Software bots undoing each others edits is a common thing and the wars rage for years
I’d wager pretty much any internet user who has searched the web for information on a topic or event since 2001 when Wikipedia launched has used the site. What you might not know is that behind the human editors, Wikipedia fields its own software bots that are used to fix errors in Wikipedia pages, add links to other pages, and perform other basic tasks with the content.
In the early days there were few of the software bots and conflicts between them were rare. As Wikipedia aged and more and more bots were fielded something strange began to happen. The software bots would feud over changes made to content with one bot swooping in to remove links and undo changes that another had made to the content.
A study backed by the Oxford Internet Institute has looked at the phenomenon. Taha Yasseri is one of the people working on that study. Yasseri said, “The fights between bots can be far more persistent than the ones we see between people. Humans usually cool down after a few days, but the bots might continue for years.”
For the study the editing histories of 13 different language editions of Wikipedia were studied and each time one bot undid another bots changes, it was recorded.
“We had very low expectations to see anything interesting. When you think about them they are very boring,” said Yasseri. “The very fact that we saw a lot of conflict among bots was a big surprise to us. They are good bots, they are based on good intentions, and they are based on same open source technology.”
Some of the fights among the bots focused on what names to call certain conflicted territories. Interestingly some of the most bot contested pages on Wikipedia had to do with pages for former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf, the Arabic language, Niels Bohr, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Two particular bots went at it more than any others.
These bots were xqbot and darknessbot, the duo fought over 3,629 different articles between 2009 and 2010 alone. XQbot undid over 2,000 edits made by Darknessbot with Darknessbot undoing 1,700 of Xqbots changes. Bots Tachikoma and Russbot also fought it out undoing thousands of edits made by each other. The bots least likely to fight were on German language pages, bots most likely to fight were on the Portuguese version of Wikipedia.
On average German bots only undid each others changes 24 times per decade compared to the 185 times per decade for the Portuguese bots. US bots undid each others edits about 105 times per decade. The conflicts were due to each bot having slightly different rules to follow than the next.