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Wikipedia’s proposed new rules: what you need to know

As Wikipedia abandons its “anyone can edit” ethos, will you lose control of the site’s information about your brand?

In the eyes of the cynics, it had to happen sooner or later. Wikipedia, the site that has become the most far-reaching store of human knowledge on the Web by allowing anyone to edit articles on all imaginable topics, is expected to soon place restrictions on who can edit its content. After U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy and Robert Byrd left a lunch on Inauguration Day last week amidst reports that both had been hospitalized, “vandals” updated the Wikipedia entries about the two senators with the false information that they had both died. (Kennedy was treated and released; Byrd never actually went to the hospital.) Now, a set of rules aimed at preventing such intentional misinformation seems likely to take hold. That could have implications for your ability to edit pages on the site that discuss your brand, products and services.

The idea of restricting the public’s ability to edit articles was first seriously discussed at Harvard Law School during Wikimania 2006, an annual convention of Wikipedia editors. But since last week’s episode, Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales has thrown his weight behind the new system, which will be known as Flagged Revisions. It’s not a done deal yet, as users are still discussing the proposal, but it appears likely to take effect in the coming weeks. Jay Walsh, a spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, told The New York Times’ Bits blog: “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, we’ll have a better sense of the timing.”

Currently, anyone with a computer can edit any Wikipedia article. If the user doesn’t have a login identity, the site records the user’s IP address and immediately publishes the edit. But under the Flagged Revisions system, edits made by users without logins, and users whose logins don’t have the appropriate rights, won’t immediately appear for the general public. Instead, they will first be reviewed by established Wikipedia editors. It’s unclear how quickly these folks will be able to keep up with approving those changes, and while there has been discussion about whether to allow automated approval by Wikipedia’s software if a backlog develops, that appears to be up in the air as well. So for anyone who doesn’t want to lose the ability to edit content about their brand on Wikipedia (see my previous post on the importance and etiquette of contributing information about your own products), it may be worthwhile to attain the user status required to make unfiltered edits that won’t be bound by the new approval process. But it’ll take some work on your part. The requirements for this access, known as Surveyors Rights, are being proposed as follows:

  • Has an account for 30 days
  • Has 150 edits
    • 30 edits to article namespace pages
    • 10 article namespace pages edited
    • 15 days of edits
  • Has confirmed an e-mail account

Simply put, this means that of your 150 edits, at least 30 must be edits to the content of actual encyclopedia articles (not photo pages, user pages or others), and they must be spread across at least 10 different articles and at least 15 days. If 150 sounds like a daunting number, keep in mind that even the smallest edits–fixing a grammatical error, adding a minor detail, etc.–are to be counted. You can make these edits to any page, so think about the topics that interest you and start editing articles about them. In a couple of weeks, you’ll be all set to be an approved editor, and you may even learn some things along the way. In the spirit of community editing on which Wikipedia was founded, you may even want to pitch in on one of the site’s article cleanup projects. Happy editing.

What do you think of Wikipedia’s proposed new rules?

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