The hugely popular online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, has this morning abandoned one of the basic precepts of its founders and done away with the egalitarian right of any user of its service to edit at will the entries made others, as Martyn Warwick reports.
Henceforth, special "editors" approved by Wikipedia executives will moderate revisions to references to living individuals "and some organisations" on its web pages before they go "live". Here endeth the hippie dream.
Since it's inception back in January 2001, Wikipedia has courted controversy because its enlightened policy - of allowing anyone to add to, alter or adapt entries made by other contributors to the site - left it open to claims that many of its articles are partial, inaccurate and misleading. In more recent months there have been accusations that those with personal and/or political and economic motives have been vandalising the site.
Accordingly, and in the democratic traditions of the Wikipedia ethos, rather than simply imposing changes, those that manage Wikipedia on a daily basis designed an online poll via which users were asked to approve editorial changes to the contributions system. Of those that polled, 80 per cent voted in favour of change.
So, for what is being described as a "two-month trial period" (but which everyone expects to become permanent), contributions and changes to Wikipedia entries will be subject to a regime of "flagged revisions". The organisation says this is "essentially a buffer, to reduce the visibility and impact of vandalism on articles".
The new system will, initially at least, apply only to Wikipedia's English language pages.
There are more than 3 million English entries that dominate the global site.
Since it first became available eight years ago, Wikipedia has built one of the largest freely available repositories of knowledge in human history. It took five years for the first one million pieces to be filed, but the second million milestone was reached just twelve months later. Thereafter, however, the rate of growth slowed and it took a further two years for the site to hit the three million entries mark.
Wikipedia continues to grow to this day but the rate of submission of new entries is slowing markedly to about 1,300 a day. Back in the summer of 2008, new submissions were being produced at the rate of 2,200 a day.
Naturally enough, as Wikipedia stabilised and matured an agglomeration of consistent, stable, and committed "high-level" editors emerged from the mass and began to moderate some of the more extreme and blatantly biased entries.
These "experienced volunteer editors" (as Wikipedia calls them) will now oversee amandements to articles and entries deemed to be "sensitive" (this actually means "potentially libelous").
Commentating on the ground-breaking changes, Michael Snow, the chairman of the Wikipedia Board, says "We are no longer at the point that it is acceptable to throw things at the wall and see what sticks. There was a time probably when the community was more forgiving of things that were inaccurate or fudged in some fashion — whether simply misunderstood or an author had some axe to grind. There is less tolerance for that sort of problem now."
Wikipedia is a not-for-profit organisation and its service is accessed by some 65 million people month.
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