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Archive for February, 2009

Wikipedia breaks with the tradition of ‘Anything Goes’

The Independent newspaper published an article on Tuesday, 3 February 2009, titled ‘So is Wikipedia cracking up?’ in which Stephen Foley explores the problem of vandalism plaguing certain areas of the online encyclopaedia site, and Wikipedia’s reaction to it.

The article states, ‘Barack Obama’s inauguration day was the final straw for Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s founder and visionary-in-chief, who declared that it was time to break with the tradition of “anything goes”.

From now on, he proposes, editing the biography of a living person will be a two-stage process; anyone can still make a revision, but it will have to be flagged as “approved” by someone higher up the Wikipedian food-chain before it goes live on the site. “This sort of nonsense would have been 100 per cent prevented by flagged revisions,” Wales stated.

Of course, apart from the headline itself there is no indication of Wikipedia ‘cracking up’ – it remains a source of information that millions of people around the world are coming to rely on more and more. What we are really seeing here is Wikipedia moving to a more ‘managed’ approach to editing,  but even this limited move towards moderation will be a big change to Wikipedia’s former somewhat laissez faire approach in allowing changes to instantly go live.

We have implemented a similar approach in having editors involved in the moderation of new company data and business information here on Bizwiki because as a business site, it’s vitally important that users can trust and rely on information. This does slow the process of adding new records down somewhat, but we believe we’ve still kept the best part of the wiki-model, which is a site made by its users for its users.

In Wikipedia’s case, Reid Priedhorsky, who studies Wikipedia and similar social projects at the University of Minnesota, estimated in a recent paper that the chances of any one visitor seeing a damaged Wikipedia page are about one in 140, as the average time it takes to repair damage is less than three minutes, and even less for heavily tracked pages.
However, the most startling fact about Wikipedia remains how accurate it is, not how inaccurate.

“As a researcher, I’m baffled that it works, but Wikipedia is one of the wonderful things that has happened in the 21st century. Many hands make light work. There are millions of people who edit Wikipedia, and many of them track changes to the pages they are interested in. I have 43 pages on my watchlist, for example, covering subjects I know things about. Any controversial edit is likely to be quickly seen by many people.”

So while we can expect their approach to continue to gradually change and evolve, long live Wikipedia and their brave goal of enabling users to create the largest encyclopaedia of knowledge the world has ever known.

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