William Beutler on Wikipedia

Archive for September 2009

Jimmy Wales Weighs in on Flagged Revisions

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on September 22, 2009 at 11:14 am

My post this weekend made a point of separating uninformed Wikipedia criticism from informed Wikipedia criticism. One that I listed as meriting a response was the weirdly-titled article “Where Wikipedia Ends” by Farhad Manjoo in Time. In fact, only a day later Wikipedia co-founder and (these days mostly) spiritual leader Jimmy Wales took on the hype at Huffington Post. Here’s the core of his response:

[M]aybe you read this story on Time.com: “They recently instituted a major change, imposing a layer of editorial control on entries about living people. In the past, only articles on high-profile subjects like Barack Obama were protected from anonymous revisions. Under the new plan, people can freely alter Wikipedia articles on, say, their local officials or company head — but those changes will become live only once they’ve been vetted by a Wikipedia administrator.”

That’s all very interesting, albeit completely untrue.

Imagine if the stories told instead said things like this:

“In a major shift towards greater openness, Wikipedia is taking the first steps towards doing away with controls that kept certain pages ‘protected’ or ‘locked’ for many years. Previously, certain high profile and high risk biographies and other entries were kept locked to prevent vandalism by users who had not registered accounts on the site for a ‘waiting period’ of 4 days.”

“The new feature, long advocated by the site’s founder Jimmy Wales, eliminates that restriction by allowing anyone to edit these pages, even without logging in. The secret to being able to do this is that the new feature creates a queue where tens of thousands of longtime users of the site can approve these changes – changes that were previously completely forbidden.”

What? Really? The solution to the problem of bad speech is actually more speech? Openness and collaboration actually work?

Nevertheless, it is true. English Wikipedia will soon launch a new feature that will allow you to edit, as an inexperienced user, articles that have previously been locked more-or-less continuously for years.

To read more about flagged revisions, see Flagged Revisions Come to the English Wikipedia.

Super Mario Wiki?

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on September 20, 2009 at 2:18 pm

From the “merits no response” file:

Wikipedia, billed as the “free encyclopedia,” is not really an encyclopedia at all but an online magazine written by volunteers who do not need to have any specialized knowledge on anything at all.

The Web site says the content is mainly based on anonymous contributions. Anyone who can access the Web site can make changes to articles. I find it odd that someone who has extensive knowledge of a subject wouldn’t want the world to know his or her name. Wikipedia specifically states, “Visitors do not need specialized qualifications to contribute.” Does this make anyone else leery? This means an 11-year-old, who thinks Super Mario Galaxy is based on real planets, could write or edit the entry on the solar system.

Yes, well. This is an excerpt from a student newspaper column at the University of Idaho, so perhaps it’s not fair to pick on this particular individual. It is, however, quite obvious that she is not terribly familiar with how Wikipedia works. If the author wishes to believe that information from Super Mario Galaxy would be allowed to stand on the Solar System article, I am not about to disabuse her of this notion.

The rest of the column a) professes that students should not cite Wikipedia articles in class papers, and b) students should take advantage of the university library. I agree with both points, as I am sure do her professors and the Wikimedia Foundation as well.

More likely meriting a response, however, are critiques from a few higher-profile writers. One is Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman, who has been writing for several years on what he believes is the impending demise of Wikipedia, as recently covered in Ars Technica. Another is tech writer Farhad Manjoo, who has an article in this week’s Time Magazine called “Where Wikipedia Ends”.

These deserve greater consideration because they are the work of individuals who have some academic knowledge of how Wikipedia works — not to mention the reach they enjoy. As time permits, I may get around to publishing them in this space. If you have any thoughts, drop me a line or leave a comment here.