If the writing style on Wikipedia seems occasionally stilted, turns out there may be a perfectly good reason for that.
An increasing number of entries on Wikipedia are being authored by automated software, or bots, that pull raw information from databases, then use algorithms to generate text in standardized templates.
In fact, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report, a single bot program in Sweden has written more than 2.7 million articles on Wikipedia — or about 8.5 percent of the total collection.
The “Lsjbot” is the creation of Swedish university administrator Sverker Johansson, who holds degrees in linguistics, civil engineering, economics and particle physics. Johannson’s author bot can generate up to 10,000 new entries a day.
Most items posted by Lsjbot profile animal species or small towns in the Philippines. About two-thirds of the bot’s entries are written in Filipino, and one-third in Swedish. (Johannson’s wife is from the Philippines.) Once Johannson cuts the bot loose on a subject, it writes and posts the Wikipedia entry automatically.
Wikipedia hosts entries from several such automated software programs, such as rambot, which is used to generate articles on U.S. cities and counties. But Johannson’s creation is by far the most prolific wiki bot around. (Fifty years ago that sequence of words wouldn’t even be a sentence….)
The practice of using bots to create articles has its critics, but Johannson defends the practice, telling WSJ that too many Wikipedia entires are written by white male “nerds.” He notes that, on Swedish Wikipedia, there are more than 150 characters from The Lord of the Rings, but fewer than 10 profiling people from the Vietnam War.