Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2009-01-24/Flagged Revisions

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The Wikipedia Signpost

Jimbo requests that developers turn on Flagged Revisions

By Jake Wartenberg and Ragesoss, January 24, 2009

On Wednesday Jimbo Wales asked the Wikimedia Foundation to turn on Flagged Revisions on the English Wikipedia on his "personal recommendation". Wales also cited the poll on the proposed implementation of Flagged revisions. The move has inspired much controversy and discussion, including a rejected request for arbitration that has called Wales' unique role as "founder" on Wikipedia into question.

Much of the opposition to the request stems from the fact that the poll closed at a 60/40 split, not the consensus that is usually required for such decisions. Erik Möller, the Deputy Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, previously stated that "a very large majority, at least two thirds, is generally necessary".

High profile vandalism

In explaining his request, Wales referred to an article by The Washington Post published the same day with Wales stating, "This nonsense would have been 100% prevented by Flagged Revisions". The article, entitled Kennedy, Byrd the Latest Victims of Wikipedia Errors, covers vandalism to the biographies of US Senators Edward Kennedy and Robert Byrd, describing them as an "ordeal" and "death by Wikipedia" in the opening sentence. Their biographies were edited by anonymous IPs to incorrectly state that both senators were dead; the changes were reverted within five and four minutes, respectively.

Flagged Revisions poll

The Flagged Revision poll, which proposed a limited trial of the extension on a subset of articles, ran from January 2 through January 23. It was closed two days after Wales made his announcement, with a final tally of 429 in support, 281 in opposition, 9 neutral (59.7% in support, 39.1% in opposition, 1.3% neutral). However, interpretation of the results is clouded by the mix of rationales in opposition. Many opposed the extension in principle, as a contrary to the "anyone can edit" spirit of Wikipedia. Another significant portion of those opposed were concerned about the particular proposed implementation, and editors are still working to forge a compromise on the details of the trial to satisfy that group.

Wales' interpretation of the poll is limited to a technical request to the developers to turn the extension on, and place control of the extension in the hands of the project's bureaucrats. Thus, the proposal does not detail what pages will have flagged revisions enabled, just a code change in the site's configuration file. Some proposed trials are detailed here, but were not a part of the poll. As a result, it remains to be decided how the community will proceed if Wales' request is granted. Brion Vibber, the Wikimedia Foundation's Chief Technical Officer, stated on Jimbo's talk page that Flagged Revisions would not be enabled by the foundation "before working out some very specific parameters for the test first".

Debate over using Flagged Revisions

Discussion has erupted, following the request, on Wales' talk page, the request for arbitration, and the many pages that make up the proposal and poll in question. At the voting page, many editors expressed concerns that Flagged Revisions would cause the project to become less open, and that this violated the core principle that "anyone can edit". Other users asserted that enabling flagged revisions on a page is far less restrictive than enabling semi-protection, and could be used as a substitute. Much of the opposition appears to stem from the fact that the proposal does not propose a specific trial, and is too vague—editors oppose for reasons that are applicable to a particular trial. Many editors on both sides of the debate feel very strongly, and some have threatened to resign. Other concerns expressed by opposing editors include fear of a large backlog of “unsighted” revisions and additional complexity and bureaucracy.

Proponents of Flagged Revisions hope that it will allow the encyclopedia to become more open—a proposal called Flagged Protection could allow anonymous and new editors to contribute to pages that they currently cannot. Wales is particularly interested in the use of Flagged Revisions on biographies of living people, as these articles currently represent a liability for the foundation. Many editors do not like the idea of Flagged Revisions, but still voted in the poll because they feel that trials are warranted.

A request for arbitration was initiated by Sceptre on Thursday. In his statement, Sceptre asked the committee to rule on whether Jimbo Wales has the authority to close the poll in his own favor (Wales has many times expressed his strong support for Flagged Revisions), despite the lack of clear consensus. The request, entitled "Flagged Revisions /Jimbo Wales", was rejected by the committee in an almost unanimous vote. Arbitrators expressed the fear that while the Flagged Revisions extension has been discussed plenty by the community, Wales' role in the project has not been sufficiently discussed, and the community's opinion on the matter is not known. In his vote to reject the case, Rlevse stated, "This is premature. The community has not worked through its options yet."

Flagged Revisions in action

There is a live demonstration of Flagged Revisions available at the Wikimedia Laboratories. In addition, several other Wikimedia projects (listed on Meta-Wiki) are already using the extension. German Wikipedia, which has been using the extension since May 2008, has now done an initial "sighting" of 97% of its articles and is projected to reach completion in early February. However, there are over 11,000 articles with out-of-date flags; the backlog extends to 18 days, and was recently as high as three weeks. About 4,500 flagged articles on German Wikipedia have had an unreviewed version for over a week. Jimbo Wales has suggested that any backlog over one week would be unacceptable for English Wikipedia, and that the scope of any Flagged Revisions deployment should be adjusted to maintain a small backlog.

Also this week:

Flagged Revisions — Mobile devices — News and notes — In the news — Dispatches — Features and admins — Technology report — Arbitration report

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