldvald finds time to log on during evenings after work and on the weekend.

While my burning question is “who has the time?,” my burning observation is the emphasis on buying “stuff” – such as land, clothes, and accessories – that pervades Second Life. Goldvald told me about money trees where Second Life newcomers can acquire Linden dollars – the currency of Second Life. Goldvald himself owns a land rental business to earn some cash. I suddenly found myself wondering whether my avatar’s outfit was quite up to snuff, or whether the pink polka dots immediately identified me as a naive Second Life newbie.

I think I need to explore Second Life more before I fully understand how real-world companies and organizations can harness it as a way to hawk their products, build their brand, and reach new audiences. The two youtube videos posted below provide some background on the possibilities. A quick disclaimer – the first video is about two years old, which is a long time in the online world. Needless to say, some things have changed since the video was produced.

Believe it or not, my real life collided with Second Life before this class assignment. I work for an international education nonprofit that produces professional development products and convenes workshops and conferences for educators. We also lead a campaign to encourage the public to support a broad-based education for all students. Surprisingly, the nonprofit’s execs are considering using Second Life to both drum up support for our campaign and better connect with our members. They got the idea from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), which has it’s own Second Life Island where it hosts meetings and events for members and others interested in becoming members.

The possibilities are intriguing. I just wonder whether the required time commitment and technological know-how are barriers to reaching significant numbers or types of people via Second Life. It makes sense for ISTE to make use of Second Life: It’s a member association for technologically-minded people. On the other hand, the nonprofit I work for has members who barely know how to use email and listservs. Setting up our members on Second Life and actually getting them to visit Second Life regularly could be incredibly time and resource intensive.

June 29, 2008 at 10:33 pm 2 comments

Make More People Care

I don’t remember when I first heard about Wikipedia. It could have been six years ago, or maybe it was three. What I do remember was my dubious reaction. The idea of an encyclopedia editable by all seemed absurd – even stupid. Why leave the door open to the potential for complete inaccuracy?

But now I’m an occasional Wikipedia user and I think Wikipedia is a great free resource. So what changed my mind? It’s hard to say because it’s not as if I was even aware my mind had changed. Maybe it was the quality of the entries I stumbled across. It could have been the breadth and depth of topics the online encyclopedia covers. Perhaps I just had to get used to the idea of wikis themselves.

It’s likely that all of the above contributed to my change of mind. And after reading about Wikipedia for class, I’m only more convinced that the online, editable encyclopedia is providing a valuable service. It might not quite be the charitable humanitarian effort its founder, Jimmy Wales, envisions, but it’s become the fastest-growing reference work ever and an incredible example of how an online network of unpaid volunteers from across the world can pool knowledge and efforts to create an always-changing, living, breathing font of information.

My social media instructor asked us to consider whether we should trust Wikipedia or an expert-led encyclopedia more. My answer is that it depends. I actually think comparing Wikipedia to something like Britannica Online is comparing apples to oranges. Wikipedia is free and accessible to anyone with an internet connection. And for real-time information, it just can’t be beat. For better or for worse, Tim Russert’s Wikipedia page was updated with news of his death before any of the networks made the announcement. But if I had to do research for a paper or for a project at work, I wouldn’t rely solely on Wikipedia. I might use it as a starting point, though. The beauty of Wikipedia is that it requires citations, so following a Wikipedia page’s references to primary sources is a good way to track down information straight from the experts.

We were also asked how Wikipedia could be set-up to better provide accuracy. I started to brainstorm ideas, only to find that many of them are already in practice. Wikipedia’s organization and its system of checks and balances is a lot more structured than I had envisioned.  For example, any user can put an article on his or her watch list, which records all changes to that entry. As a last resort, particularly controversial pages can be locked in the face of constant vandalism or editing wars.

Actual studies have shown that vandalism of Wikipedia articles, such as mass deletions or insertion of obscenities, are typically corrected by users who care in a matter of minutes. And according to Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, “if enough people care enough about an article to read it, then enough people will care enough to improve it, and over time this will lead to a large enough body of good enough work to begin to take both availability and quality of articles for granted, and to integrate Wikipedia into daily use by millions.”

So my solution to providing better Wikipedia accuracy: Make more people care.

June 22, 2008 at 10:58 pm 1 comment

Vote On My Tagline!

It’s about time I assign a tagline to my blog and what better way to do so than have my readers – all 5 of them at last count – vote on their favorites. In case you haven’t figured it out already, my blog focuses on social media and web 2.0 through a communications/public relations lens. I’d love for the tagline to convey this theme in a fun and catchy way. This might be a tall order, particularly when you read some of the options below. But I’d welcome your thoughts on which tagline comes closest.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Melissa’s Musings

A) A Girl’s Guide to Social Media

B) Web 2.0 from a PR Perspective

C) Beyond Press Releases: Your Daily Dose of Web 2.0

D) Communications in a Web 2.0 World

Please comment to submit your vote. And feel free to suggest your own tagline. I can’t promise cash prizes, but you’ll get a special shout out in a future blog post if I choose your suggestion. And thanks go to my coworker Kevin for coming up with this poll idea!

June 19, 2008 at 3:42 am 15 comments

Don’t Be Evil

John Batelle’s “The Search: How Google and its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture” describes how Google’s unofficial motto is “Don’t Be Evil.” Before I read this book I would have unequivocally said that Google was abiding by its motto. But The Search made me think a little harder about the capacity for a company with so much influence and reach to be evil, perhaps without even knowing it.

Batelle recounted the story of Neil Moncreif, a small business owner based in Georgia who sells big shoes – size thirteens and over. It’s hard for a niche business like Moncreif’s to remain viable in any one geographic location. People with big feet are spread throughout the world and don’t cluster in Georgia, or any other one location for that matter. (See Life in the Long Tail for more on niche markets.) So Moncreif launched and did a pretty brisk business without ever having to place an ad. Until November 14, 2003, that is, when Google tweaked its search result algorithms, which dropped from the first result on the search “big feet” to below the hundredth result. The economic – and, ultimately, psychological – impact on Moncreif and his family was huge.

So while Google may have had noble intentions when it tweaked its algorithms, it broke it’s motto about not being evil when it came to a small business owner who sells big shoes.

I wonder if it is even possible to be a company as large and powerful as Google and not be inadvertantly evil every now and again? Moreover, is it sometimes necessary to do some evil for the greater good? The Search described how Google bent to the Chinese government’s wishes and eliminated controversial links from its results (perhaps evil?) so that it could provide the Chinese people with its valuable service (perhaps a greater good?).

So should we all be afraid of Google? I think Moncreif’s experience shows that yes, we should be afraid of Google if we depend upon it too much. And I think more and more people are starting to feel the same way. A recent article in The Independent, “Discontent flares over Google’s ‘dominance’” describes critics’ concerns that Google is the “overwhelmingly dominant force on the internet.” A recent Washington Post article, “Will 2008 Be Google’s End of Innocence” starts, “2008 may be the year that Google’s innocence ends, as media and governments start to cast a less forgiving eye at the behavior of the company that controls 60% of the search market and perhaps as much as half of all online advertising revenue.”

With prominence and power come a lot of scrutiny. That, above all else, might be why I’m not yet losing sleep over Google’s dominance.

June 18, 2008 at 1:58 am Leave a comment

Older Posts Newer Posts

May 2018
« Jul    


Class Feed