Wikiscanner Creator Profiled in NYT

Here's a snip from Virginia Heffernan's New York Times profile of Virgil Griffith, the creator of Wikiscanner, whom Pesco and I had the pleasure of meeting a few weeks ago at the Webby Connect conference. BTW, when we met, there were no hot girls clinging to him. But that was at lunchtime, surrounded by sandwiches, and the day was young. Also that is not actually his laptop case, above. Anyhoo:

Girls hang on Virgil Griffith. This is no exaggeration. At parties, they cling to the arms of the 25-year-old hacker whose reason for being, he says, is to "make the Internet a better and more interesting place." The founder of a data-mining tool called WikiScanner, Griffith is also a visiting researcher at the mysterious Santa Fe Institute, where "complex systems" are studied. He was once charged, wide-eyed rumor has it, with sedition. No wonder girls whisper secrets in his ear and laugh merrily at his arcane jokes.

WikiScanner, which Griffith created last year, makes it possible to figure out which organization made which edits to a Wikipedia entry by cross-referencing IP addresses with a database of IP address owners. You can imagine how much fun this tool is to deploy – to see how someone with a address tinkers with the Jeremiah Wright entry, or how Diebold apparently protects its reputation by deleting criticism of its voting machines and political connections. The promise of WikiScanner is to help free Wikipedia from both propaganda and sabotage. But Griffith says he also aspires "to create minor public-relations disasters for companies and organizations I dislike."

He's a troublemaker, then. A twerp. And a magnet for tech-world groupies. At the WebbyConnect conference in Southern California last month, I saw it with my own eyes: Griffith, enjoying a White Russian that I first mistook for chocolate milk, reveled in the attention of his female fans. He smiled broadly. He seemed like a young Henry Kissinger, but sweet, or Arthur Fonzarelli, but not a dropout.

Internet Man of Mystery (Image: Kevin Van Aelst / NYT; Thanks, Richard Metzger)