One day after the New York Times published an article about revisions to Wikipedia's 'anyone can edit' policy, a newsgrist reader writes in about a crazy flame war raging on Wikipedia over the entry for the European Graduate School, questioning its existence and branding its links as mere self-promotion and bio-link spamming. I wonder: how do you distinguish hyper-linking from hyper-promoting?
The reader explains:
...Lack of media coverage ironically prevents unconventional graduate program in media studies from validating its existence to Wikipedia. The European Graduate School claims to employ a host of art/culture and critical theory luminaries [...] but can't prove it. The school's entry in the online encyclopedia may be deleted.... It's a little disturbing that a school that presumably regards the mediasphere with an extra critical eye is in the limelight for bio-spamming. (Unless someone *not* affiliated with EGS is responsible for the prominent mentions of it in Butler, Zizek, etc., bios on Wiki.) I'm rooting for EGS, but at the same time...ew. Anyway, it's over for now-- Wiki kept the entry. Hopefully someone will add that adorable photo of J-L Nancy and the gang!
Growing Wikipedia Refines Its 'Anyone Can Edit' Policy
By KATIE HAFNER
Published: June 17, 2006
Wikipedia is the online encyclopedia that "anyone can edit." Unless you want to edit the entries on Albert Einstein, human rights in China or Christina Aguilera.
Wikipedia's come-one, come-all invitation to write and edit articles, and the surprisingly successful results, have captured the public imagination. But it is not the experiment in freewheeling collective creativity it might seem to be, because maintaining so much openness inevitably involves some tradeoffs.
At its core, Wikipedia is not just a reference work but also an online community that has built itself a bureaucracy of sorts — one that, in response to well-publicized problems with some entries, has recently grown more elaborate. It 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. 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. (See a List of Protected Entries)
While these measures may appear to undermine the site's democratic principles, Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder, notes that protection is usually temporary and affects a tiny fraction of the 1.2 million entries on the English-language site.
"Protection is a tool for quality control, but it hardly defines Wikipedia," Mr. Wales said. "What does define Wikipedia is the volunteer community and the open participation."
From the start, Mr. Wales gave the site a clear mission: to offer free knowledge to everybody on the planet. At the same time, he put in place a set of rules and policies that he continues to promote, like the need to present information with a neutral point of view.
The bulk of the writing and editing on Wikipedia is done by a geographically diffuse group of 1,000 or so regulars, many of whom are administrators on the site.
"A lot of people think of Wikipedia as being 10 million people, each adding one sentence," Mr. Wales said. "But really the vast majority of work is done by this small core community."
The administrators are all volunteers, most of them in their 20's. They are in constant communication — in real-time online chats, on "talk" pages connected to each entry and via Internet mailing lists. The volunteers share the job of watching for vandalism, or what Mr. Wales called "drive-by nonsense." Customized software — written by volunteers — also monitors changes to articles.
Mr. Wales calls vandalism to the encyclopedia "a minimal problem, a dull roar in the background." Yet early this year, amid heightened publicity about false information on the site, the community decided to introduce semi-protection of some articles. The four-day waiting period is meant to function something like the one imposed on gun buyers.
Once the assaults have died down, the semi-protected page is often reset to "anyone can edit" mode. [read on...]