Software aims to flag malarkey on Wikipedia

Because anyone can edit Wikipedia, the Web encyclopedia’s reliability varies wildly. Now a computer science professor hopes to give users a better baloney detector: software that flags questionable lines in Wikipedia entries.

Developed by Luca de Alfaro and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the software will color text some gradation of orange if there is reason to doubt its content. The deeper the orange, the more likely it is malarkey.

How does the software have any clue about that? Mainly by analyzing the reputations of the contributors responsible for each line.

By diving into Wikipedia’s open volumes of edit histories, the software counts the degree to which any given contributor’s work survives subsequent edits by other people. In general, the less tinkering your work on Wikipedia engenders, the more trustworthy you are deemed to be.

That system is not foolproof, as accurate contributions might get quickly overwritten in articles on contentious topics.

Even so, it does yield interesting insights. For example, in an extensive entry on the old Commodore 64 computers the Santa Cruz software tags just three lines, each an unfootnoted statement of purported fact.

For now, the software available at is in demonstration mode and operates on an older subset of Wikipedia entries.

However, de Alfaro showed it to a receptive audience at last month’s Wikimania convention in Taiwan, and he hopes to work with the Wikimedia Foundation, which oversees Wikipedia, to make it a real-time option on the site.

Facebook lets nonmembers search profiles: The online hangout Facebook is opening another window to the outside world, letting nonusers for the first time search for members’ personal profile pages.

The company also plans to begin letting Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and other search companies index portions of Facebook profiles to help nonusers more easily find them.

Facebook, which faced a user rebellion a year ago over privacy concerns, stressed that information available through such searches would be less than what someone could find simply by signing up. Users could choose to remain invisible in such searches.

“We think this will help more people connect and find value from Facebook without exposing any actual profile information or data,” Facebook engineer Philip Fung wrote in a company blog entry.

Normally, a search on Facebook would yield a user’s name, photo, list of friends and network such as that person’s college or work affiliation or hometown. Nonusers would get the name and photo only. They also must sign up to contact the user.

Ticket search focuses on weekends: A new feature from the travel search site Kayak lets you price airline tickets for the next five weekends or for weekends in a specific month. Users can choose to leave as early as Thursday and return as late as Monday.

Previously, a Kayak user would have had to search flights for each weekend separately by entering the appropriate dates and jotting down the best prices.

It’s the latest effort by travel sites to help consumers find deals if their travel dates are flexible. Many travel sites already offer the option of automatically checking flights leaving or returning a few days before or after a specified date.

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