In the Wikipedia article, the then-anonymous author wrote that Seigenthaler, once an assistant to Robert Kennedy, may have been involved in his assassination, as well as that of his brother, President John F. Kennedy.
The article stayed on Wikipedia--the free, open-access encyclopedia--for four months before Seigenthaler finally got the service's founder, Jimmy Wales, to agree to take it down. Shortly afterward, Seigenthaler published a scathing Op-Ed piece in USA Today, attacking Wikipedia's accountability and credibility.
In the days that followed, a San Antonio, Texas, book indexer named Daniel Brandt set out to find the article's author. Brandt, who had had his own problems with a faulty Wikipedia biography, also runs Wikipedia Watch, a sometimes paranoid, sometimes rational Web site that seeks to keep the project honest. He also runs Google Watch, a similar site about the search leader.
Following clues about the IP address of the computer used to post the Seigenthaler article, Brandt set out to find its author and in the process demonstrate some of Wikipedia's core problems. Over the course of two days of sleuthing, Brandt traced the IP address to a small courier service in Nashville, Tenn., and within hours, the culprit, Brian Chase, confessed directly to Seigenthaler.
CNET News.com recently tracked down Brandt and picked his brain about why he got involved in the search for Chase and why he thinks Wikipedia is flawed.Q: So tell me about how you actually tracked down Brian Chase.
Brandt: All I had was the IP address and the date and timestamp, and the various databases said it was a BellSouth DSL account in Nashville. I started playing with the search engines and using different tools to try to see if I could find out more about that IP address. They wouldn't respond to trace router pings, which means that they were blocked at a firewall, probably at BellSouth.
But very strangely, there was a server on the IP address. You almost never see that, since at most companies, your browsers and your servers are on different IP addresses. Only a very small company that didn't know what it was doing would have that kind of arrangement. I put in the IP address directly, and then it comes back and said, "Welcome to Rush Delivery." It didn't occur to me for about 30 minutes that maybe that was the name of a business in Nashville. Sure enough they had a one-page Web site. So the next day I sent them a fax.
So after they gave you the runaround, what happened?
The next night, I got the idea of sending a phony e-mail, I mean an e-mail under a phony name, phony account. When they responded, sure enough, the originating IP address matched the one that was in Seigenthaler's column.
I called Seigenthaler and I said I have proof that the IP address (was the same). We still didn't know Brian's name at that point, but the very next day some guy named Brian Chase walks into Seigenthaler's offices at Vanderbilt University and delivers the confessional letter.
So sum up why you got involved.
Well, I was really sympathetic with the position that Seigenthaler found himself in. The thing most people don't understand about Wikipedia is that sometimes they get into trouble because the press notices something about Wikipedia, like two months ago there was the article on Jane Fonda and another one on Bill Gates, which even Jimmy Wales admitted were just of abysmal quality. And when something like that happens, they circle the wagons and they come in and they clean up the article and it happens really fast. The problem is that people don't realize that for every article they do that with, there could be hundreds of articles that they haven't noticed that someone started and are just sitting there that could have been vandalized like Siegenthaler's bio was.
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