Wikipedia Checks its Facts

cyc1Wikipedia is the 10th most popular Web site in the US, with around 58.3 million unique visitors last month. What makes the site so unique is that it has experienced phenomenal success without advertising revenue by relying on its users to create, edit, and maintain its content – an approach known as crowd-sourcing. WIkipedia has not been without its detractors however. Some criticize the site’s “free-for-all” approach that they say provides the Internet community with misinformation posted without a formal editorial or fact-checking process. Recently the flaws inherent in crowd-sourcing have been the focus of media attention as wiki pages on U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy, and Robert Byrd incorrectly stated that the senators had died.

Wikipedia is responding by experimenting with a new approach called “Flagged Revisions.” In this scenario, edits proposed for pages on some topics will be placed in a holding queue where a “trusted editor” will approve or reject the change within a week. Trusted editors are drawn from the community of users based on the person’s past participation on the site. The new system will provide a cushion that will hopefully reduce instances of misinformation and embarrassment for the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation.

The use of flagged revisions, points to a new direction for Wikipedia, an organization that has historically put its faith fully in the crowd. One can’t help but think that this decision may have been helped along by Encyclopedia Britannica recent announcement of its plans to open its doors to the wisdom of the crowd. Competition is a good thing! In this case, it is my hope that competition between Wikipedia and Britannica will provide us with an online encyclopedia of everything that is accurate, up-to-date, and trustworthy.