User:Thue/Wikipedia editing permissions reform

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This is a proposal to implement two features in Mediawiki:

  1. A basic Wikipedia user validation system, to tag editors who have gained a (basic, relatively easily attained) level of trust.
  2. A feature to enable non-trusted editors to edit Wikipedia, by allowing them to suggest article changes, but put those article changes on hold until approved by a trusted (validated) user.

Problem[edit]

The current Wikipedia has some problems with the quality of article edits in at least these four cases:

  • Pure vandalism (especially anonymous)
  • Newbie users testing the system out (especially anonymous)
  • Well-intended contributions by 10-year-olds (or people with a similar mental age), which end up by degrading the quality of Wikipedia.
  • Anonymous contributions, even when correct, often have a credibility problem as it is hard to contact the author. One is often in a dilemma whether to revert a dubious unreferenced anonymous contribution.

On the other hand we don't want to turn away newbie users, even when they start out less than perfect, as they are the ones who turn into experienced users :). Some people want to disable anonymous editing because of the problems associated with them, while others see anonymous editors as valuable because of their minor fixes and because some of them will go on to get a username and become "real" users.

This proposal[edit]

Edit approval for untrusted users[edit]

This proposal that editors are split up into two groups, trusted and untrusted. Trusted users, who are known not to be vandals and to posses a basic level of competence and maturity, are able to edit Wikipedia just like today. Untrusted users (ie users who have not yet attained trusted status) can only propose edits, which are then placed into a queue for the article until a trusted editor comes along and accepts or rejects the edit. Wikipedia's roots is as an open project, so while the trusted label should have some meaning, it should not be too hard to come by.

Given a good definition of trusted users, this should solve all four problems raised above. Point 4 is solved in that the change is simple not applied unless a trusted user vouches for its quality; this is IMO a big improvement from today where it is applied by default regardless of its quality.

untrusted users should still be able to edit talk pages and pages like WP:AFD discussion. To simplify, untrusted users should be able to edit talk pages, their userpage, and wikipedia:-space articles. Thue | talk 18:45, 20 October 2005 (UTC)

Determining who is a trusted user[edit]

How to determine who is a trusted user? Since the greatest ressource of Wikipedia is its distributed manpower, the obvious way is to let the editors decide in some way. Since we already have a population of competent, known-good administrators with a very thorough screening process, a good way to design a trust system is to rely on them as the base trusted population. Though the administrators are very active, it is probably also neccesary (or maybe not?) to let the users who the administrators trust contribute to the web of trust.

So as a preliminary proposal for a Wikipedia trust system, I suggest the following user classes:

  • Class 1: Administrators are trusted
  • Class 2: People who 2 administrators have declared as "very trusted"
  • Class 3: People who have the trust of 2 editors from class 1 or class 2 are trusted
  • Class 4: All others are untrusted editors (anonymous IP users are always untrusted)

By limiting the number of degrees of separation that trust can travel through from administrators, trust should not lose it's meaning.

By placing a "I trust this editor" button on the page with the "edits waiting for accept" queue, people should naturally be encouraged to spread the trust when accepting good edits to their articles. "Trusted"-indicator could also be placed next to user names on page history pages and on recent changes, both to make potential problem edits easy to spot and to encourage the spread of trust. (and a "this user is a know vandal, check his edits!" indicator could also be very helpful!)

To preserve Wikipedia's open nature, the bar for being trusted should not be set too high. As I envision it, people could declare a user as trusted after just one edit, if that edits was good enough, the idea being that a editor will not write half a page of quality text on a subject and then turn vandal.

The trust network should be public, ie you should be able to see who has trusted what user. This will encourage accountability. (and there is no good reason not to make the information public.)

Some further consequences of this proposal[edit]

The fact that all a new users edit will be reviewed by a trusted editor will enourage dialogue between new users and trusted, experienced editors. This is a very good thing! This will also ensure that new editors are taught the ways of Wikipedia more quickly. New editors will have a list of their proposed changes, each of the changes with a "This was a great edit, approved" or "This was a bad idea, here is why [...]" comment tagged on!

The fact that as a newbie editor your edits are not instantly put into the encylopedia may slightly discourage some people. But on the other hand, carefull editors (who I am guessing are often some of the best potential editors), will feel safer contributing, and may therefore actually be encouraged to join Wikipedia by this proposal.

Some good edits by new users will fail to be applied, especially if the edit is to an obscure article.

If edits sit to long in the approval queue, applying them can become hard.

The fact that this proposal should seriously cut down on the amount of spam and vandalism should also encourage good editors to join the project.

While untrusted newbie users may feel as second-class citizens, this will IMO be offset by the pride of eventually becoming a trusted user. As long as the bar for becoming trusted is not unreasonably high this should not be a problem.

If this proposal is implemented, it would also be trivial to add the feature that trusted editors can choose to put their edits in the queue for approval instead of directly into the article; this will make it easier for editors to safely contribute to areas where they are not experts, but where Wikipedia do have experts available to review.

The trusted users could also be used as article evaluators in a future Wikipedia 1.0. Page move vandalism could be prevented by only allowing trusted editors to move pages, instead of the "newest 1% of users can't move pages" imperfect cludge used today.

This will mean that Wikipedia editors will spend more time reviewing other people's changes.

Implementation details[edit]

My day job is programming a php/database web app, so I could implement this proposal myself, if people are positive toward it.

The queue could be implemented as a list of diffs, similar to the diffs shown by the "show changes" button today.

If items lie in the approval queue too long, while the articles continues to evolve, this will naturally mean that the diffs will become incompatible with the article. In that case, if one wants to apply an item it must be done manually.

There should be a way to reject items, but the rejected items should remain accessible for review.

Preferably, all queue items should have a talk page, which should function in the same way as the contributors talk page (ie: the contributor should be notified when comments are made on his patches).