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Wikipedia: the world's journal of record

I heard about the horrific events at Virginia Tech while in the middle of a whirlwind week of work last week. I knew what was going on from snippets of radio, TV and feeds caught here and there. When I finally had a moment to catch up properly I turned instinctively to Google News - but there was too much news to really make sense, order the details. So I turned quickly to Wikipedia - and that's where everything I needed to know to come up to date was.

My colleague Simon Mustoe carried this video from YouTube on his blog soon afterwards - very similar to the time-lapse images of the July 7th London attacks and a sharp reminder of the efficiency of the Wikipedia model at filtering and ordering information even for live events:

According to the New York Times:

From the contributions of 2,074 editors, at last count, the site created a polished, detailed article on the massacre, with more than 140 separate footnotes, as well as sidebars that profiled the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, and gave a timeline of the attacks.

According to the foundation that runs the various Wikipedias around the world, there were more than 750,000 visits to the main article on the shootings in its first two days, an average of four visits a second. Even The Roanoke Times, which is published near Blacksburg, Va., where the university is located, noted on Thursday that Wikipedia “has emerged as the clearinghouse for detailed information on the event.”

: : The media coverage of the massacre raised many important issues around reponsible journalism, the public nature of young people's private lives when victim's social network pages were used and linked to in coverage and even the use of paid search ads by newspapers to attract traffic to their coverage of the story. Bobbie Johnson and Conor Clarke  have an excellent overview of some of these issues in today's Media Guardian.

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Registration? Oh, forget that...

What's chilling is how journos are staking out Facebook and starting 'tribute' groups to victims as soon as something like this happens. I saw this firsthand when English teacher Lindsay Hawker was murdered in Japan a few weeks ago: I was invited to one of those groups, joined, and was suddenly inundated with journo requests from Closer magazine and others, who thought I was a friend of the girl's and wanted a tell-all interview for their own 'tasteful tributes'. You can imagine my response to the journalists.

What I thought was particularly good, though, was how the first victim's best friend used her Facebook account to spread the word to hovering journalists that her friend had not - contrary to media reports - been involved with the killer.

I've always relied on Wiki for a lot of things but I never knew that they had a good way of filtering the news they get. Do they have a regular staff that updates everyday? I've always imagined Wiki to have a few programmers watching over the servers and maybe a few moderators to keep track of what's being saved.

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