Over the last few days, we have read a lot about how Wikipedia's new 'flagged revision' policy will radically change how entries about living persons will be maintained. Even mainstream media organizations like CNN have now picked up on this story, though there seems to be some confusion about the extent to which these new policies, once implemented, will change the nature of Wikipedia. According to some of these reports, Wikipedia will cease to be free and open. Instead, a group of editors with dictatorial powers will patrol the site. The reality, however, is far less dramatic.

First of all, it is important to realize what 'flagged revisions' really are. As Nihiltres, an anonymous Wikipedia volunteer and editor points out, FlaggedRevs is simply an extension of the Media Wiki software, the open-source project that Wikipedia runs on. It is also important to keep in mind that these changes would only apply to articles about living persons.

Update: according to a clarification on the Wikimedia blog, the latest proposal would not just protect articles about living persons. Instead, Wikipedia would flag all articles "that are currently under normal mechanisms of protection (where new and unregistered users cannot edit) to be eligible for the new protection model, which allows for more open editing."

Flagged Protections and Patrolled Revisions

The current plan is to use this extension to institute a system Wikipedia calls 'flagged protections.' Posts that are flagged as 'protected' can still be edited by any user, but only certain users will actually be able to mark a certain revision as acceptable and allow it to appear on the main version of the entry.

In addition, Wikipedia will institute something called 'patrolled revisions.' While this sounds dramatic, all this feature would do is simply mark a certain version of a Wikipedia entry as reviewed. Thanks to this, it would become easier to compare a reviewed version against later edits, which should help Wikipedia editors to detect and weed out vandalism. These patrolled revisions have no influence over what regular users will see on the site.

As is typical for large changes to Wikipedia, administrators, editors, and users have been discussing the specifics of these changes for the last couple of months, and it is still not clear what the final result will look like. A test version of Wikipedia that uses the Flagged Revision extension is already live, though it's not clear when and if these changes will go live on the main site.

Pros and Cons

There are a number of pros and cons to implementing the proposed changes. On the one hand, this will most likely make vandalism less of a problem on the site. On the other hand, however, as Nihiltres also notes, the result of using Flagged Revisions could be a large backlog of edits.

Some have argued, however, that thanks to this new feature, Wikipedia's editors wouldn't have to completely lock down edits on some controversial articles anymore. Instead, users could still make edits to these articles and those edits would just have to be reviewed before they go live on the site.

Overall, this doesn't sound like a bad proposal. It doesn't really change the nature of Wikipedia, but it does acknowledge some of the issues that an open site of this size inevitably faces and proposes a reasonable solution.