Wikipedia May Restrict Publics Ability to Change Entries By Noam Cohen Stung by criticism after vandals changed Wikipedia entries to erroneously report that Senators Edward Kennedy and Robert Byrd had died, Wikipedia appears ready to introduce a system that prevents new and anonymous users from instantly publishing changes to the online encyclopedia. The new system, called Flagged Revisions, would mark a significant change in the anything-goes, anyone-can-edit-at-any-time ethos of Wikipedia, which in eight years of existence has become one of the top 10 sites on the Web and the de facto information source for the Internet-using public. The idea in a nutshell is that only registered, reliable users would have the right to have their material immediately appear to the general public visiting Wikipedia. Other contributors would be able to edit articles, but their changes will be held back until one of these reliable users has signed off, or flagged the revisions. (Registered, reliable users would see the latest edit to an article, whether flagged or not.) The system has been used by German Wikipedia since May as a test case. Introduced slowly, since all that flagging is quite labor-intensive, German Wikipedians report that more than 95 percent of articles have been flagged, though there are delays as long as three weeks before an articles revision appears on the site to all visitors. While long discussed as something to be used by the much-larger English Wikipedia, Flagged Revisions was given new life as a proposal after Wikipedias mastermind Jimmy Wales all but ordered it be adopted after the Kennedy and Byrd false-death reports, which remained on the site for about five minutes. On his user page, under the header Why I Am Asking Flagged Revisions Be Turned On Now, Mr. Wales observed: This nonsense would have been 100% prevented by Flagged Revisions. Wikipedia can already put an article on lockdown, preventing changes. On Thursday night, for example, the article about Janis Joplin was protected after the NBC show 30 Rock used malicious editing of Ms. Joplins Wikipedia article in the plot. People immediately began imitating that suggestion until the page was made closed to editing. It was still locked down Friday afternoon. But Mr. Wales argued that this kind of lockdown would have been a mistake in the case of the two senators, because this was a breaking news story and we want people to be able to participate. Mr. Wales noted that a community poll showed that 60 percent of Wikipedians were in favor of the proposal and that it would be a time limited test. He said that the delay should be less than the German Wikipedia allowed: less than 1 week, hopefully a lot less, because we will only be using it on a subset of articles, the boundaries of which can be adjusted over time to manage the backlog. He concluded his post with the succinct order: To the Wikimedia Foundation: per the poll of the English Wikipedia community and upon my personal recommendation, please turn on the flagged revisions feature as approved in the poll. The response was immediate and deafening, with headlines like: Jimbo Wales, stop acting dictator. In reaction, Mr. Wales offered a compromise: Those who are in the minority who are opposed to this are invited to make an alternative proposal within the next 7 days, to be voted upon for the next 14 days after that I ask you to seek some detailed policy around the use of the feature that you think both you and the supporters can agree upon. Simply engaging in FUD and screaming is not going to be helpful, but I trust that outside of a few, most of the people opposed can actually work cogently with others to find a reasonable and responsible compromise position. Jay Walsh, a spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, said the organization did not yet have a fixed timeline on when the new approval system would be adopted. Implementing this functionality is really a volunteer community decision, he wrote in an e-mail message. We know the discussion about flagged revs is still taking place on English Wikipedia, but at this stage, it appears the majority of the community are behind this decision. As that discussion unfolds, well have a better sense of the timing. I can see where this would be labor intensive for wikipedia staff but I think it's a good idea. I know some on this site tend not to trust any info from Wikipedia because the public can basically post anything. I think that adding flags would lend credibility to Wikipedia as a source of information.