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Wikipedia confronts downside of 'Net openness

o Paul McNamara
21.06.2010 kl 04:41 | Network World (US)

In an attempt to encourage greater participation in the crafting of its pages, Wikipedia -- the self-described "online encyclopedia that anyone can edit" -- is turning to tighter editorial control as a substitute for simply "locking" those entries that frequently attract mischief makers and ideologues.

 

In an attempt to encourage greater participation in the crafting of its pages, Wikipedia -- the self-described "online encyclopedia that anyone can edit" -- is turning to tighter editorial control as a substitute for simply "locking" those entries that frequently attract mischief makers and ideologues.

The problem Wikipedia is attempting to address with its new "Pending Changes" policy more or less mirrors the grief faced by proprietors of any Internet forum that attempts to foster open participation and discussion: Anonymity attracts trolls. (Blog spam has rocketed past e-mail spam on my list of annoyances.)

That tighter control will encourage participation – and improve quality -- may seem counter-intuitive, but in the context of Wikipedia's long-running troubles with pranksters and political operatives it makes a lot of sense. The new process is aimed at both first-time and anonymous contributors; in other words those who are most likely to cause trouble.

A blog post from Wikipedia's Moka Pantages explains: "Articles that are frequently subjected to malicious edits have long been locked, sometimes for years, and protected from editing by new and anonymous users. Over the last year, the Wikimedia Foundation and volunteers from the community have been working to develop Pending Changes, a softer alternative to these editing restrictions. At present, only about 0.1 percent of the 3.3 million articles on the English Wikipedia are under edit protection. This tool should help reduce disruptive edits or errors to articles while maintaining open, collaborative editing from anyone who wants to contribute."

Changes submitted by new or anonymous users will be screened by experienced Wikipedia editors before they are published, a process that is sure to create controversies of its own, but one far preferable to the free-for-all that has rendered some Wikipedia pages untrustworthy.

The trial of the new system will cover a maximum of 2,000 pages, including such frequently vandalized ones as that about former President George W. Bush.

Wikipedia recently announced that it has received a $1.2 million grant to improve the accuracy of articles about public policy, many of which are targets of pranksters and less-than-objective editing.

Even as the site has grown ever larger and more useful, Wikipedia has experienced a serious decline in participation by content creators and editors. Some of that decline has been attributed to the difficulty experienced by newcomers.

If it works, "Pending Changes" has a chance to address both issues.

Internet Society bids me adieu -- briefly

The e-mail from The Internet Society (ISOC) hit my in-box with an unceremonious thud: "You have been unsubscribed from the ISOC-members-announce mailing list."

Huh? What? Why? I didn't ...

Now, granted, I have not attended ISOC meetings in recent years (ever, really) or offered the organization's activities much in the way of news coverage, but this banishment did catch me by surprise and I was at a loss to understand its motivation.

Then about an hour later came the second e-mail:

"I was doing some list maintenance on the isoc-members-announce list which caused unsubscribe messages to be sent to everybody on the list. If you have received this message you can rest assured that you are still subscribed to isoc-members-announce. I am very sorry for this mistake and hope I have not caused you undue concern.

Best regards,

Name Withheld to Protect the Careless"

Phew.

Care to bid me something else? The address is buzz@nww.com.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

Keywords: Software  
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