Saturday, June 17, 2006

Wikipedia Revising Its Policy

This is my 301st blog. I mention that information because Blogger's internal "retrieve" function only includes the last 300 postings. That means my first entry dropped off the list tonight when I saved this one. However, further investigation revealed that I can still pull up that first posting by clicking on the month of September, 2005.

We haven't talked about Wikipedia in quite some time. Since December 16th in fact. So, it's time we visited Jimmy Wales and company again. Our visit coincides with an article in today's New York Times (NYT).

For anyone not familiar with Wikipedia, it is an online encyclopedia where the entries are created by anyone in the online community who has an interest in a particular topic and wants to write an entry on it. The Times estimates that Wikipedia's English language site contains 1.2 million entries.

I'm sufficiently intrigued by Wikipedia that I posted my ninth blog entry ever (9/22/05) on the subject. Here's a quote from that blog: Wikipedia is "'written collaboratively by volunteers and operated by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation based in St. Petersburg, Florida.' Pay attention here: its entries are written 'collaboratively by volunteers.' That means that anyone with knowledge on a subject (or even without knowledge) can write an entry and have it posted under the Wikipedia byline. Again quoting from Wikipedia's own description of itself: 'Wikipedia is built on the belief that collaboration among users will improve articles over time, in much the same way that open-source software develops.'"

The Times says, "The system seems to be working. Wikipedia is now the Web's third-most-popular news and information source, beating the sites of CNN and Yahoo News, according to Nielsen NetRatings."

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has been famously resistant to putting too many controls on his social experiment. He has said, "What does define Wikipedia in the volunteer community and the open participation." (NYT)

After six years, however, even Wales has been forced to admit some controls are needed. There have been several scandals in which pranksters have sabotaged Wikipedia entries. I covered one of these during December (see posts on December 5th and December 14th).

"Repeated vandalism" and "disputes over what should be said" have led to Wales creating a list of entries that are now either protected or semi-protected from editing. The 82 protected entries do not permit any outside editing while the 179 semi-protected entries can only be edited by someone who has been registered on the Wikipedia site for more than four days. "A cooling-off period is a wonderful mediative technique," suggests an observer in the Times article.

Protected sites include the "2004 election voting controversies," "Islamophobia" and "freedom fighter." Semi-protected sites include "gay," "Jew," and "Afghanistan."

I have frequently posted on an "open source" approach versus a "proprietory" approach. Wikipedia is a huge example of open source theory at its best: making information available to everyone and allowing everyone to participate in the project.

The same caveats I first posted about still apply. Wikipedia is a great place to get quick information IF the user remembers that the information is NOT guaranteed to be correct. I use it mostly as a means to start my research. However, I always check the validity of the information gleaned there with at least one other source.

Wiki on!

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