The power of wikis

Since I discovered Wikipedia I know how powerful wikis can be. The wisdom and collaboration power of the crowd is unbeatable, many, including me,  see Wikipedia as a more comprehensive source of information than any other encyclopedia – as the ultimate repository of the knowledge of human mankind.

Today I have been reading about  the “GuttenPlag Wiki” in the German instance of heise online. People outside of Germany might not have any idea what “GuttenPlag” could stand for, so let me explain: Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg has been the  prior Minister of Defence of Germany, he resigned on March 1st 2011 after it had been discovered that much (actually most) content of his dissertation had been “re-used” from other sources without explicitly mentioning this in his paper. That’s what made his dissertation  a plagiarism, and that’s what this wiki “GuttenPlag” is all about: more than 1000 people collaborated to finally discover 371 of 393 pages ( 94 % ) containing plagiarism. In the wiki you get a nice visualization of his paper showing every single page color coded to indicate one or many plagiarisms. In total 1218 have been found, any you can read every single page and plagiarism, compare his writing with the original text and get some info about the source he “re-used” in his paper and whether he clearly referenced that source in his paper or not.

Besides the wisdom of the crowd a few tools have been used and are mentioned here to discover plagiarism.

Again it becomes clear what a crowd of motivated people can achieve when enabled through the power of social software. The board of examiners who initially checked his work apparently was not able to properly asses the true quality of his work.

In an explanation on the wiki home page the authors of the wiki make clear that their intention is not to influence politics in a particular direction. The wiki is more meant to ensure a high quality of scientific work in Germany and to facilitate as a demonstration of what they call collaborative plagiarism discovery.

The wiki now has been nominated for the Grimme Online Award, similar to the German Grimme Award for television an award for online media. This wiki certainly contributed to a high extent to the fact that Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg resigned from his position as Minister of Defence of Germany and thus demonstrates the power of wikis and social computing to discover truth and even influence politics and society.

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