School Introduction

Dialog with an Uncertain Future / Excerp (Irregular updates)

The 40th Installment“Essence of Information”

by Hiroshi Koyama,
Professor, Master's Program of Information Systems Architecture

Essence of Information

You know Wikipedia (, the web-based encyclopedia available online, don't you? It is sometimes abbreviated "Wiki." In fact, however, Wiki itself is a generic term for some kinds of CMS, and thus there are multiple characteristic implementations. InfoTalk from our Institute ( is run as a customized implementation of Wiki called Pukiwiki. Wikipedia is a new word coined from the words Wiki and encyclopedia.

The major feature of Wikipedia is that anyone is free to take part in editing it on the Internet. Actually, anyone can participate in editing Wikipedia. Even anonymous participation is allowed. Encyclopedias are generally edited by qualified experts in order to ensure accuracy and reliability. Encyclop?dia Britannica (1768-), which boasts a long tradition and high achievement in terms of the compilations of experts, covers around 65,000 topics, while Wikipedia, which was achieved by the contribution of many people, an open-source phenomenon, contains 17.3 million topics (in 278 languages). The number of topics in English is the largest at around 3.49 million, followed by German, French, Polish, and Italian. The number of topics in Japanese is the sixth largest at around 72 thousand. Articles on everything possible are available and updated the moment something occurs.

Some people say that articles written by amateurs are useless; however, research results in the magazine Nature (December 2006) say that "in the science fields, Wikipedia is as accurate and reliable as Encyclop?dia Britannica," not a mixture of good and bad. In 2007, one of my students did a study of Wikipedia as part of a graduation thesis, and the student observed that almost all the articles examined had been revised or altered for corrections by someone in a rather short period. In short, even if the articles were inaccurate at first, a system had been established for improving accuracy and reliability through a review by many participants.

On the other hand, problems were identified, including incidents where students plagiarized articles from Wikipedia because of the easy access or some articles in Wikipedia were plagiarized from books. In addition, the controversial issue of whether it is good that a wide variety of information is available with no control and saved on-line perpetually.

Today, Wikileaks (; 2006/12-), a website similar to Wikipedia and dedicated to collecting and releasing secret information from governments, businesses, and/or religion, often comes up in conversation. As you may be able to infer from its name, Wikileaks uses Mediawiki, the same implementation as Wikipedia. Wikileaks started in December 2006, and the existence of this website gained public prominence due to the recent release of secret information related to Afghanistan War (7/25), classified information on U.S. forces in Iraq (10/22), secret documents from the U.S. State Department (11/28) and others. (Figure 1 is quoted as a reference from Google Trend.) In Japan, videos of the collision between a Chinese fishing boat and a Japanese Coast Guard vessel near the Senkaku Islands were leaked to YouTube, which created a sensation. Wikileaks, on the other hand, is more radical and ingenious in terms of its methods of protecting the anonymity of participants (informers) and preventing the involvement of governments and others. As the website itself is located outside the United States, it is impossible for the U.S. government to interfere. Wikileaks is a typical example of what it means to release information on the Internet.

The more democracy is promoted, the more positively information disclosure is promoted. This would reach a disclosure-oriented society where all information is available. In China, however, restrictions were enforced on retrieving information on the Tiananmen Square crash, the Dalai Lama, and others from Google China and now even access to Google, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and other sites is restricted. In short, factors that cannot be controlled by the government tend to be eliminated. It may be difficult to determine whether the attitude of China is right or not. But, if it is right for a nation, the government could decide that information should be concealed and the whole Internet should be monitored.

Nevertheless, the conflict between information disclosure and concealment cannot be simply brushed aside as a matter of differences in political systems. In what way should the conflict be settled? Now that people increasingly tend to demand information disclosure, complete concealment may not be possible, but complete disclosure may be considerably difficult as well. The events mentioned above give us the opportunity to reconsider what might happen in a society where information is disclosed and why secret information is necessary. The events are very interesting if we consider them as virtual experiments for where conflicts finally converge.

(Added on December 3)
As an aside, Wikileaks was hit by DDoS attack just after the release of secret US documents, and therefore, the site is moving its hosting operations to Amazon EC2 and others now. However, operations on Amazon EC2 lasted only two days.

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