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In this interview with Scott Abel of The, Virgil Griffith, a 24-year-old self-proclaimed “hacker”, demystifies his extremely popular WikiScanner project, an online resource that allows users to do something they could never do before—discover which companies have been editing Wikipedia listings.

TCW: Virgil, thanks for joining us today. For those who don’t know who you are and what you do, please tell us a little about yourself.

VG: By day, I am a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology where I study theoretical neurobiology and artificial life. By night, I am a disruptive technologist with a particular interest in data mining.

TCW: You’ve made quite a lot of noise with your innovative use of technology, especially with the release of WikiScanner. Tell us a little about WikiScanner and what it allows folks to do.

VG: WikiScanner allows people to examine the anonymous edits made by a particular company, or what companies made edits to a particular Wikipedia page.

TCW: I’m certain there are many people who will be interested in using WikiScanner. I’ve taken it for a test drive and it’s fairly easy to use. For the techies who are reading this, how does WikiScanner work?

VG: I downloaded all of the English Wikipedia, extracted the anonymous edits, as well as what IP address they came from.  I then connected this to a database saying what IP ranges are owned by different organizations. So, now you can input a company or organization name, and it shows all anonymous Wikipedia edits that came from IP addresses they own.

TCW: Wow! That’s pretty powerful and awfully revealing. There have got to be some pretty nervous folks out there hoping your tool doesn’t uncover some of the edits they’d prefer remain anonymous. What are some of the most interesting uses of WikiScanner that users have shared with you so far? Are there some “revelations” that you find particularly intriguing?

VG: For legal reasons I can’t talk about that. I’ve been sued for my research work and I don’t plan to be sued for this work. See the lists on Wired’s 27bstroke6 blog as well as MaltaStar.

Editor’s note: Virgil recently announced that he’s making available WikiScanners for those who want to uncover edits made to the Dutch and Japanese versions of Wikipedia.

TCW: The story behind WikiScanner is pretty interesting in and of itself. You’ve said you created WikiScanner to help you with your quest to be the number one ranked “Virgil” on the web. Why do you wish to be the number one “Virgil”? How would you benefit from such a ranking?

VG: In no way do I benefit from being the #1 hit for “virgil”.  Like WikiScanner, I am doing this solely for my own entertainment.

TCW: At age 24, you’ve got lots of years ahead of you to create new and entertaining tools such as WikiScanner. What’s next on your drawing board?

VG: Although I have some other data-mining projects in the works, the best works are unleashed onto the world by surprise. When they are finished, they will be published on my website, However, I’ll tell you that the new stuff coming out is hilarity incarnate.

TCW:We’ll look forward to your next adventures. One last question: What is your favorite website or web service and why?

VG:I definitely like and is doing the best work I know for making a useful web-enabled command line. is wonderful for enjoying music while not being bothered by extraneous YouTube cruft.

TCW: Virgil, thanks for taking time out of your busy day to chat with us. I know our members really appreciate it.

VG: My pleasure.