User:Alan Liefting/Essays/Editing constraints

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Welcome to Wikipedia,

This statement greets visitors on the Main Page of Wikipedia. Having a free encyclopedia is a laudable idea but how good will Wikipedia get if anyone is able to edit it? It is not strictly true that "anyone can edit" Wikipedia. Some of the pages that are prone to vandalism are protected from editing. Other pages that are subjected to a spate of vandal attacks are given temporary or even permanent protection.

Should Wikipedia be "the encyclopedia that anyone who wants to help can edit"? Vandals are not helping of course, and are in fact hindering the progress of Wikipedia . Time spent fixing vandalism is time NOT spent building Wikipedia into The Most Comprehensive And Authoritative Encyclopaedia The World Has Ever Seen. So how do we set up Wikipedia so that only those who want to help are not hindered from adding information?

Let us go back a step and decide what we want out of our community built encyclopedia. Wikipedia is a "neutral compilation of verifiable, established facts." But how quickly do we want to achieve this? The best comparison we can make is to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (EB). Prior to the online edition it was republished and reprinted regularly, but updates were nowhere near as quick as online encyclopedias can achieve. Some of the information in EB would have been out of date before it left the printers. With the advent of online encyclopedias everything changed. It is now getting to the stage where Wikipedia is blurring the line between a news service and an encyclopedia given the speed at which some current events are documented in the relevant articles.

There is no need for Wikipedia articles to be updated instantly as is the current situation. Good things come to those who wait so the saying goes. The best edits and articles are those that are mulled over and checked by others. A peer review process is needed. This is done for the most authoritative information that we get - that which is found in academic journals.

Popularity of Wikipedia is increasing.[1] This attracts vandals. It also attracts more people who want good quality information and therefore there is a need to give good factual information without having it ruined by vandals. At present vandals are being blocked with a variety of methods. Bots correct any blatant vandalism, IP addresses used by vandals are blocked, user accounts that are used for vandalism are blocked etc. None of this is stopping the vandalism which currently makes up about 1.5 to 4.5% of edits.[2]

Much of the motivation of a vandal can be removed by having a peer review of all edits before they are displayed in an article. This will help with good faith edits as well since even the best editor would make a mistake or introduce some degree of bias into an article.

Another reason to have a peer review process is to prevent any new articles from getting onto Wikipedia in the first place. Once an article is added to Wikipedia it can be very hard to get rid of it. Meanwhile it is made available through a Google search and it is cached in various corners of the internet. Any blatant hoaxes, misinformation and nonsense can therefore rapidly sweep through the internet. Here at Wikipedia editors try their best to get rid of it though the deletion process. This can be a slow process. Hoaxes are not always picked up, admins are not always around to delete an article, and some editors apply the letter rather than the spirit of article deletion policy.

The solution is to use the flagged revisions option that the MediaWiki software offers. This may slow down the time taken to get a viewable edit into a article but the information will be more robust and Wikipedia will be gain a greater level of authoritativeness. If we want an accurate encyclopedia we must sacrifice the speed at which articles are updated.

Alan Liefting
June 2009

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