more open editing system, Wikipedia too seems ready for an about face. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Wikipedia is considering moving away from its free and open editing system to a method that delays changes from appearing on the site until an authorized user has verified them.Hot on the heels of Encyclopedia Britannica's announcement that it is moving to a
On Thursday Jimmy Wales proposed turning on the system of "flagged revisions" in an attempt to reduce the amount of vandalism on Wikipedia, stating that recent death announcements of Senators Edward Kennedy and Robert Byrd on Wikipedia could have been "100% prevented" by this system.
What are Flagged Revisions?
According to the New York Times, flagged revisions prevent edits of 'new and anonymous' users taking effect until they have been authorized by a 'registered and reliable' user.
While it makes sense that users must be registered to authorize a revision, defining 'reliable' may be a little more difficult. Raoul Nicolas, a Wikipedia contributor since 2005 suggests that all long term contributors should be granted the privilege automatically; if you've contributed more than X edits and been an active participant on Wikipedia for X months, you should have be authorized to approve flagged revisions.
The Potential Problems of Flagged Revisions
Although Nicolas offers a logical solution to determine authority, the question remains just how many users will be deemed trustworthy. According to a study by Aaron Swartz, Jimmy Wales found that "over 50% of all the edits are done by just .7% of the users... 524 people. ... And in fact the most active 2%, which is 1400 people, have done 73.4% of all the edits." While these 1400 users would likely be considered trustworthy, just how many edits can they approve given Wikipedia has more than 150,000 edits daily?
Clearly, there are many questions still to be answered.
The flagged revisions system has been used by the German Wikipedia, although as Wales notes in his proposal, it has at times had approval delays of up to three weeks. "Our version should show very minimal delays (less than one week, hopefully a lot less) because we will be using it on a subset of articles, the boundaries of which can be adjusted over time to manage the backlog," Wales said in his argument; he also recommends a limited test period.
Wales Turns to the Wikipedia Community
Pleading with the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikipedia users, Wales ends his proposal with: "Per the poll of the English Wikipedia community and upon my personal recommendation, please turn on the flagged revisions feature as approved in the poll."
The proposal has led to a heated discussion on the site, you can participate here. While some users oppose the idea calling Wales out for his attempt to use his "
dictatorial constitutional monarch" powers, and others just rant and rave adding little to the conversation, it appears the majority of users applaud Wales on his call to action, asking only for clearer guidelines.
As Wikimedia Foundation spokesman Jay Walsh told the New York Times, "Implementing this functionality is really a volunteer community decision."
Wales, in an attempt to get the ball rolling has asked users who are opposed to the proposal to suggest alternative solutions, giving them until the 29th January to submit ideas before putting suggestions out to be voted on.
Wikipedia's editors have a knack of quickly updating important (and incidental) news largely due to the openness of the site. While the next month will give us a clue in which direction Wikipedia is heading, we can only hope the speed at which updates occur isn't so time consuming that it degrades the service used by so many.
We'll be looking at the potential impact of this dramatic proposed change in more detail over the next few days, but until then, please let us know your thoughts in the comments.