Twitter who? New app turns Wikipedia into a real time news source


It’s widely accepted that Twitter is where news breaks, and apps like Instagram and even Vine have become complementary tools in a contemporary journalist’s arsenal. But Wikipedia? Researchers, including an engineer over at Google, have built what might be the first breaking news app that feeds off of Wikipedia edits to point out the power of Wikipedia for identifying breaking news as it happens.

wikipedia live monitor

The application is called “Wikipedia Live Monitor” and it’s a scrappy looking site that displays multicolored text and highlights along with a flickering ticker of user names in the far left corner. If you looked at this site, you might not think much of it at first, but the app developed by Google engineer Thomas Steiner, Digital Information Chair at Universite Libre de Bruxelles Seth van Hooland, and Library of Congress’ Ed Summers, combs through all Wikipedia pages including those in foreign languages to detect “concurrent edit spikes of Wikipedia articles covering the same topics.”

The app tracks 42 different Wikipedias, and based on this it’s built with the assumption that edits by multiple editors at the same time around the world in a small window of time are a strong signal for breaking news.

For breaking news to surface on Wikipedia Live Monitor, it has to meet some stringent (and scientific) criteria as outlined in the research paper:

  • ≥ 5 Occurrences: An article cluster must have occurred in at least 5 edits.
  • ≤ 60 Seconds between edits: An article cluster may have at maximum 60 seconds in between edits.
  • ≥ 2 Concurrent editors: An article cluster must have been edited by at least 2 concurrent editors.
  • ≤ 240 Seconds since last edit: An article cluster’s last edit may not be longer ago than 240 seconds.
  • Then once the news passes these criteria, it needs to go through a “social network plausibility check.”

Social networks remain important outlets for breaking news – for instance, yesterday’s Boston Marathon bombing was first publicized through apps like Twitter, Vine, and Instagram. But looking at Wikipedia and this new app could have its own benefits. Live Monitor double checks its findings with what people are saying on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ to make sure that these edits actually indicate breaking news and not a false alarm, so in addition to immediately having Wikipedia background information, the app is checking live edits and updates against what’s happening in real time via social sites as well. 

This double-checking effort means the Wikipedia Live Monitor is “less prone to false-positive alerts.”

Last we checked, the Wikipedia Live Monitor was caught up in the Boston Marathon news, which is obviously still dominating the media cycle. The main problem with that app is that it only shows one story at a time, but the researchers behind it have released Wikipedia Live Monitor’s source code so if you’re a hacker feel free to expand on their app and help improve the UI.

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