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- See also Wikipedia:Stable versions (obsolete).
While the use of a wiki to build an encyclopaedia has resulted in the production of an enormous number of articles and is ideal for writing articles of high encyclopaedic standards, problems arise when considering the 'finished' articles produced by the process.
Featured articles have been rigorously reviewed and designated as representing the very best of Wikipedia, but in many cases, further editing after this stage is more likely to degrade the article than improve it. Examples include Monty Hall problem, where a prominent talk page note is necessary to try and stave off misguided edits; Ryanair, the quality of which has seriously degraded since featuring as biased edits are made; and Mercury (planet), which often attract edits which, while well intentioned, degrade the overall quality of the article.
The maintenance of featured articles requires significant effort, and is analogous to spinning an ever-increasing number of plates. With over a million articles to keep free of vandalism, the time devoted to simple maintenance encroaches severely into the time available for writing and improving articles. An unmaintained FA will probably end up being de-listed sooner or later.
One possible solution to this is to establish a 'stable' version of Wikipedia which cannot be edited in the same way as the main site can. A distinction would then be made between the wiki, used for producing articles, and the static version, on which finished articles would be placed. Articles added to this version would be protected from being degraded. Of course, good edits are frequently made to featured articles, and these could be incorporated into the static version. The stable version could be maintained by a selected subset of Wikipedia editors.
How a stable version could eliminate vandalism and edit wars
Every Wikipedia article is a work in progress, but every change is immediately visible to the public. Therefore, there is an incentive for people with biases to engage in edit wars, as their biases are given wide exposure instantly. If finished articles were copied to a static version, which then became the default version to be viewed by the public, edit warring would become pointless. There would be much less incentive to engage in this disruptive behaviour over a 'development' article that wasn't publicly visible, or, if it was publicly visible, was clearly identified as a work in progress and not a finished article.
Vandals are also attracted by the instant exposure Wikipedia allows them. Their statements that their friend is gay are instantly available on the World Wide Web (for a couple of minutes) – very thrilling for a twelve-year old. If the wiki was solely a development tool, with 'finished', non-publicly editable article being the default view where they exist, the incentive for infantile vandalism would be removed.
How a stable version could raise standards
A separate, stable, publicly visible version would encourage higher standards all round. Currently, featured articles are highlighted on the main page, but the FA process strongly prefers very large articles, which take a considerable amount of time to produce, and there is little incentive to ensure that short articles are well written and referenced. A static version onto which 'finished' articles were transferred would provide the incentive to bring all articles up to the standards we expect of an encyclopaedia article.
Among the criticisms of such a stable version would be that it is not in the spirit of Wikipedia. However, the aim of Wikipedia has always been to write an encyclopaedia, with its freely editable wiki only being a means to that end. Many Wikipedians believe that a lack of editors to maintain the high quality articles is a significant problem for Wikipedia, which a stable version could eliminate.
- A stable version could be established under a separate domain name: stable.wikipedia.org or similar.
- Pros: Clear demarcation between 'work in progress' and 'finished products'
- Cons: would require separate administration from en:
- The stable version could also be in a similar domain such as http://en.wikipedia.org/stable/Foo
- Same pros, but may not need separate administration
- Any articles considered 'finished' (FAs, excellent short articles, etc.) could be protected from anonymous edits, or possibly protected from non-admin edits.
- Pros: very simple, no sense of 'forking'
- Cons: admins are supposed to be janitors rather than editorial seniors.
- A new class of editors could be created, and FAs could be editable only by them.
- Pros: pretty simple, no sense of 'forking', avoids making admins content arbitrators
- Cons: new RfA style process required, criteria for 'superuser' status to be established.
- All articles could include a "stable version" marker in the database, with this version displayed to at least all non-logged in users. Clicking "edit" would edit the current version. A new interface would be developed for updating the stable version marker (could be similar to the "Watch this page" checkbox when editing).
- Pros: No forking. Not appreciably different than current operation. Allows anyone to edit any article.
- Cons: Requires software changes and a process for selecting who can update the stable version marker.
Wikipedia:Stable versions is an idea along similar lines, although where that would involve simply identifying revisions in an article's history while still making the current version the only one available to the reader, the idea here is to make the stable version the visible version.