Wikipedia, the world’s largest online encyclopedia, has grown organically over the years, the product of the collective wisdom of its users. Until now, virtually anyone with an Internet connection has been allowed to contribute new topics and edit preexisting ones. For all that, at least in my experience, Wikipedia is a useful—and surprisingly accurate—source of information. But Jimmy Wales, the site’s founder (who famously broke up with his girlfriend by making a change to his own Wikipedia page), has had it with what he calls the “nonsense” that sometimes appears on the site.
In particular, he’s referring to an incident last week in which users made changes to the pages for senators Robert Byrd and Edward Kennedy, saying that both had died at a Capitol Hill luncheon following Barack Obama’s inauguration; the two men sought medical treatment, but both remain very much among the living.
Wales has proposed to the Wikimedia Foundation that all new editorial additions by new or unknown users be flagged for review by proven users as a means of avoiding future shananigans. As you might guess, the Wiki faithful allege Wiki treason and have begun a flame war against Wales. They claim that reviewing posts will be too time-consuming, slowing the flow of information. And indeed, the German version of Wikipedia, which adopted the flagged-revision system last year, did slow significantly. It can now take days or weeks for changes to be posted, say critics. But perhaps accuracy is more important than speed? Maybe it’s the journalist in me, but I tend to think so.
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Joi.