The Making of Wikipedia

A New Approval Process is Not Really New - And Could Make Wiki’s Reputation

http://wikipedia.org/

During Wikimania 2006 in Boston, Massachusetts, Jimmy ‘Jimbo’ Wales told the press they were discussing a new system of dealing with vandalism on Wikipedia. In an effort to curb this kind of activity, he announced the “2006 proposed approval for anonymous edits” that would require approval of new or anonymous-user changes on disputed entries before applying the material to the public default version. The unapproved changes would not disappear altogether, but could still be seen by clicking a “live” link on the page.

The media reported on the proposal, but misunderstood it. From a tech story on the BBC – later corrected – to numerous articles on internet tech sites, the proposal was considered a threat to the interactive, or “wiki,” nature of Wikipedia.

The reverse is true.  If the new proposal were to be adopted as universal policy, the wiki nature of Wikipedia would in fact be enhanced, because Wikipedia has never really been as “wiki” as many believe. A true “wiki” site, by definition, would allow anyone to edit and make edits available to visitors, and Wikipedia has never been that. At least not with all entries.

In its five years of existence, Wikipedia has, to a great extent, proven that a decentralized, open-to-anyone project can overcome the bad intentions of the few, by relying on the good nature of the many to fix and improve the content as the project has made its way to prominence. But prominence invokes scrutiny, and vandalism on the site has captured the interest of critics, prompting them to focus on Wikipedia’s “flaw:” being a partially open, “anyone can edit,” site.

Critics have not been the only ones to voice their concerns, however. The people running the project have had to cope with such interference from the very beginning, applying “protected” or “semi-protected” status to flawed articles. “Protected” articles are locked and can only be edited by administrators. “Semi-protected” articles, on the other hand, can be edited by anyone, apart from very new and anonymous users. Ever since the project got onto its feet, articles in which editing wars, or vandalism was detected have been either “protected” or “semi-protected,” respectively.

Putting in place the proposed policy would get rid of the arbitrary stance of “protected” and “semi-protected” entries, in which only administrators or registered users can edit. It would allow anonymous or new users to edit “flagged” entries, and have their edits saved for later screening.

“If vandalism can’t be seen by the general public, there will be less motivation to vandalize,” states the Wikimedia entry about the proposal.

Critics in Slashdot.org blogs, have argued that the new policy shift, currently being tested on German Wikipedia, may diminish the openness of the site by increasing the number of flagged articles. The mechanism would be tempting to use on more entries, ultimately resulting in a forest of flagged Wikipedia entries, sidelining anonymous and new contributors.

Wales himself claims that the new mechanism will make Wikipedia thus more open, and ultimately more “wiki,”

The criticism is well founded, but Wales is also right, although slightly parting from the wiki concept in the process. Ideally, those who want the site to be more wiki should register and become a known user, while those who treat it as an encyclopedia will have a more accurate and cleaner information database.

The proposal would also help clarify the blurred lines between ordinary readers – who tend to be unregistered – and the writing staff. But, it only takes four days as a registered to be able to apply changes to the default entries – a fact that raises another important question: What does Wales have in mind when it comes to vandals who are willing to wait four days?

Over time, the Wiki-Masters may find they have to get stricter still.

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