On Friday, I was on Los Angeles KCRW’s To The Point radio show talking about Wikipedia’s latest “Pending Changes” move and what it means for the encyclopedia’s future. Joining me were Julia Angwin of the WSJ, William Beutler who writes The Wikipedian blog, and Lee Siegel cultural critic.
The short story: pending changes for English Wikipedia is a modified version for a what has been known as “flagged revisions.” The latter is a technical feature where not all edits to Wikipedia show up immediately, and requires a more experienced user (autoconfirmed, administrator, or otherwise) to approve an edit before it is displayed to the “public” of casual, not-logged-in users. This has already been turned on for all of German Wikipedia for over a year now with considerable success on their side. However, de.wikipedia.org is also a different beast with much more stringent standards (dare I say, academic bent) for articles. While English Wikipedia has over 3 million articles, German has just over 1 million. As a collective, the German Wikipedians have decided not to include the reams of virtual pages dedicated to contemporary pop culture, borderline celebrity and the minutiae about science fiction characters you see in English Wikipedia. For the German speakers, flagged revisions works for them, as it has upped their quality to engage with governmental and academic institutions. The English Wikipedia does not have such a sterling reputation, though folks like Liam Wyatt, Wikipedian in Residence at the British Museum, are starting to change this.
English Wikipedians, being a more diverse and rancorous bunch, could not come to consensus on a big sweeping move like flagged revisions. Instead, a smaller two month trial was approved which will allow certain articles to be treated in the “flagged revisions” way. Originally called “flagged protection” and perhaps too confusing for outsiders, it was relabeled “pending changes.” In the trial period, no more than 2000 articles will be designated to use the feature, and the results will be evaluated.
In brief: my view is that the characterization of “pending changes” is relative. Julia Angwin, who I think is a great tech journalist, is of the opinion it represents an overall more closing-off of Wikipedia, and the move is an affirmation of a more conventional process that created traditional encyclopedias. On the other hand, folks like Jimmy Wales have regarded this as opening up — instead of having articles locked completely using full-protection, or to limit editing to existing registered and “aged” users by semi-protection, pending changes gives a way for anyone and everyone to participate, even if those edits are not completely viewable until later. Relative to full protection, it’s more open. Relative to the Wild West wiki way, it’s more closed. It will be interesting to watch this experiment in action, even if folks involved don’t know exactly how to measure success or failure.
In addition to talking about the new feature, there is a rather vigorous debate between Beutler and myself with Mr. Siegel.
You can listen to the show at KCRW’s site.