Now Wikipedia president Wales has enacted a policy that requires users to log in before creating new articles. However, since there’s no e-mail address required to do so, anyone can make up a name and create an article without a way to verify their identity.
In any case, Wales insists that the vast majority of the articles on the site are correct, and that anonymity isn’t the issue. Still, he’s working on other measures aimed at eliminating the possibility of false information being added.
One is a “holding zone,” where contentious information or topics – those prone to vandalization – can be queued for review before going live. Another is a community-based rating system, scheduled to go live on January 1, 2006. Wales says he’s also considering soliciting experts to submit ratings on articles, to see how those ratings jibe with the community’s.
A couple of years ago, Wales suggested to the Wikipedia board that they adopt a “real name” policy, similar to Amazon.com’s review system. At Amazon, anyone can review a book; but after the site was hit with allegations that authors were writing glowing reviews of their own books and slamming competitors’ works, Amazon decided that giving people the option to use their real names – and having Amazon certify it with a “Real Name” logo beneath it – would lend credibility. The Wikipedia board rejected the idea a few years ago; but today Wales thinks “anything’s possible.”
Others with experience allowing masses of people to create content say some policing is necessary to prevent chaos and to ensure the validity of information. Today, Rich Skrenta is CEO of Topix.net, a news-gathering site that just launched a citizen’s journalism effort, where visitors can write news stories that pertain to their interests. Prior to founding Topix, though, Skrenta was a founder of DMOZ.com, a community-created site directory, where 60,000 “editors” index sites and write site descriptions.
“We had issues where editors were being bribed to write good reviews and spammers tried to get in, so we had to develop a fairly sophisticated set of policies to keep this running,” Skrenta says. “With our new project we have both social and technical designs to facilitate good information. They’re patrolled, monitored, and managed.”
Would a stricter log-in process have stopped me from falsifying the Tom Waits page? Probably not; I was under deadline and knew I’d change it back. But for the few visitors who come to the site with a casual ill intent, it might.
Skrenta puts the Wikipedia situation into some perspective: “Our citizen journalism effort doesn’t have any problems yet because it doesn’t have any traffic. When people are corrupting entries, that’s a problem you only have when you’ve succeeded.”
If Wikipedia wants to become the trusted, open-source repository of all the world’s knowledge – and it probably does – it may have to adopt some of the successful tactics of Amazon and others who have gone before it.