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A Look at the Editorial Changes on Wikipedia 367

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the troll-combat dept.
prostoalex writes "New York Times Technology section this weekend is running an extensive article on Wikipedia and recent changes to the editorial policy. Due to high level of partisan involvement some political topics like George Bush, Tony Blair and Opus Dei are currently either protected (editorials are allowed only to a selected group of Wikipedia members) or semi-protected (anyone who has had an account for more than four days can edit the article). From the article: 'Protection is a tool for quality control, but it hardly defines Wikipedia,' Mr. Wales said. 'What does define Wikipedia is the volunteer community and the open participation.'"
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A Look at the Editorial Changes on Wikipedia

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  • No such thing..... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DoraLives (622001) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @09:38PM (#15556770)
    as a perfect system.

    If outfits like Britannica and other professionally edited sources of information are subject to the slings and arrows of political agenda and false facts, then there's no reason to expect Wikipeia to be somehow immune to this stuff as well.

    Strive to improve, but realize that it's impossible to hit it right every last time.

    • by slashdotnickname (882178) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @11:04PM (#15557019)
      What Wikipedia should do is have an editor branch for each article. All editing would occur on the normal branch of an article by everyone (as is done now with non-locked articles). Whenever the article reaches a good stable point, as agreed on by community discussions, then an editor would be invited (if not participating already) to merge a requested version of the normal branch onto the editor branch. Editors would consist of "trusted" users, picked by some sensible criteria.

      As far as the user's experience... looking up an article would bring the user to the normal-branch version (as is done now) and a link would be present if an editor version exists (with 1 million plus articles most won't have an editor version for a while). Maybe the user can specify the branch type when searching.

      The main idea here is that good stable copies of an article would be archived seperately from the normal(editable) version.
      • by natrius (642724) <niran@n[ ]n.org ['ira' in gap]> on Saturday June 17, 2006 @11:46PM (#15557133) Homepage
        Whenever the article reaches a good stable point, as agreed on by community discussions, then an editor would be invited (if not participating already) to merge a requested version of the normal branch onto the editor branch.

        This is exactly what needs to happen at some point. Commentators like to refer to Wikipedia as the "open source encyclopedia", but open source projects don't just let anyone contribute. They evaluate patches, and after contributors have a proven track record, they're allowed to commit patches directly.

        With that said, people need to stop comparing Wikipedia to Brittanica as if it's some sort of holy grail of quality to reach. Wikipedia is already better than Brittanica. There are two main uses people have for encyclopedias: as a casual source of information and as a starting point for research. Wikipedia is a better casual source of information because it provides far more information about more topics than Britannica does. The articles are also longer and more in depth. I have never looked up something in Wikipedia and not found an article for it, while that has happened several times with traditional encyclopedias. It's only natural that a digital reference will be able to cover more topics than a printed one due to the lack of space limitations. As a starting point for research, many Wikipedia articles list references, which gives you primary sources to go to if you need to dig deeper than what is in the articles.

        So why exactly should Wikipedia be striving to be like Britannica? It can do better.
        • by Zeinfeld (263942)
          With that said, people need to stop comparing Wikipedia to Brittanica as if it's some sort of holy grail of quality to reach. Wikipedia is already better than Brittanica. There are two main uses people have for encyclopedias: as a casual source of information and as a starting point for research. Wikipedia is a better casual source of information because it provides far more information about more topics than Britannica does

          The question is better for what. Wikipedia has more articles, many of them are fan

          • by yoder (178161) * <progressivepenguin@gmail.com> on Sunday June 18, 2006 @10:22AM (#15558039) Homepage Journal
            Zeinfeld said:
            "The Cindy Sheehan article attracted so many opposing POV peddlers that the article itself was protected and thus out of date for most of the time it was relevant."

            I'm trying to figure out why this is bad. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not an online news magazine or online newspaper. Encyclopedias are not and should not be considered current event news sources, as it frequently takes months or even years for all necessary information about a subject or event to surface.
      • Maybe they could have a similar setup to /.'s moderation system. People edit pages. And others moderate those changes. Then have meta moderators and karma and +5 funny!
        • by headkase (533448)
          You know, Slashdot's moderation system was old when I was young give or take two decades. Moderation exists in irc and usenet as well in the form of channel operators and select newsgroups respectively. Moderation is a good thing and Wikipedia will probably do well evolving their own moderation style, syntax, and categories. As your parent post goes, different default branches can be served to difference audiences depending on their role (reader, editor, moderator, ?). Additionally meta-data in other br
        • by Milikki (103463) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @09:51AM (#15557991)
          Part of the problem with that is if you go against the groupthink. Just as here at Slashdot, if you express an opinion based on observed circumstances and it goes against the norm, it will be modded out regardless of its veracity.

          See for example, most any complaint against a variant of Linux. They are modded offtopic, redundant or most commonly as trolls if they show the truth and not the ideal as decided by the mob.

          Kevin
          • by StikyPad (445176)
            if you express an opinion based on observed circumstances and it goes against the norm, it will be modded out regardless of its veracity.

            Well, that's probably not such a bad thing. Independant researchers are discouraged from posting on Wikipedia, since that's not the proper format for vetting new information. An encyclopedia is a collection of knowledge, and there will always be some margin of error between facts and knowledge. If everyone "knew" that the world was flat, it would make sense for an encyc
      • by LittLe3Lue (819978) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @04:59AM (#15557641)
        Wikipedia has anounced that they will call the public version 'unstable' the intermediary version 'testing' and the final edited version 'stable'

        seriously though, that is not a bad idea. I would be very happy to see some sort of 'weighted confidence level' associated with whats contributed to wikipedia, with a lower rating for contribution from most people, which would be the default viewing threshold. Then in your preferences, or at the top of all articles, have a link to allow you to filter to higher level contributions.

        Of course this may have problems with lower level contributors trying to update higher level content and such, but 2-3 levels of depth could prove useful.. if slashdot comments have proven anything over the years its that not all contibutions are created equal..
      • Editors would consist of "trusted" users, picked by some sensible criteria.

        This won't work because there are many established gnomes (Wikipedia's nick name for trusted users) with well established posting histories that also have an agenda. Their expertise is not in the subject matter but playing the wikipedia system for often for revisionist purposes. They often reguritate popular myth over facts.

        What is needed is a method of independent expert review and/or fact checkers.
      • It already exists. [wikipedia.org]
    • by DiamondGeezer (872237) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @02:28AM (#15557440) Homepage
      Here's my challenge to you: let me see you get on a wiki-aeroplane, where it's all been built by an army of non-experts from around the world, and watched over by non-engineer overseers to protect from regular vandalism by people who'd like to see people crash and burn, and hopefully by the time it leaves the runway the vandalism will be minor.

      Besides Boeing and other professional aerospace companies also have a motto of

      "Strive to improve, but realise that it's impossible to hit it right every last time"

      Just in case you think I'm being facetious, Jimbo Wales has recently cheerfully admitted [theregister.co.uk] that he get 10 e-mails a week from students who complain that they got an F because they cited Wikipedia and the citation turned out to be wrong. And Jimbo says "For God sake, you're in college; don't cite the encyclopedia"

      The other remarkable thing about Slashdot is that this army of nerds who will mark down this post, would never accept a wikipedia model for writing software where anyone anywhere can write, edit, delete code at any time.
      • If an aeroplane crashes, you die.
        If you're letting an encyclopedia have potentially life-threatening effects on you, there's something wrong with you.

        Look, saying that "Wikipedia is bad because it contains inaccuracies and vandalism" is like saying that "the internet is dangerous because it contains phishers, pedophiles, and madmen". Both statements are true, but neither is a reason to not use the respective resource — both of them are just too valuable to stop using them. Instead, we should focus
        • If an aeroplane crashes, you die.
          If you're letting an encyclopedia have potentially life-threatening effects on you, there's something wrong with you.


          You don't have to have to let it personally. You just have to be in the line of fire of someone who does.

          Look, saying that "Wikipedia is bad because it contains inaccuracies and vandalism" is like saying that "the internet is dangerous because it contains phishers, pedophiles, and madmen". Both statements are true, but neither is a reason to not use the respec
      • by zippthorne (748122) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @09:30AM (#15557966) Journal
        I wouldn't get on an airplane designed and built by the editors of Funk & Wagnell's or Britannica either. But I would read about airplanes, and maybe get some ideas on how to find the right people from any of the three. In fact, of those options, wikipedia is the only one with a possibility of having a link to the official site of a real airplane manufacturer, dealer, or classified-ad type thingie.

        Encyclopedias are NOT references. They are research tools.

        Also, Wikipedia's vast repository of popular TV show plots makes it an ideal tool to avoid having to actually watch the shows to feign interest in your cow orker's small talk.
      • by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquietNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Sunday June 18, 2006 @11:57AM (#15558278) Journal
        Here's my challenge to you: let me see you get on a wiki-aeroplane...
        Right! It's always a good idea to assume that a management and development technique that works well (or not) for creating a general encyclopedia should be equally well-suited to the construction of a complex, manufactured, physical artifact. Have you ever had the following conversation at the hardware store--and if not, why not?

        "This is a terrible hammer! It does an awful job installing screws!"

        Just in case you think I'm being facetious, Jimbo Wales has recently cheerfully admitted that he get 10 e-mails a week from students who complain that they got an F because they cited Wikipedia and the citation turned out to be wrong. And Jimbo says "For God sake, you're in college; don't cite the encyclopedia"
        And--I hate to break it to you--he was right to say so. I know of professors who will fail a student for citing any encyclopedia article in a reference, even if the information cited is factually correct. Encyclopedias are never (or should never be) primary sources. Anyone doing any sort of research should be going right to the original source documents. College students should know better than to try to get away with citing an encyclopedia article, and they should be learning how to properly dig up primary source material.

        By the time a student reaches the postsecondary level, that student should be able to find sources that aren't on the first page of Google hits. They should never trust a tertiary source. (Incidentally, Wikipedia articles tend to be better about providing citations to primary sources; Britannica seldom does so.)

  • What's the fuss? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Poromenos1 (830658) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @09:39PM (#15556771) Homepage
    Why are people so upset about this? I think that protection is good for controversial pages, if a majority of the Wikipedia community (the people who edit/take care of it actively) agrees that it's mostly balanced and true. It's not like they are banning changes on all of wikipedia, they just want people to wait a bit before editing or not being able to edit controversial pages.

    Remember what happens when a page gets linked to slashdot, it takes all of 3 seconds for the picture to change to penes.
  • YRO? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nimey (114278) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @09:39PM (#15556772) Homepage Journal
    Why is this YRO? Wiki isn't a government organization. If they don't like what Joe Random does, they can't kick the door down & send him to the gulag.

    Besides, it seems like sound policy.
    • Re:YRO? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Alkivar (25833) * on Saturday June 17, 2006 @09:45PM (#15556784) Homepage
      It is a sound policy, the debate [wikipedia.org] over semi-protection policy [wikipedia.org] lasted for several weeks and covered many arguments both for and against. I think in the end we came up with a rather well balanced and effective policy.
    • Re:YRO? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CastrTroy (595695) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @09:46PM (#15556785) Homepage
      The problem is, is that this seems like a few bad apples ruining it for everyone else. This happens all the time in real life. DVDs are encrypted because they figured people would copy them unfairly. And some people do. The problem is that it makes them harder for everyone else to use in the process. The question then becomes how much protection is too much? If they blocked out editing of all wikipedia content then it would kind of defeat the purpose of the entire website. If however they only choose to block editing of certain articles that get a lot of false information in them to get a political agenda across (either way) then, it's probably a good thing that articles are not wide open for everyone to edit.
      • Re:YRO? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Nimey (114278)
        Yes, but I'm whingeing that this isn't Your Rights Online.
        • Of course it's your rights online. If you are a member of Wikipedia, and contribute good content to it all the time, then it kind of sucks that you are no longer able to edit certain articles, because other people post material of questionable quality. The contributors helped to build wikipedia, and now they are being blocked out of editing some of the content they may have even written themselves.
    • Re:YRO? (Score:5, Funny)

      by NoMaster (142776) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @10:07PM (#15556851) Homepage Journal
      Why is this YRO? Wiki isn't a government organization. If they don't like what Joe Random does, they can't kick the door down & send him to the gulag.
      Yet... ;-)

      Slashdot, circa 1925...
      "Why is this YRO? The MPAA isn't a government organization. If they don't like what Joe Random does, they can't kick the door down & send him to the gulag."

  • Vandals (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mboverload (657893) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @09:44PM (#15556782) Journal
    As a vandal figher on Wikipedia, I just want people to understand this. Wikipedia has so many vandalism edits it is amazing. I don't even bother checking on edits by users, IP edits are pretty much 1/3 vandalism.

    It's a shame, but Wikipedia is at fault for trusting human nature to be good, when it isn't. We are a destructive species and Wikipedia is on the tipping point of being a big enough target for utter destruction.
    • Re:Vandals (Score:2, Interesting)

      by hasbeard (982620)
      Well, it is kind of hard to believe that when people go to all kinds of trouble to hack into web servers to deface web pages, they won't avail themselves of the opportunity to do it much more easily. Perhaps they do need to change the policy to where editorial rights are restricted until a person becomes more of a "known quantity."
    • and Wikipedia is on the tipping point of being a big enough target for utter destruction.
      Imminent death of Wikipedia predicted. Film at 11.
    • Re:Vandals (Score:2, Insightful)

      The whole idea of Wikipedia is that with enough readers/contributors, things generally tend to improve--more eyes makes all errors shallow. So why lock pages at all? High-volume pages attract vandals, but they also attract well-meaning people to fix them up. Pages linked from high-traffic sites should be the ones that improve the fastest, surely?
      • Re:Vandals (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 17, 2006 @10:10PM (#15556866)
        Have you ever tried editing a page on a wiki where edits are flying in at what feels like a hundred a minute? There are several problems with this. First of all, about half of edits to a high profile page will be vandalism, and half will be reverting to a previous version. A very small percentage will be adding information to the article.

        When someone wanting to add information to an article comes in and edits a completely unprotected George W. Bush article in this example, in the time it takes them to add that information, five more edits have happened. The first vandalized it. The second reverted to a previous version. The third added information in a biased way, the fourth neutralized the information and added a source, while the fifth again vandalized it. When that user clicks "submit," they get a notice that there has been an "edit conflict."

        Their previous version that they tried to submit might be saved on the previous page, if they're using a good enough browser, but if they did something like correct a typo, they have to correct those typos all over again while ensuring the newly added information stays there. Semi-protecting the page is an alternative to fully protecting the page that deters vandals that are too lazy to fill out the registration form, thus ensuring not only that less time is spent on reverting, but that people willing with registered 4 day old accounts willing to add information will be able to do so without an "edit conflict" notice.
      • Re:Vandals (Score:5, Insightful)

        by interiot (50685) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @10:18PM (#15556884) Homepage
        High-volume pages are sometimes a person's first impression of Wikipedia, and Wikipedia doesn't want their first impression to be a giant picture of a penis or other vandalism (eg. same reason the main page is locked from editing).


        Also, high-volume pages tend to have a relatively high number of newcommers. And, there's a at least a perception that if a page is left to newcommers, that it won't be maintained as well as if it had a more even mix of newcommers and established editors. (eg. it may not be 100% obvious to new users how to revert vandalism if they do spot it... new users may not know about NPOV, and may not be sure whether they should remove blantant POV statements... high-traffic pages may have edit conflicts, and that may frustrate well-meaning users attempting to fix vandalism...)

        Another thing is that for articles like George W. Bush... it kind of sucks if 80% of history is vandal-revert-vandal-revert-vandal-revert... it makes it harder to review legitimate edits.

      • Re:Vandals (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Khaed (544779)
        Because no one wants to sit there reverting an article every five minutes because a jackass keeps putting a penis on the George W. Bush/Tony Blair/Christina Aguilera page, or replacing the picture of the newly elected Pope with Hitler, or changing the Hitler article to "JEWS SUCK LOLOLOL."

        I'm surprised they're not a little stricter.
    • You forgot to add: </FUD>

      Seriously, the majority of edits are perfectly fine, though often misguided. If you focus on fighting vandalism, you'll find vandals everywhere (I know from experience). The only thing Wikipedia has to worry about is to keep the funds coming in [wikimedia.org].
    • It's one of those "I can't do it so nobody should do it" things. Whenever someone does something great, someone will come along and crap on it. It starts with building sandcastles and some bully kicking them to the ground and ends with patent wars.
    • Problem is a simple one of ratios and not eyes. The amount of people willing to fix a page is probably less than 1% of viewers. Amazingly it still works, untill that page becomes a target of a specific group of vandles then the percentage of people willing to combat falls while the percentage willing to vandalize goes up. And unwinable game if you can't lock the content.

      What simply amazes me is that the 4 day lock works, seems like a vandle would have no problem waiting 4 simple days. I guess the problem i
    • Re:Vandals (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Robotron23 (832528) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @10:41PM (#15556951) Homepage
      To add to this, as an editor of Wikipedia for well over a year now it is always a pleasent surprise how many non-registered users simply commence to fix typos, improve grammar or language wording and so forth.

      We may be a destructive species, but we are also very constructive; if Wikipedia is such a great target for destruction, wouldn't the core community of trolls and generally disruptive persons have had more victories by now? You imply that the encyclopedia is teetering on the brink; with a growing team of dedicated persons and articles improving rapidly it is a struggle to see a logical basis for that particular assertion.
    • Re:Vandals (Score:3, Insightful)

      by swarsron (612788)
      "It's a shame, but Wikipedia is at fault for trusting human nature to be good, when it isn't. We are a destructive species and Wikipedia is on the tipping point of being a big enough target for utter destruction"

      I have to disagree. If we were a destructive species something like Wikipedia wouldn't be possible at all. The problem is that a small group can do great harm. 1% of the users are enough in a open system like wikipedia to give the impression that people tend to vandalize just for fun, but the big ma
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 17, 2006 @09:54PM (#15556813)
    These changes are hardly recent. Protection policy was introduced in or before at least 2003. Semi-protection policy was introduced around January 2006. Several years ago the George Bush article kept being reverted back and forth between vandalized versions and unvandalized versions so much that they had just decided to lock the whole thing down, as was standard procedure, which would temporarily have the vandals leave until they came back seeing it was unprotected again.

    In January, semi-protection was introduced, allowing only registered users with accounts older than 4 days to edit these highly vandalized articles. The registration form is what deters the vandals from vandalizing; they're too lazy to make such an effort. Current protection policy is used when there are edit wars between registered users. Having the page temporarily protected, as the article describes, allows a cooling off period and a mediation of the dispute for those parties until they come to an agreement.

    The first time a page was protected, I heard, was in the project's first year, when even the main page was editable. They stopped that when popularity grew enough for there to be a penis on the main page during revert wars on it with vandals. The article is accurate, but the headline isn't.
  • by brian0918 (638904) <brian0918 AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday June 17, 2006 @09:56PM (#15556819)
    Bush's article has been pretty much semi-protected since semi-protection was created, and it is unlikely to change until after he's out of office--probably longer. That article has more edits than any others, and most of those were vandalism/reversions. Sometimes it seems like every single newbie who comes along and discovers "OMG I H4X WIKIPEDIA" tests their abilities by blanking the article or adding some random obscenity. What the public and John Siegenthaler don't understand is that it's not the current state of an article that is important to Wikipedia's editors--only the future state, and what it has the potential to become... well, except for all the editors hung up on reverting vandals and temporarily blocking one of the billions of IP addresses that exist.
    • GEORGE W. BUSH WILL ALWAYS BE PROTETED!! Because GOD IS ON HIS SIDE!! MAY ANGELS &c. PROTECT HIM!!

      OK mod me troll/flamebait please. I have had too much to drink, but I can get my Karma back.
  • wikipedia ideas? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ZaBu911 (520503) <zackster&gmail,com> on Saturday June 17, 2006 @09:57PM (#15556825) Homepage
    What would be cool is this.

    1) Reminding users to cite sources every time they make an edit (perhaps require it for non-grammatical edits)
    2) Being able to ban IP addresses and ranges from editing wikipedia
    3) Allowing banned users, or users under certain IP ranges to request unbans for their accounts
    4) Have two versions of articles: 'newest' and an 'approved'
          * Active contributers who have been peer-reviewed with quality changes (i.e., changes in which they cite sources, conform to the wikipedia NPOV policy, etc.) should be able to fact-check an article and check it off as 'approved'
          * Edits should affect the 'newest' version, and should go into a queue for approved contributers to be able to confirm the changes to the 'approved' version of the article

    You could establish a karma score for users as well as editors, a la slashdot (moderating, meta-moderating ideas come into play). If a user makes an approved contribution to an article, +1 point. If a user makes an error, he gets +1 error point. If he reaches 5 error points, he must stop editin garticles. If he reaches +10 points, he may start approving articles. Of course this would need to be tweaked & tested but these are just some ideas...
    • Re:wikipedia ideas? (Score:5, Informative)

      by brian0918 (638904) <brian0918 AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday June 17, 2006 @10:07PM (#15556856)
      "1) Reminding users to cite sources every time they make an edit (perhaps require it for non-grammatical edits)"

      It used to say that, but some foolish admin decided to remove that notice. I've put it back.

      "2) Being able to ban IP addresses and ranges from editing wikipedia"

      That's already possible. What's your IP address? You can see for yourself.

      "3) Allowing banned users, or users under certain IP ranges to request unbans for their accounts"

      Also currently possible.

      "4) Have two versions of articles: 'newest' and an 'approved'"

      This, of course, is where the gold is at. This idea has been in the works for months now. I'm not sure when the developers will actually release it, but it should definitely improve the site, and bring us closer to stable content and civil discussions among editors.
      • "4) Have two versions of articles: 'newest' and an 'approved'" ...... This, of course, is where the gold is at. This idea has been in the works for months now. I'm not sure when the developers will actually release it, but it should definitely improve the site, and bring us closer to stable content and civil discussions among editors.

        It's a perennial proposal [wikipedia.org], and it's unlikely to become part of Wikipedia policy, even if devs provide the functionality. (on the other hand, "don't let anons edit" was a c

    • I've always said that! Wikipedia has to deal with the same dickhead trolls that slashdot does. Slashdot came up with a pretty damn good moderation system. I'm sure it would require tweaking for the first few months and wouldn't be perfect, but it definatly would stop the GNAA and goatse type trolls.
      • Re:wikipedia ideas? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Slashdot's moderation system is pretty good, but on controversial subjects like DRM and file sharing the moderation is clearly biased by the sentiment of the visitors. Take a look at the mod scores of those who raise opposing views on these subjects, they are often "1" which renders them collapsed and out of sight by the end of the day.

        I notice this especially because my opinion is in the minority on these particular topics, I'm sure there are others where I'm part of the majority bias (patents for instanc
      • Re:wikipedia ideas? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by edremy (36408) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @11:08PM (#15557027) Journal
        Slashdot's mod system works well with trolls, but not with factual info. I can't count the number of posts I've seen marked +3 to +5 insightful with simply wrong information in them. I tend to notice these most often in science threads, especially global warming and evolution ones. Often, the worst offenders are folks trying to defend warming or evolution against the (badly informed) naysayers, but they simpy don't understand the topic well enough and thus end up claiming something that either isn't correct in the context or vastly overstates the confidence we have in a conclusion.

        This is Wikipedia's biggest problem IMHO, far more so than the vandalization trolls. With the latter, you can fix it, but if an expert writes an article and then has it "corrected" by someone who understands the topic at a much lower level, how does this get fixed? Does the expert have to keep going through and removing "helpful" changes? How long will someone like this want to keep going before they just give up and go back to something more rewarding?

        Under a /. type mod system for Wikipedia, dozens of idiot mods could effectively ban experts- the experts in a field are always outnumbered by the less well informed.

        • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @12:16AM (#15557178) Homepage Journal
          Already happening, according to some reports. Every now and then there's a post here on Slashdot with words to the effect "I'm a PhD in nonlinear squirgeamatics, I wrote a Wikipedia article about it, and it got 'corrected' by a pack of morons making errors that should embarrass an undergraduate in nonlinear squirgeamatics. I gave up in disguest and the article has probably gone downhill since".
          • It's a big problem. An Internet problem, or even a problem of society, not a Wikipedia problem. A lot of so called information is "democratic information". A rather innocent example would be placing some negative but true critical text about the iPod on Slashdot or Wikipedia, and see it modded down or changed by people who own the devices and don't like someone else saying negative stuff about it, even if true. Far less innocent is for instance what has been happening in the media, where unbiased informatio
          • I recently graduated, and many of my professors said they were generally impressed with the quality of information on wikipedia. Furthermore, while mathworld et al. often have the information, they all recommended wikipedia as being by far the most accessible.
        • by aussie_a (778472)
          Experts have biases and are incorrect as well. Being able to edit an experts post (especially a self-proclaimed expert rather then a real one) is fundamental to Wikipedia's survival.
      • All Slashdot moderation does is supress posts that one or moderators don't like and boosts the ones they do. It stops the occasional GNAA and goatse and sometimes promotes a good submission, but most often it's just a limited form of group censorship.
  • by 3seas (184403) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @10:05PM (#15556846) Journal
    ..can never be anything more than second hand information, what in a court of law would be called "hear-say". The methodology used for keep or delete articles is at best left up to the votes of opinions of the, more often than not, less than a hand full of people. Research is at best a seek and you shall find support for your opinion just don't see what you don't want to see.

    Wikipedia is by no means "official" and its policies insure that in effort to keep the threat of lawsuits for wrong information, to a minimum. To put a stamp of "official" on information that is wrong for such an open collective of unpaid articles writers and editors would quickly open a very big can of lawyer worms.

    So long as this is understood, wikipedia has some value but it must be understood that the value you get out of using it may not be as good as "official/professional" researched information but more likely better than individual opinions, comments or individual works found elsewhere on the internet.

    With all this in mind, it really should be no supprise of the evolving use of wikipedia to build up and/or trash a politician or other public figure. It's the manifestd proof of the "hear-say" only policies of wikipedia.
    • by ranthog (983330) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @10:25PM (#15556907)
      I would like to point out that by your own admision every last encylopedia, text book, and other refrence is a secondary source and by that nature "hear-say" and worthless. Being a secondary source is not a bad thing, since these sources are necessary. In trials certain types of secondary sources are quite admissiable, they are called "expert witnesses."

      Indeed, professional research is by no means any more credible than the wikipedia. Its all a matter of sources and the credibility of the organization. With Wikipedia I would not trust an artical that doesn't have good sources. Of course there are few organizations I'd trust if they couldn't provide proper sources.
    • No encyclopedia is ever a primary source. To be a reputable primary source, publications need experts to peer-review [wikipedia.org] things.

      Also, though it's possible to use Wikipedia to promote and/or trash public figures, it's explicitely against policy to do so (eg. WP:NOT [wikipedia.org] a soap box, NPOV [wikipedia.org]).

    • >may not be as good as "official/professional" researched information

      It may not be. But how can you tell?

      The Encyclopedia Britannica has a longstanding reputation for accuracy, but do we see their change logs and internal debates? "Official" information is just like closed-source software. It may be good but you can't inspect it. Wikipedia is just like open-source software: it may have (and will have) any quality level you can name, but you can see where the maintenance hot spots are and you can fix it y
  • by Hikaru79 (832891) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @10:14PM (#15556876) Homepage
    New York Times is complaining that Wikipedia requires users to register in order to be able to edit the content? Heck, I usually have to register just to READ NYT's content.
  • by MostAwesomeDude (980382) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @10:15PM (#15556880) Homepage
    The semi-protection policy discourages vandalism by requiring editors to be registered with accounts at least four days old. Obviously, anyone who really wants to contribute to the encyclopedia will register and then wait four days (or, in theory, they are already contributors who have registered usernames).

    Vandals are almost exclusively unregistered editors using only their IP addresses for identification. The semi-protection will block them from editing or moving (renaming) a page. However, vandalism must be VERY persistent in order for any kind of protection to be applied; typically, administrators will refuse most protection and semi-protection requests and reply, "Not enough vandalism, just revert instead."

    People are making a big deal of this because they view Wikipedia, being as it is a completely new and unheard-of-before kind of information libre, as hypocritical when they block people or pages from editing. I guess they've never thought of the fact that they're only protecting ~200 articles at any given time. How many articles have Britannica and World Book opened up for editing and review?
  • by ryrivard (642959) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @10:45PM (#15556972) Homepage

    First, it wasn't just the "technology" section, it was on the front page of the National Edition.

    Second, Wikipedia is damned in both directions by the media: They are either too open and so all sorts of loonies can post whatever they want. Or, when the close up a bit, they are abandoning their own principles.

    Anyone who hasn't read it needs to read DIGITAL MAOISM: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism by Jaron Lanier [edge.org] and the spirited reply [edge.org] by Douglas Rushkoff, Quentin Hardy, Yochai Benkler, Clay Shirky, Cory Doctorow, Kevin Kelly, Esther Dyson, Larry Sanger, Fernanda Viegas & Martin Wattenberg, Jimmy Wales, George Dyson, Dan Gillmor, Howard Rheingold.

  • by Jugalator (259273) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @10:48PM (#15556982) Journal
    Current Wikipedia works like this:
    - Any article not being heavily vanadalized can be edited by anyone.
    - Any article being heavily vanadalized may be semi-protected against newly registered users, i.e. anyone having been registered for a while.

    The semi-protection was deliberately designed so not even that will lock out anyone particular, since even new registrations become old enough soon enough. That's the intelligent part about it; being open (as long as you accept a delay after registration among a few select pages) while protecting against vandals.

    Although Wikipedia is "open", I think that doesn't mean there can't be controls. The right controls just make something that's open work more efficiently. We have police forces in open societies, and put traffic lights on crossings there may have been overly many accidents at in the past, and when there's these, you're obliged by law to follow rules according to those. You usually don't just check in code in an OSS project without approval. Things simply don't work like there can't be any rules anywhere. Well, it does, if you accept a much heavier repair and maintenance work due to all the problems caused by a complete lack of regulations, but I have to wonder if the people complaining about Wikipedia protection feel like doubling or tripling their efforts in that case.

    As long as Wikipedia implements sensible regulations I have no problems with it, especially if these regulations still mean that e.g semi-protected pages can be edited by anyone within time. That doesn't make it elitist or anything either, because no one needs to be granted access to edit or something like that and everyone is treated equally without discriminations.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 17, 2006 @11:01PM (#15557011)
    I know this to be true.

    A few years ago, quite unbeknowest to me, a grateful visitor created a Wiki entry for the amateur observatory I and a small group of friends own in New Zealand. It was a mostly innocuous entry, if a little less NPOV than it could have been, but certainly shouldn't have been a cause for concern.

    All well-and-good, except that amateur astronomy is riven with the same petty and insane power politics as anything else which involves humans, and one unfortunate astronomical community member with a bipolar disorder, and a long history of causing strife, chose "our" Wiki article as his latest target of opportunity.

    And so it began.

    The first I knew of any of it was when complete strangers began contacting me, asking what the hell was going on. That's when I discovered we even had a Wiki article. By then of course the article essentially suggested that we were in fact members of the Mafia, and worse.

    Being Wiki, it appears that "our" article had become a major first-referrer to our website, mostly via Google and all the Wiki ad-spam clones, so a lot of traffic was moving back and forth, as well as a lot of comments.

    In the end it all got so bad that we asked - then begged - the Wiki rulers to delete the article and ban anybody from recreating it, or even mentioning us in other articles. Oh and we shut off access to not only our website but our physical site also, as the whole thing had turned into an extremely unpleasant bunfight involving not just much of the amateur and professional astronomy community within our own country but beyond as well.

    With our Wikiprescence history, and after switching to a webhost capable of blocking the DDoS attacks (yes, you read that right...), things began to settle down for us. But never again will we have any involvement with Wikipedia in any shape or form. It's just not worth it.

    Wikipedia is a wonderful concept, but I suspect it's mostly unworkable.
  • From the FAQ (Score:3, Informative)

    by YGingras (605709) <ygingras@ygingras.net> on Saturday June 17, 2006 @11:09PM (#15557032) Homepage
    Mr. Wales said. 'What does define Wikipedia is the volunteer community and the open participation.'
    Fair enough but he should know that Wikipedia is not an experiment in democracy [wikipedia.org]. From the beginning is was acknowledged that to treat all users as equal was not a goal. If you don't like that, don't use Wikipedia. I think that current rules make sense given actual political context and I fully support the Wikipedia editors.
  • by gkhan1 (886823) <oskarsigvardsson@nOspAm.gmail.com> on Saturday June 17, 2006 @11:15PM (#15557048)
    We've been having a discussion about it on the wikipedia mailing list and Jimbo himself wrote about it on his blog. [jimmywales.com]

    You shouldn't trust these kinds of articles about wikipedia, they almost always get things wrong.

  • First, it was that anyone can edit Wikipedia. People can slander others, obscenites can be thrown in, the work of a Nobel Prize winner can be edited by a 12-year old(Britannica).

    Then, Wikipedia put in the semi-/protected pages. Afterwards, people bitched about how ironic this is, and how this proves Wikipedia is an example of mob rule.

    I take Wikipedia for what it is, and that is a great(not perfect) codex of information that is well organised and free(as in beer).
  • Cuba is protected (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ignorant Aardvark (632408) <cydeweys@ELIOTgmail.com minus poet> on Saturday June 17, 2006 @11:24PM (#15557070) Homepage Journal
    Awww crap, looks like I get another indirect mention in a newspaper article about Wikipedia :-( I protected the article on Cuba over a month ago, and then, ... we all just sort of forgot about it. One way to improve Wikipedia would be to make a better system for identifying articles that have been protected for too long and deal with them accordingly.

    Yeah, I am User:Cyde on Wikipedia.
  • by carpeweb (949895) on Saturday June 17, 2006 @11:56PM (#15557146) Journal
    Even if the first comment was flamebait, forking presents an intereseting partial solution.

    Wikipedia is essentially open source content. It tries to draw on the strengths of open processes to produce "better" content.

    Even in areas like software, reasonable people can disagree on "which way is better". When that happens with FOSS, we get a fork, or at least an alternative project.

    With topics like George Bush, Bill Clinton and other lightning rods, I doubt that a large majority could even agree on who the reasonable people are, much less what the "right" content is. So, forking seems inevitably necessary.

    That still leaves the problem of vandalism, but might make it a little bit less persistent, since some highly motivated "vandals" would have alternatives. I'm not sure why anyone would object to the basic idea of protection. After all, I can't go to some distro of Linux and overwrite it with my 'version' of the kernel, can I? I hope not, because my version of the kernel comes with biscuits and a soda and doesn't really help a cpu. The point is, people like me should be prevented from making changes to some things, absent strong evidence that we won't muck it up.
  • by IHC Navistar (967161) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @01:02AM (#15557287)
    This is a prime example of people today. Yes, people are entitled to their opinions, but Wikipedia is meant to be a reference source, not an editorial column. When you get someone like Saddam Hussein, Tony Blair, George Bush, or John F. Kennedy, their is inevitably going to be some idiot who thinks his opinion is fact and will do whatever he can to vent his feelings about the subject. Yes, it can be good to use such entries as a social observation tool, but it is not good when you are using it in the context of fact. Wheather George W. Bush is good at his job is a matter of opinion. He, however is our president, and that is a fact. Wikipedi is not an editorial column, BBS, forum, or blog. It is intended as a free online encyclopedia that draws upon internet users to contribute their own facts on any given subject in an effort to build op a database of acquired information. For example, encyclopedias that are in print are restricted in what they can contain by a myriad of factors, such as cost, research costs, production costs, experts available on hand, publication sizes, publication deadlines, marketing potential, and content relevancy. With an "on-line" encyclopedia, each internet user can be a contributor, and the content that is available can be on an unlimited number of subjects, since there is no worry about what people are most likely to need information on.

    Opinions DO NOT belong in encyclopedias. Period.

    -----

    Sig Sauer

  • by edbarbar (234498) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @01:55AM (#15557376)

    Of course, Wikipedia is an amazing feat. In my view, it is one of the profound ideas that can catapult human civilization forward.

    That having been said, wikipedia management should have found a better way of dealing with the differing views, and perhaps even the vandalism. Could it really be that hard? I could imagine a method whereby popular editors have their own version of the entry, and you could choose which to read. Editors could even choose who was allowed to edit.

    The problem with control is that we are all biased, and that should be the beauty of Wikipedia: it isn't tainted by our bias.
  • by johansalk (818687) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @12:36PM (#15558359)
    I will use Wikipedia if I'm looking up a topic that most people have not even heard of and are extremely unlikely to have any remote interest in. I will NOT, though, use it for any topic that may get on any person's or group nerves, which means most topics. In my experience, a bitter experience, Wikipedia is being used as a platform for propaganda by organised, dedicated and persistent groups with very biased and unreasonable agendas, and my time and life is far too valuable to devote to such a futile effort as buttheading with them when the Wikipedia system does not provide protections against that. And to anyone that says it does provide protections, I'll say shutup, without hesitation, just STFU; I've wasted enough of months of my life wading through them to know better. Such groups are passionate about their biases, seem quite adept at amassing their members and directing them towards any happening conflict, drowning the discussion in enough noise to mislead newcomers and intimidate unbiased individuals to leave, toppling votes, and otherwise gaming the system. I have better things in life to do than butthead in vain with idiots.
  • by jwales (97533) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @12:56PM (#15558444) Homepage
    It would be grand to see Slashdot promote my correction to the New York Times story, which is totally wrong on the facts. I don't expect the New York Times to issue a correction, of course.

    The facts are that the policy changes that the New York Times writes about were NOT a tightening of editorial policy, were NOT a closing of some articles, but the REMOVAL of certain overtight restrictions, and the OPENING of some articles. Bah, why can't they get it right?

    I can tell you that the reporter understood this fully, fought with her editors over it, and apparently lost. Fine. The Internet can get the story right, even if the NYT can't.

    Here is my correction [jimmywales.com]
  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday June 18, 2006 @01:39PM (#15558559) Homepage

    That's actually the slogan of Wikitruth, but they have a point.

    As a regular editor of Wikipedia, it's clear to me what the limitations of the approach are. It's really impressive how far Wikipedia has come. But it seems to have peaked in quality.

    Articles on significant subjects tend to be edited until they're roughly correct. They then enter the "churn phase", where they're frequently edited with edits of varying quality. Over time, the overall result of the churning is negative, as the article slowly turns to mush. Every once in a while, someone comes along and cleans up some of the mess. The article's quality then fluctuates over time; on any given day, it may be anywhere from excellent to terrible, depending on recent edits. See, for example, Horse [wikipedia.org].

    Most of the articles on important subjects have already been created. By now, most new articles don't add much of value. New articles tend to be spam, promotion of garage bands, entries for long-forgotten politicians, articles about minor schools, and atlas entries for state highways. Plus there's an endless flood of fancruft; Wikipedia is essentially duplicating IMDB and Gracenote, with a lower level of accuracy and less searchability. There's way too much detail on games, comics, and fan stuff; every Pokemon has a full article, and almost everything from Star [Wars|Trek|Gate], however minor, has an entry. That's where the "million articles" really come from.

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." -- William James

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