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Friday, 16th June 2006

NY Times Reports: Wikipedia Makes Some Revisions to its Own Editorial Policy; Free Full Text Access to Encarta Continues

This time Katie Hafner reports in the NY Times that the constantly "in revision" Wikipedia is revising some of its own editorial policies in the article, "Growing Wikipedia Revises Its 'Anyone Can Edit'"

It appears that the days when anyone can revise/edit ANY Wikipedia article have come to an end. Here are some quick facts from Hafner's article.

[Wikipedia] has a clear power structure that gives volunteer administrators the authority to exercise editorial control, delete unsuitable articles and protect those that are vulnerable to vandalism. Those measures can put some entries outside of the "anyone can edit" realm. The list changes rapidly, but as of yesterday, the entries for Einstein and Ms. [Christina] Aguilera were among 82 that administrators had "protected" from all editing, mostly because of repeated vandalism or disputes over what should be said. Another 179 entries — including those for George W. Bush, Islam, and Adolf Hitler — were "semi-protected," open to editing only by people who had been registered at the site for at least four days. The four-day waiting period is meant to function something like the one imposed on gun buyers.

Here's a complete list as of today.

That's a small amount given the more than 1 million entries currently in the Wikipedia.

Quick Comments:

  • Our feelings about the Wikipedia have changed a bit, but we are not as negative as we once were. However, when Mr. Wales and others say that Wikipedia should be one of many reference tools a person uses, we wonder if the typical researcher knows about or takes the time to learn about other reference tools and techniques? Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales told NPR last year that Wikipedia and most other data on the web needs to be "taken with a grain of salt." Yes, that's good advice. Have people listened to it? Also, lots of info sources on the web and in other fee-based databases are written and organized by publishers with years of reputation, editorial review boards, and often articles signed by the author. Yes, of course, this does not preclude them at all from mistakes. Hardly. But it's one of several tools to judge the quality of the publication.
  • While it's accurate to realize that popular Wikipedia entries are under constant review (with a few frozen for various reasons, if only for 96 hrs) what about less popular articles and topics? In other words, the content in these items is not looked at often, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be accurate. Ideally, the lack of popularity of an entry should not be related to the chance to spam it (get away with it) and for the content to be inaccurate or out of date. If an entry about a famous journalist can have problems, what about less well-known people and topics?
  • Just a question we've always wanted to know. What tools and techniques aside from the open web, do editors use to fact check information?
  • In 2004, Wales told Red Herring that Wikipedia would "begin using editors to review the web site's content for accuracy and allow users to rate contributions to the encyclopedia for their quality." Is this still in the works? Here's a roster of Encyclopaedia Britannica's Editorial Board
  • The bottom line for us about Wikipedia will not be coming today, tomorrow, or even next year, but in 4 or 5 years. Will volunteers stay with it? Will material be as closely watched as some of it is now? We remember another volunteer-based effort to help organize web sites, The Open Directory, and to put it mildly, DMOZ did not turn out to be what many had hoped for. It's human nature. People are often ready to move on to the next big thing, especially when they volunteer. If that happens, will Wikipedia be able to maintain the more than one million (and by that time many many more) entries?
  • Fast Fact: Most public libraries offer remote (from home/office, 24x7x365) access to a variety of encyclopedias. All you need is a library card.

    See Also: Wikipedia and Britannica (via Searcher)
    Excellent article from Paula Berinstein
    See Also: Webilography of Articles About Wikipedia (via News.com)

    UPDATE 1: Several people emailed us to pointing out two items re: Encyclopaedia Britannica:
    1) EB Now Lists Recently Updated Entries in the Lower Left Corner of Their Home Page
    2) EB also offers FREE EB Concise containing over 28,000 entries. Many with images and even video.

    UPDATE 2: More from Microsoft Encarta
    Fast Fact: Full Text access to the complete Encarta encyclopedia is free. Details here. Also available (and searchable) via MSN Messenger. Simply send an IM to encarta@conversagent.com and off you go.
    See Also: Brief Chat With Gary Alt, editorial director of Microsoft Encarta
    Reader Emptor: Yes, this Q&A interview is really a glorified press release but we thought it still was worth a link since it's a topic that's of interest to many of you. Plus, we learn a little bit about the person in charge of Encarta content.
    See Also: How Users Can Contribute Edits to MS Encarta
    Explains the process and how editors get involved.
    Even more here.
    The ability to do this was first proposed by MSN in April 2005.

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