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Sunday, 23rd September 2007

The German Wikipedia, Trusted Editors, and Past Comments

RS Correspondent Pete Weiss directed us to this post about the German language version of Wikipedia, "restritcing instant editing to allow "trusted editors" to look over the content before it appears online. According to the article, the change to this new model will come later this year and perhaps become part of other versions of Wikipedia if the response is positive.

We would like to share a few comments.

1) This new set-up for the Wikipedia in German reads very similar to what Larry Sanger's Citizendium is doing (amongst other things). Sanger is a co-founder of Wikipedia with Jimmy Wales. Like we've said before, perhaps Citizendium is something the info professionals should support as one large group. Here are links to two of many interviews (#1) with Mr. Sanger. #2

2) We would have liked to have learned who these "trusted" editors are going to be. Will they be Wikipedians who qualify (if so, how?) OR will they be "trusted" experts in a particular area of knowledge, perhaps from academia? Also, will these editors have a say in what gets an entry in the first place? We've seen several and heard even more stories about some some content making it into Wikipedia, while other content does not receive an entry or requires people to people to jump through hoops to get an entry. Of course, the issue about what does or does not deserve an entry in the first place is another discussion for another time.

Btw, if you would like to compare, here's a list of the members of Encyclopaedia Britannica's editorial board. How often will they make changes? For example, many of Intute's Virtual Training Suite tutorials are written and edited by educators, and directories like LII, InfoMine, and IPL have written collection development policies.

3) Is this a new idea ("trusted editors") either in Germany or elsewhere? No, it's not. Three years ago next month, Jimmy Wales was quoted in Red Herring saying that editors to review content were coming.

Wikipedia’s [Founder] Mr. [Jimmy] Wales has said that next year he will begin using editors to review the web site’s content for accuracy and allow users to rate contributions to the encyclopedia for their quality. ‘It’s complex because it’s a social community, and feelings can be hurt,’ said Mr. Wales, but he added that the change will be critical when Wikipedia content is put on more permanent media, such as CD-ROM disks.”

3) It's well-known to many "reference geeks" that historic editions of of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (9th and 10th editions) had signed articles on various topics written by top scholars of the time. For example, the article about Yosemite was written by John Muir. Here's a list of Nobel Prize Winners (Albert Einstein is one) who have contributed to EB.

5) In June, 2007 the New York Times reported that Wikipedia would make a few entries at that point only available for editing by people who were registered with the site for 4 days. Here's are several lists of protected entries as of today. Here's an example of a semi-protected article.

6) Finally, during a December, 2005 interview on National Public Radio, Wales said, correctly, that material on the Internet (including Wikipedia) should be taken with a grain of salt. Perhaps putting it another way (our view), know about and use more than one resource. We've pointed out before that Mr. Wales is on perfect target with this statement. However, the issue arises that with the degree of popularity that Wikipedia has, what can be done and does Wikipedia need to play a role, to remind users of its founder's comment? Sure, as info pros we know how and where to access OTHER resources. The question is, do others know what else is available and how to access it? Is there, as some have suggested, another information divide among those who just go with what they find -- i.e., the first few Google search results (and disregard Mr. Wales' comment about taking Internet material with a grain of salt?) -- and those with more sophisticated research skills? Whether or not that's the situation, it's a critical time for info pros to be a part of the conversation.

Shirl's comments:
In my household, we've come to terms with the Wikipedia. Generally speaking, we like it and we use it a lot to answer fast questions or quell sudden attacks of intellectual curiosity. It's quite good for technical topics and popular culture and, as number two son points out, many, many articles provide useful bibliographic references and external links that take you to additional information.

Something we especially like is how quickly articles are updated when something of significance happens -- e.g., a famous person dies. Number two son noticed that when there was a "leak" earlier this week about the proposed new design for the local baseball team's uniforms, the relevant Wikipedia article was updated before this information appeared on either of the two local newspapers' websites.

All of that being said, of course we're not talking about a scholarly resource here. As my son explained to me, about doing research, "I would never actually use a fact that I found in there without checking it someplace else." As Gary knows, my younger son is hardly a typical Internet user. After all, he's grown up with a mother who worships at the Church of Information Literacy.

But the actual moral truth -- which we preach all the time here -- is that information professionals are needed because of resources like the Wikipedia, not in spite them.

See Also: Comments on Search Engine Land
We learn from the comments section that if you edit 500 or more items during a three month span you automatically become a trusted editor. However, that can be taken away.

See Also: Law Professor Predicts Wikipedia Will Fail in Four Years
When Professor Goldman talks or writes, it's worth reading.

See Also: "We should continue to turn our attention away from growth and towards quality."
--Jimmy Wales, August 4, 2006.
Stats: Currently Wikipedia (English version) has 2,016,576 articles.
On August 4, 2006 Wikipedia had aprrox. 1.2 million articles.


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