Sunday, August 15, 2010

Wikipedia 1.0: journey vs. destination

While browsing through the Wikipedia policy pages (it was either that or just tattoo "Geek" on my forehead and be done with it) I ran across something I remembered running across a while ago, more or less shrugging at and moving on, namely an offline edition of Wikipedia. There seem to be two approaches:
  • The "German model": Distribute a snapshot of Wikipedia on CD. Why, I'm not sure. Perhaps to reach that select audience of people who have heard of Wikipedia but don't have an internet connection to access it*?
  • The "Wikipedia 1.0" model: Select the best, most polished articles and publish them, whether on paper, CD/DVD, read-only web site, or whatever.
The Wikipedia 1.0 project was proposed in 2003. At this writing, several versions have been released and 0.8 will be out Real Soon Now. That's not to say that 1.0 will be two versions from that. The beauty of the x.y version numbering scheme is that you don't have to go from 0.9 to 1.0. You can release 0.91, 0.95 ..., you can release 0.10, 0.11 ..., you can release 0.9a, 0.9b ... [But it looks like we'll go into 2016 still on version 0.8 ... my guess is that 1.0 isn't going to happen -- D.H. Dec 2015]

For my money, it's not particularly important whether 1.0 ever comes out. Plenty of good has come out of attempting the exercise at all, in particular as a spur toward improving the quality of core articles and encouraging the development of Wikipedia's quality and importance ratings. These exhibit a nice division of labor: People rate articles and computers aggregate the best-rated ones.

The main reason not to just leave it at that and integrate the ratings more directly into the UI, is that vandalism still has to be filtered by hand and, despite the lack of imagination exhibited by most vandals, always will be. But most likely even that could be handled without an explicit release mechanism, by means of "flagged revisions," which allow editors to flag particular revisions as being free of vandalism and otherwise up to snuff. Apparently the mechanism has been in place for a while but the community is still figuring out how best to use it.

What's the proverbial "simplest thing that could possibly work" here? Perhaps just allowing anyone -- or anyone with an account -- to tag a revision however they like, and allow readers to filter what revisions they see. E.g., only show me revisions that the quality rating committee has rated "good" or better and my friend Jimbo has rated "funny". The proposal for "sighted revisions" looks pretty close to this, though less flexible.

* That's a bit glib, as there are communities with access to computers but with limited or no bandwidth, but given it was the German edition at 3 Euros per CD, I doubt this was the intended audience. Nonetheless, 40,000 people opted to buy it.

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