From the early days of Wikipedia, we were forced to do something that we did not like to do: protect (lock) pages. For a long time, whenever there was a major editing dispute requiring a cool-down time, or a sudden spate of vandalism to an article, the community administrators of Wikipedia were forced to put pages into a state where no one could edit them. (Admins could technically edit them, but by social custom did not, in order to preserve the level playing field between admins and ordinary users.)
Protection was a good way to prevent further vandalism, but it did unfortunately still allow the general public to see the vandalism.
After many years of this, we recognized that protection was too un-wiki for us, and so the community devised a new software feature: semi-protection. An article which is semi-protected is more open than an article which is protected, because it is open for editing for all but anonymous editors and the very newest of accounts. This innovation has been very popular in Wikipedia precisely because it allowed us to be more wiki, more open, than when we were forced to lock articles.
Encouraged by this development, and after carefully watching the use of the feature and finding it to be a net improvement, members of the German community in particular thought creatively about how we might do an even better job of openness and therefore quality. Could we simultaneously open editing still further, while also dealing better than ever with the problem that protection and semi-protection were designed to solve?
After much discussion, a clever and elegant innovation was found. This innovation holds forth the promise of Wikipedia being able to open the front page for editing for the first time in 5 years! And at the same time, it provides a finer tool for preventing much of the vandalism that had unfortunately slipped through to the general public, while eliminating the need for semi-protection!
The new feature will allow the community, using the same sorts of procedures and norms that we have used for years to determine semi-protection and protection status, to flag certain versions of articles as "non-vandalized", and these versions are what will be shown to users who are not logged in. The feature will be tested in the normal manner of all new features at Wikipedia, with a simple quiet introduction and a period of testing and evaluation within the community.
We expect the following benefits from this innovation:
- Wikipedia will be more wiki than ever, in the sense that for the first time in years, we expect that nearly ALL pages will be open to editing by ANYONE, even non-logged-in users. This means the almost complete elimination of the editing restrictions we have been forced to have for years.
- We have good reason to believe that the primary incentive for most vandalism, as the primary incentive for most graffiti in the real world, is that the vandalism can be seen by the general public. Vandals seek to shock people. The new feature will deprive them of that benefit, and we expect to see a corresponding drop in the total amount of vandalism that the community has to deal with. This is an excellent example of our philosophy of trusting the general public to do the right thing when given the right incentives, and an illustration of why openness and transparency is better than control.
- Although not all pages will have the 'non-vandalized versions' feature enabled, we expect that it will be enabled quickly by the community on all the pages that are currently semi-protected due to being popular vandalism targets. Thus, we will achieve our aim of preventing the general public from seeing vandalized versions (as we do now on these articles), but at the same time allowing open editing of these articles.
A quick summary to make this even more clear:
- PROTECTION - NO ONE can edit, NO ONE can affect the public version
- SEMI-PROTECTION - all except new users and anons can edit, all except new users and anons can affect the public versions
- VERSION FLAGGING - ANYONE can edit, all except new users and anons can affect the public versions
As you can see, each step of this chain allows MORE people to do MORE things, rather than less. Each step of this chain is becoming MORE wiki, not LESS wiki.
The news media has an unfortunate temptation to follow a story arc that goes something like this. "Open editing is impossible. It worked for a little while at Wikipedia, but now even Wikipedia is admitting that it does not work, so they are closing off public editing step by step. This proves that our traditional model is best in the end."
The fact that this story arc has no relationship to the reality of changes in Wikipedia has not stopped them. I am hopeful that this post will catch enough attention that journalists will start to grasp the real revolution that is taking place here.