Sarah Palin, Crowdsourced

Views of Wikipedia are decidedly mixed in academia, though perhaps trending slowly from mostly negative to grudgingly positive. But regardless of your view of Wikipedia—or your political persuasion—you can’t help but be impressed with the activity that occurs on the site for current events. (The same holds only slightly less true for non-current events, as Roy Rosenzweig pointed out.)

It’s instructive, for instance, to follow at this moment the collaborative production on the open encyclopedia for the entry on Sarah Palin, John McCain’s pick for Vice President. My best guess is that there are currently around 1,000 edits being made each day, by several hundred people. I actually started tracking this before Palin revealed the pregnancy of her teenage daughter, so the frenzy has probably increased, but here’s the schematic I came up with for the progress of the “Sarah Palin” Wikipedia article.

The graphic below shows every edit from 8am EDT on Sunday, August 31, 2008, to 8am EDT on Monday, September 1, 2008. These 24 hours (on a holiday weekend in the U.S.) produced over 500 edits, many of them quite large. The blocks show individual edits, ranging from a single word to three paragraphs. At the same time these edits were being made, scores of Wikipedians were also debating 80 distinct points for inclusion (or exclusion) from the article. They also added over a hundred footnotes pointing to print, Web, and other non-Wikipedia sources (seen at the end of the graphic, right after the “finished” article).


Andrew says:

You might be interested in the following (somewhat old) screencast about the evolution of the entry for the “Heavy Metal Umlaut” in wikipedia.

(Note there’s some naughty language in there.)

Dan Cohen says:

Thanks, Andrew. That’s a great screencast on Wikipedia (I covered it last year).

Trey says:


Very interesting. Any chance we can get better screen snaps of the changes from you?


I can’t see any graphic details in my browser — image not big enough. I tried it in FF and Safari on my Mac. Do I have to download it & zoom in, or can you post a larger resolution?

I too am a fan of Jon Udell’s Heavy Metal Umlaut video. I’ve used it in teaching.

Dan Cohen says:

Amanda & Trey:

Let’s try this: a PDF of the changes. Hope that helps.

[…] context that raises some interesting questions about the future of intellectual endeavor. Go here  if you don’t know what that term means and want a neat (and timely example) of how it […]

[…] updates to the Wikipedia entry for Sarah Palin created by Dan Cohen and discussed in his blog post Sarah Palin, Crowdsourced. Another great example of this type of visual experience of a document being modified was linked to […]

bowerbird says:

this would perhaps be more clear (albeit less typographic)
if you were to screenshot the successive _change_ pages…


Leave a Reply