Thursday, November 15, 2007

Are we stable yet?

A specter haunting Wikipedia is "stable versions." This doesn't have anything to do with Bethlehem and no room at the inn. The phrase refers to more-or-less locked versions of Wikipedia articles that would be presented to casual readers of the site.

The devil really is in the details here. Right now, almost any article on Wikipedia is completely open to editing by any nutcase (like me) who happens by. Of course, this creates an enormous vandalism problem. Except vandalism may not be as huge a problem as some like to imagine. An academic study found there's well under a 1% chance that a viewer will encounter any vandalism at all, and that most vandalism is quickly fixed. Automated vandalism repair looks to be protecting the encyclopedia from crude defacement, and human intervention seems to be cleaning up the more subtle graffiti.

But some WP bigwigs want the project to get respectable. They're tired of the Onion parodies. So they want to present only a shiny, spiffy version of an article to the drive-by reader, a version that can't be edited by just any schmuck. This idea used to be called "stable versions" but has now resurfaced as "flagged revisions". I guess the proponents think flagging is more palatable to the WP masses than stable-ing.

I don't like the idea under any name. I want my Wikipedia raw and unfiltered, and I want to be able to edit just about any damn article in the encyclopedia. Either the whole idea of Wikipedia - editing by the people for the people - is flawed, or we scrap this notion of protecting articles from the hoi polloi. My egalitarian self trusts the hoi polloi a lot more than appointed "experts" who would keep flagged or stable or nifty-difty versions of articles away from editing by ordinary schmoes.

If I want an "expert"-controlled project, I'll head for Citizendium. Their approved article process is just what the flaggers on Wikipedia want. As far as I'm concerned, the flag folks can decamp to CZ.

No comments: