August 23, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Can German engineering fix Wikipedia?

An experimental feature planned for the German version of Wikipedia could eventually improve the quality of editing for the online encyclopedia and open its front page to public edits for the first time in years.

In an interview with CNET News.com, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said the feature, which was conceived of and will likely be instituted by members of the German Wikipedia community by the end of August, is designed as a way to protect articles from being vandalized.

Because nearly anyone can edit just about any of the more than 2 million Wikipedia articles in 229 national versions and have those edits instantly appear, malicious edits of an article so that it contains obscenity or fiction have been one of the more serious problems Wikipedia has faced.

As a result, some of the more controversial articles, such as that on President Bush, are sometimes locked.

Last fall, concerns over the veracity of Wikipedia articles came to a head after it was discovered that the entry on former Robert F. Kennedy aide John Seigenthaler suggested he had been involved in the presidential candidate's assassination. And earlier this month, comedian Stephen Colbert was banned from Wikipedia after he encouraged his television viewers to make meaningless edits to the site's articles.

But now, Wales said, administrators of the German Wikipedia--the second-largest version after English--have come up with a system that could protect live articles, especially obscure ones that escape regular scrutiny from hawkeyed community members intent on maintaining accuracy.

As always, anyone will be able to make article edits. But it would take someone who has been around Wikipedia for some yet-to-be-determined period of time--and who, therefore, has passed a threshold of trustworthiness--to make the edits live on the public site. If someone vandalizes an article, the edits would not be approved.

"We want to let anybody edit," Wales said, "but we don't want to show vandalized versions."

On the surface, it may not sound like a major step forward, but to Wales and others in the community, the feature, if it proves successful on the German site, could mean a significant reduction in the number of defaced public articles.

Open front door?
And if that's the case, Wales said, it could give Wikipedia the means to finally open its front page to public editing for the first time since one vandal repeatedly posted obscene images on it years ago.

"It would be fun for me to announce to the press that the front page of Wikipedia is open for public editing for the first time in five years," Wales said.

Of course, there are several hurdles still to be cleared and there are no guarantees that the planned German feature will work. Unless and until it does, the intended benefits won't extend to the main site.

The feature "raises a lot of what-ifs," Wales said. "What if articles get stale" because no one pushes forward new edits? And, he said, there's no concrete agreement about who would be granted authority to push forward articles, though it could conceivably be anyone who has been a registered Wikipedia user for as little as four days.

Another thought would be that edits go live automatically after some pre-determined period of time that could be as little as 10 minutes, Wales said.

To Robert Niles, editor of the Online Journalism Review, any potential changes to Wikipedia's editing rules run up against philosophies of how much freedom the site's users are given.

"It's all a question of at what point in the process do you want to exercise central control," Niles said.

Niles added that, ultimately, he is in favor of Wikipedia policies that result in users taking as much responsibility for their work as possible. Currently, anonymous users can edit articles.

"I'm really into sourcing," he said. "I think the most effective way to do things is to put your name on (articles) and responsibility follows quickly."

In the past, Wales has talked about creating a so-called "Wikipedia 1.0," which would be a static version of the encyclopedia free from vandalism. That point is still far off, but he said the German proposal is a step in that direction.

"You'd be able to...pull Wikipedia articles," Wales said, "and be pretty sure you're not going to get a giant penis picture."

And while most people assume that major changes to Wikipedia always originate on the English version, Wales said the proposed feature could put a lie to that notion.

"This is going to be a time when (the Germans) are going to be first to an innovation," he said.

In the end, Niles thinks Wales and other Wikipedia policymakers should get the benefit of the doubt.

"They've earned the right to experiment with it in any way they see fit," Niles said, "so I'm rooting for them to get it right and make it even better than it is."

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15 comments

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Good idea
There's no substitute for some degree of editorial control over publication, because there will always be people who behave irresponsibly. I think Wikipedia is a great institution, and it would be a shame if it was discredited by vandals. Free speech is a great ideal, but not all speech is valuable or deserves to be replicated (e.g., hate speech).
Posted by P. Jackson (17 comments )
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Standing on the shoulders of giants
It IS a good idea; and, like most good ideas, it stands on the shoulders of some significant precedents. The traditional model of editorial control is the most important of these, but there are also precedents for porting this model into communities of practice. The most impressive of these (and possibly also the best documented) involves the Eureka system, deployed by Xerox to provide repair technicians with a way to share insights that were not part of the "standard" documentation. These insights were called "tips;" and Eureka was a lightweight piece of software that any repair technician could use to contribute a free-text account of a tip based on some specific work experience. Before going into the system, that tip would be reviewed by a validator; and, when necessary, the validator would work with the technician to edit the text of the tip in a way that would make it most useful to other technicians. (All of this would take place within the Xerox network; I am not sure if there was EVER a face-to-face engagement between a technician and a validator.) This solution is very close to the one that the Germans are planning to test. I might wonder why the Americans did not think of it first, but then I remember that the first major test of the Eureka idea took place in France!
Posted by ghostofitpast (199 comments )
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Wikipedia
This is incredibly good for a volunteer product. Vandals are everywhere so I guess we must clean up after them on the web too.
Posted by j-rischard (5 comments )
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CNET should try it out too
So that way, if someone mistakenly writes
>Because nearly anyone can edit just about any more than 2 million...
any reader who notices the mistake can edit it to say
>Because nearly anyone can edit just about any of the more than 2 million...
Posted by Jackson Cracker (272 comments )
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Liberal gatekeepers from the ivory towers
Just like a Newspaper is supposed to employ editors to check facts and filter partisan vandalism, I predict that Wikipedia will now fall into a culture of liberal bias.

Why? Because once you set up a system of elite editors who get to decide what is said and what isn't said, liberals will feel like they need to go to wikipedia and become Journalists to help Frame the Debate.

Its natural. Conservatives are out on the range, clearing brush with chainsaws or fighting battles, and the liberals are all at home in their parents basement making sure Wikipedia is "pure"....
Posted by gerhard_schroeder (311 comments )
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Really?
>Conservatives are out on the range, clearing brush with chainsaws or fighting battles, and the liberals are all at home in their parents basement making sure Wikipedia is "pure"....<

I think the more likely explanation is that most conservatives are ILLITERATE idiots...
Posted by Hot_gurls_luv_macs (3 comments )
Link Flag
Liberal bias from journalists?
What have you been reading? Most of the media is decidedly anti-liberal!
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
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Liberals hate rationality
What I find so amazing about Wikipedia is the need for their crowd to shout down anyone who questions their ideals and biases. If an unpleasant truth is presented, immediately all of the liberal editors will work in tandem to silence the introduction of rational discussion so that they can censor any viewpoints that expose the immaturity and short-sightedness of an article when it begins drifting from reality.

With Wikipedia, truth always remains in the distance while the same clamoring brats attempt to establish their own online "proof" of no veracity. This is why Wikipedia will always be ignored by historians, scientists, and anyone desiring facts.

So long as you are looking for fools to repeat their biases and the ignorant viewpoints they have learned, Wikipedia is a great source. Serious people will continue look elsewhere for trustworthy information.
Posted by Truth Speaker (15 comments )
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Wikipedia status
I use the English Wikipedia regularly (I actually did not realize until I read this article that the versions in various languages were completely separate entities, rather than translations of a master copy), and I do not regard it as "broken" in any serious way. While I have encountered pages that were in the throes of contentious editing and therefore unstable, I have not personally seen any outright vandalism. IIRC, a study a year or so ago showed that the WP was only slightly less accurate than a hidebound publication like the Encyclopedia Brittanica. I was also under the impression that the "anonymity" referred to was relative: that editors were forced to use "fixed" pseudonyms; and that administrators above a certain level had access to the personal profiles of those editors for disciplinary purposes. Having written all that, the changes appear to be rather benign at worst.
Posted by samiamtoo (31 comments )
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Wikipedia's problem is its lawlessness. Much more is needed to rescue it.
After causing huge enthusiasm, the Wikipedia is earning a reputation of lack of reliability. Its freedom is of that kind that allows the strong to impose his will upon the weak. Strong here means the number of hours you can spend editing it. If you are logged in ten hours a day, any normal person, no matter how right he is, will have to give up sooner or later if you don't agree with him. At least he's prepared for the long process that must be followed in those cases where simply another user doesn't like your edits:

1. Discussions in the talk page of the articles affected. This phase takes months (two, three, etc.) even if the other party's only argument is: I delete this because I think you aren't neutral. Why you aren't neutral? Because I've decided you aren't.
2. Mediation process. If direct dialog fails, then you have to start a mediation process where an independent third party helps to reach a consensus. You have to wait at least a month before the request for mediation is accepted. After that, other month until the mediator is assigned. The discussions can take other month. Five months until now.
3. Arbitration process. If the last phase fails, and it will if the other party is acting in bad faith, then you have to request arbitration. It takes a month since you request it until the case is opened. Other month to present the evidence to prove the abuse you have been victim of. Other month before the ArbCom decides. A week before the case is closed. Total: other three months. And probably, at the end you'll be also blocked for edit warring or something like that.

That is, it takes at least eigth months simply to have a situation of abuse analyzed. You have no other options than to follow this process. Personal attacks in theory are banned but if somebody insults you you have no place to report it. And nobody cares.
Posted by Divulgator (1 comment )
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Wikipedia: A Techno-Cult of Ignorance
The following is a manifesto against Wikipedia - against its pretensions to being encyclopedic; against its false claims of openness; against its representation of a democratic access to, and democratic enunciation of, knowledge; against its institutionalized falsification of facts; against its sordid attempts to monopolize knowledge and rewrite history by blanking out parts of our collective memory and replacing them with imprimaturs. Yes, those are all aspects of the cyberbureaucratic fraud that Wikipedia is committing wholesale upon knowledge. The fraud that consists of producing false knowledge on an encyclopedic scale.

from "Wikipedia: A Techno-Cult of Ignorance"
by
Paulo Correa, M.Sc., Ph.D.
Alexandra Correa, H.BA.
Malgosia Askanas, Ph.D.

ISBN 1-894840-36-4
Posted by Truth Speaker (15 comments )
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Chinese-language Wikipedia presents different view of history
1. November 30th, 2006, CBS published an online article named: [http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2006/11/30/publiceye/entry2218394.shtml Is Wikipedia China Really Wikipedia?]

2. International Herald Tribune - Asian-Pacific recently wrote this article: [http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/11/29/news/wiki.php Chinese-language Wikipedia presents different view of history] "But on sensitive questions of China's modern history or on hot-button issues, the Chinese version diverges so dramatically from its English counterpart that it sometimes reads as if it were approved by the censors themselves."

3. On December 1, 2006, The [[New York Times]] published another report by Howard W. French, titled as <b>"Wikipedia lays bare two versions of China's past." </b> "Some say the object should be to spread reliable information as widely as possible, and that, in any case, self-censorship is pointless because the government still frequently blocks access to Wikipedia for most Chinese Internet users. 'There is a lot of confusion about whether they should obey the neutral point of view or offer some compromises to the government,' said Isaac Mao, a well-known Chinese blogger and user of the encyclopedia. 'To the local Wikipedians, the first objective is to make it well known among Chinese, to get people to understand the principles of Wikipedia step by step, and not to get the thing blocked by the government."

And "the articles are already pre-censored by party-leaning moderators and users." on the Chinese wikipedia. [http://digg.com/political_opinion/Wikipedia_lays_bare_two_versions_of_China_s_past user
Posted by SummerThunder (4 comments )
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chinese wikipedia is becoming a real chinese government site.
There are many users who felt exactly the same way. And most of the time, their comments, votes got deleted. For example, I wrote some comments, the moderators not only deleted them, they also made them disappeared as if nothing was ever deleted!

1. I wrote a subtitle "house arrest until death" for Zhao ziyang in the chinese version, it was immediately deleted. however, the same thing that I wrote in the English page is still kept even today.

2. What happened in [[Tibet]] in 1950 was 56 years ago. On the chinese wikipedia, before 11-23, 2006, that part of history was written as "in 1950, the government of People's Republic of China signed "peaceful liberation treaty" with the Tibetan government, under the condition of respecting Tibetan's system and life style, the liberation army was allowed to enter tibet." When I tried to added the detailed history for that period of time, his contribution was deleted as "vandalism" twice by two Chinese moderators on 11-23, and 12-6, 2006. [http://zh.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=%E8%A5%BF%E8%97%8F%E5%8E%86%E5%8F%B2&#38;diff=2993090&#38;oldid=2993080] [http://zh.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=%E8%A5%BF%E8%97%8F%E5%8E%86%E5%8F%B2&#38;diff=3084041&#38;oldid=3083995]

then on 12-11-2006, the moderator Ran somehow reverted everything that I wrote which was previously deleted by two moderators, but he deleted the link where I got my information from on top of the page, and under the "external links." [http://zh.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=%E8%A5%BF%E8%97%8F%E5%8E%86%E5%8F%B2&#38;diff=3113910&#38;oldid=2993080] Isn't that ridiculous, how can they add my contribution without listing the references?! And strangely enough, somehow what I wrote now appeared in all those Tibetan articles on the Chinese page so the moderators can now say that they are not pro communists, even though the author - me is still banned because of what i wrote!

3. As of December 29th, 2006, the article of People's Republic of China on the Chinese site did not mention anything about the well-known [[Falun Gong]] which originated in mainland China. And the phrase "Human Rights" was only mentioned once under the name "Organization for Human Rights." There was no direct link to the "Human rights in the People's Republic of China" article, either. While the English site of [[People's Republic of China]] has an entire paragraph about Human Rights, and also a direct link to [[Human rights in the People's Republic of China]]. I tried to added it, it was immediatly deleted by the moderator "mongol" It was added only when I mentioned in the English version of Village Pump, then the moderator Ran added the word "falun gong." [http://zh.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=%E4%B8%AD%E5%8D%8E%E4%BA%BA%E6%B0%91%E5%85%B1%E5%92%8C%E5%9B%BD&#38;diff=3233627&#38;oldid=3214644]

4. the article about "two Chinas" which has been deleted twice in the month of November. Then one of the moderator claimed that it has never been deleted.

5. The chinese-russian border treaty, the entire article was also deleted not so long ago. now one of the moderator "ran" claimed that it was deleted due to "copyright" violation which is a total lie. it has several early versions, which has nothing to do with any sort of copyright violation at all. After my complain which was deleted, somehow now the same article reappeared with the same content.

6. the tiananmen square protest article, I added similar contents in both the Chinese and English version. The chinese moderator Louer immediatly deleted my contribution, and put that article under protection. AT the same time, whatever I wrote on the same subject in the English article did not got deleted at all.

I have tried to added my comments about those things on the Chinese version of village pump, however, they deleted everything that I wrote, and called those as "vandalism." One time, another user who wrote a comment supporting me, it was also immediately deleted by those moderators. So clearly, people can not openly, freely discuss topics they want to. Another user reverted those comments that I wrote, it was also changed back instantly by one of the moderators.

There are 29 moderators from mainland China, 6 of them are from the capital city - beijing. At the same time, the government is still blocking the entire 13 billion Chinese' access to this web site. taiwan and hongkong should have more users than the users from mainland China, however, they only have 17 and 13 moderators. It is a well known fact that there are plenty Chinese spies who are living in taiwan right now. I am writing this, so hopefully the wikipedia people can look into this matter seriously.
Posted by SummerThunder (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
chinese wikipedia administrators = chinese government agents?
I know, right now, those chinese spy moderators must be really hoping that they can delete this topic asap. I posted a similar comment on the chinese page, it was IMMEDIATLY deleted. and all my other comments which are not related to this topic, which are very relevant to those topics were also deleted, and somehow those chinese spy moderators also made them "disappeared" as if they did not delete anything at all. and then they banned me for "vandalism."

It is a known fact that China blocked its people's access to wikipedia. however, i checked the chinese page, they have total of 29 moderators that are in China! 6 from beijing, 6 from guangzhou, 6 from shanghai, etc. There are more moderators from China than from any other parts of the world. however, if the chinese are blocked from getting on here, how can those Chinese moderators still have time and resources to moderate the chinese wikipedia? isn't that odd?

you may have heard about [[Shi Tao]], the chinese government put him in jail for 10 years because the government was able to find his location thru a single IP address which was reported by yahoo. those 29 moderators' are listed publicly on the chinese page. So it is quite obvious that the chinese government must have those 29 mainland chinese moderators' personal informaiton. I highly suspect that most of the chinese mainland moderators are spies sent by the Chinese communists. It is a banned web site, what kind of people are willing to edit a web site that is banned by his or her own government especially in china?!

I can probably safely say that there are more people using the chinese version from Hong Kong and Taiwan than people from [[mainland China]]. however, [[Hongkong]] only has 13, [[Taiwan]] has 17. isn't that odd? further, during my time on that site, as far as I know, no moderator from hong kong banned or deleted my contributions, and there are 13 of them. if I really did something wrong, shouldn't they also be able to ban or delete? and who can gurantee that those moderators who are listed under other country names are not really from mainland china?

Another thing, it is forbidden to gather without government permit in China. however, that chinese site recently even had two meetings in capital - [[Beijing]] and in city of guangzhou. there are constant reports about police harassing and spying on people who secretly gathered in churches which are not approved by the government, etc. so there is no way that the government doesn't spy on those wikipedia meetings. It is just shocking to see those moderators so "bravely" advertising on the public page. and when I posted a question about my doubt, it was immediatly deleted as usual. those comment pages were also put into protection.

i am not insance or crazy. It is also a known fact that china has spies in taiwan. it seems to me that the moderator from taiwan jasonzhoucn is also very "communistly" suspicious. one time, i added to only two extra links to an article of the chinese golden shield project, he immediatly deleted them without a reason. he also deleted the extra information that i have added for some of the articles.

i am not crazy, or delusional. however, think about it, the chinese have to use special programs, proxy servers in order to get on this page. and even if they have high speed, the speed won't be fast enough. who would have the patience even to edit those pages if the internet connection is not fast enough? there are 13 billion chinese, how many of them can actually get on here easily? so how is that possible that there are so many mainland chinese moderators?! and since the majority of Chinese can't get on this site, you would expect that there are lots of articles pro taiwan's independence, but there are not a lot. And the article about "Two Chinas" was actually deleted TWICE in just November. And one of the moderator later on said that he did not find any history about its delettion at all?!

The reason that i am suspecting is because of what happened to me recently. i tried to edit the page for the "peopel's republic of china". even today, that article does not have a single word about human rights and falun gong. i added those two items, immediatly a mainland chinese moderator deleted my contribution, then put that article into protection. i have added many similar contents in other articles. most of them have been deleted by those mainland chinese moderators.

when i tried to voice my suspision and my comments on those community forums, those moderators immediatly deleted them. then they banned me , accused me doing "vandalism?!"

with 29 chinese mainlander moderators, that site is basically controlled by the chinese spies sent by the communist party. they do not allow people to add anything that are bad about the chinese communist party. so here i am, I don't know if this is the proper place to voice my opinion. i seriously think that someone should take a look into this matter.

"But on sensitive questions of China's modern history or on hot-button issues, the Chinese version diverges so dramatically from its English counterpart that it sometimes reads as if it were approved by the censors themselves." [1] This indeed confirmed my suspicion. someone should do something about those moderators.
Posted by SummerThunder (4 comments )
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