is one of the most prominent cases for world collaboration and social media in action. Unlike the standard encyclopedia, often written by experts and sourced from the same, Wikipedia articles are entirely community-built, often without restrictions. If you can create an account, you can write and edit Wikipedia articles. It is that feature that as made it into one of the world’s most popular websites.
Now a core feature, perhaps a core principal, of “the free encyclopedia anyone can edit” is about to become restricted. According to The New York Times, editing articles about living people on Wikipedia will require approval from an experienced editor first.
Is this a fundamental shift to the Wikipedia philosophy, or a necessary step to assure that quality reigns over misinformation?
The lengthy New York Times piece goes into detail about this plan. Or, as Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales called it, a test:
“It is a test. We will be interested to see all the questions raised. How long will it take for something to be approved? Will it take a couple of minutes, days, weeks?”
The new restrictions are called flagged revisions. Before any newbie or novice updates the Wikipedia page of a living person, a senior editor has to sign off on the change before it goes live. This will occur to the English edition of Wikipedia in the next few weeks. It’s been in testing already, as the German-language version already has this restriction on all articles.
Why the change now though? Wikimedia chairman Michael Snow had this to say to the NYT:
“We are no longer at the point that it is acceptable to throw things at the wall and see what sticks. There was a time probably when the community was more forgiving of things that were inaccurate or fudged in some fashion — whether simply misunderstood or an author had some ax to grind. There is less tolerance for that sort of problem now.”
Wikipedia Turns the Page
As Wikipedia’s influence has grown, so has the amount of reliance people have placed in the social media non-profit. People go to Wikipedia first for information on almost every topic. It has replaced the paper and binder encyclopedias of old, especially for the new generation.
However, adding misinformation and inaccurate edits is relatively easy, and those changes could stay up for hours, days, or even weeks in some cases. It’s been one of Wikipedia’s major drawbacks. The new flagged revisions feature is really the only effective way to address the issue of inaccuracy. We won’t be surprised if the change is imposed on all articles eventually.
Still, we can’t help but feel a bit sad that this change had to happen. Wikipedia was egalitarian in the spread and use of information, and it treated everyone as equal contributors of knowledge. While that may not necessarily be true in the real world, it still was the driving force behind the creation of 3 million articles, more than any other encyclopedia could ever hope to boast.
The move was necessary, but it does mark a new chapter in the Wikipedia information age and the end of an old one.
I love Wikipedia