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At the English language version of Wikipedia now, changes to articles about living people won’t be posted until a Wikipedian has reviewed it. Those articles are now moderated. (See Slashdot for details and discussion.)

I am surprised by the media being surprised by this. Wikipedia has a complex set of rules, processes, and roles in place in order to help it achieve its goal of becoming a great encyclopedia. (See Andrew Lih’s The Wikipedia Revolution‘, and How Wikipedia Works by Phoebe Ayers, Charles Matthews, and Ben Yatesfor book-length explanations.) This new change, which seems to me to be a reasonable approach worth a try, is just one more process, not a signal that Wikipedia has failed in its original intent to be completely open and democratic. In effect, edits to this class of articles are simply being reviewed before being posted rather than after.

The new policy is only surprising if you insist on thinking that Wikipedia has failed if it isn’t completely open and free. No, Wikipedia fails if it doesn’t become a great encyclopedia. In my view, Wikipedia has in many of the most important ways succeeded already.

PS: If you think I’ve gotten this wrong, please please let me know, in the comments or at, since I’ll be on KCBS at 2:20pm EDT to be interviewed about this for four minutes.

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2 Responses to “Wikipedia’s tactical change mistaken for strategic”

  1. on 25 Aug 2009 at 1:13 pmDoug Cornelius

    Given the size and popularity of Wikpedia, there has always been a need for editorial control. Pages are often locked to prevent vandalism. This new effort is an attempt to make wikipedia a better reference source.

    I have two issues.

    First is who has editorial control. I have always seen the wikipedia editors as nameless faces with super powers inside wikipedia. If there are gatekeepers I would want to better understand who they are and what controls are in place to prevent them from abusing their position.

    The Second issue is likelihood that an approval process will inhibit participation. The great thing about Web 2.0 is the instant gratification of publishing content. The delay in seeing your content to inhibit contribution. Will participation drop because of the delay in publishing?

    Perhaps wikipedia is mature enough and big enough now that it needs to enter another phase of existence. Less the egalitarian model and more of the controlled publishing model of conventional publications.

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