Wikipedia experiments with trusted editors to approve revisions

July 18th, 2008

The NYT Bits blog has a post, Wikipedia Tries Approval System to Reduce Vandalism on Pages on Wikipedia’s proposed Flagged revisions/Sighted versions policy. This policy is currently being used in the German version of Wikipedia.

“Wikipedia is considering a basic change to its editing philosophy to cut down on vandalism. In the process, the online encyclopedia anyone can edit would add a layer of hierarchy and eliminate some of the spontaneity that has made the site, at times, an informal source of news. It well could bring some law and order to the creative anarchy that has made the site a runaway success but also made it a target for familiar criticism.

The German site, which is particularly vexed by vandalism, uses the system to delay changes from appearing until someone in authority (a designated checker) has verified that the changes are not vandalism. Once a checker has signed off on the changes, they will appear on the site to any visitor; before a checker has signed off, the last, checker-approved version is what most visitors will see. (There are complicated exceptions, of course. When a “checker” makes a change, it appears immediately. And registered users, who make up less than 5 percent of Wikipedia users, will also see “unchecked” versions.)”

The process adds a new category of Wikipedians, Surveyors, who are “trusted editors” able to review the tentative modifications and promote them to be “sighted pages”. There is a public test-wiki for the English Wikipedia that allows people to try out the new software.

Adding a system of positive endorsement from trusted editors is is an interesting approach that I think could work well. It’s not invulnerable to subversion and gaming, but few non-oppressive systems are. Wikipedia works as well as it does because most people are usually are reasonable cooperative. Even with the three qualifiers in the previous sentence, it works pretty well.