the truth is in the back and forth: "
James Bridle (designer and programmer of the Institute's Golden Notebook project in 2008) just published the complete history of the Wikipedia article on the Iraq War.
James writes on his blog: This particular book--or rather, set of books--is every edit made to a single Wikipedia article, The Iraq War, during the five years between the article's inception in December 2004 and November 2009, a total of 12,000 changes and almost 7,000 pages. It amounts to twelve volumes: the size of a single old-style encyclopaedia. It contains arguments over numbers, differences of opinion on relevance and political standpoints, and frequent moments when someone erases the whole thing and just writes 'Saddam Hussein was a dickhead'.
As early as 2006, i wrote in if:book that the truth in Wikipedia articles lay in the edits, rather than the surface article:
In a traditional encyclopedia, experts write articles that are permanently encased in authoritative editions. The writing and editing goes on behind the scenes, effectively hiding the process that produces the published article. The standalone nature of print encyclopedias also means that any discussion about articles is essentially private and hidden from collective view. The Wikipedia is a quite different sort of publication, which frankly needs to be read in a new way. Jaron focuses on the 'finished piece', ie. the latest version of a Wikipedia article. In fact what is most illuminative is the back-and-forth that occurs between a topic's many author/editors. I think there is a lot to be learned by studying the points of dissent; indeed the 'truth' is likely to be found in the interstices, where different points of view collide. Network-authored works need to be read in a new way that allows one to focus on the process as well as the end product.
Four years later, we don't yet have the tools that would let people read Wikipedia articles in 'a new way' but hopefully Bridle's very impressive experiment with this one article will spur efforts to develop new tools for reading online works which are constantly being changed and edited.