Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2006-05-29/Semi-protection

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The Wikipedia Signpost

Semi-protection tweaks prompt debate over ideals

By Michael Snow, 29 May 2006

A change in the semi-protection policy proposed earlier by Jimmy Wales grew into a general debate about Wikipedia's basic principles last week with outside pundits chiming in as well. In a provocative post that sparked additional discussion, Nicholas Carr proclaimed "The death of Wikipedia", although it emerged that he was speaking figuratively about Wikipedia as a mythical ideal, rather than the actual project.

On May 19, Wales proposed a "limited extension" of the semi-protection policy. Making the observation that a few articles would probably be semi-protected on a fairly permanent basis (for example, the current US President), he suggested that the {{Sprotected}} template was "scary and distracting" to readers and that it wasn't necessary to announce semi-protection status to them. He also encouraged more use of semi-protection for "slightly well known but controversial individuals" whose articles do not get wide attention but are vulnerable to vandalism and heavily biased editing.

Carr, a journalist and blogger who has been critical of Web 2.0 concepts and previously pointed out shortcomings in Wikipedia, published his essay last Tuesday, calling Wales' proposal an "epitaph" and a sign that the founding ideals of the project were being abandoned. A number of people responded, including Wales, who criticized Carr's characterization of this as a shift to a "gated community" and said there had always been restrictions on editing (although page protection was not used initially, and its first implementation for the Main Page was somewhat controversial). Wales argued that semi-protection was actually "a bold step toward openness" compared to having the articles protected from editing entirely, a practice of which Carr was apparently unaware.

The ongoing discussion drew others in as well. Clay Shirky wrote a response, "News of Wikipedia's Death Greatly Exaggerated", pointing to the tension between Carr's earlier criticism of Wikipedia questioning the value of "openness at all costs" and the "crocodile tears" he was shedding over its demise. Carr followed up with an effort to "bury the myth", now focusing on misconceptions produced by some of the coverage about Wikipedia, which he attributed partly to the slogan, "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit". He did concede that outside of the myth, "Wikipedia is an amazing achievement, with considerable strengths and considerable weaknesses."

Meanwhile, Wales' actual proposal has in fact led to changes in the semi-protection policy, although with some modifications from what he suggested. While the idea of "permanent semi-protection" has gained some acceptance, several people expressed concerns about removing the notice. As it turns out, the template still appears on most semi-protected articles, including George W. Bush. Instead, the solution seemed to be editing the template to make its appearance less "scary", by moderating the language and removing the padlock image. However, this has since been reverted, and the padlock has been restored.


Also this week: Semi-protection

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