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25 January 2009, 14:03

Wikipedia's founder calls for monitoring to prevent false entries

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Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, is backing a system to help prevent incorrect changes being made to entries in the online encyclopedia. His endorsement of what are termed flagged revisions has been sparked off by an inaccurate change made to an entry about Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy, claiming that he and his colleague Robert Byrd had died, after a lunch in honour of the newly inaugurated President, Barack Obama. In actual fact, shortly after arriving at the hospital, Kennedy was already on the way to recovery. Byrd, too, was examined, but members of his staff denied he had suffered any medical problems. As Wales writes on his talk page the incorrect report would never have gone online if flagged revisions had been in use.

He advocates a system under which current changes to Wikipedia entries could only be made by registered members, classified as trustworthy. All other changes would be queued in a wait loop for checking by an editor. Flagged revisions are reported to have been enabled as a test on the German Wikipedia in May 2008, and fully enabled in August-September. However this system causes delays of up to three weeks, before a change can be accepted. The system Wales wants would send amended articles online in less than one week, because it would not be applied to all entries. Wales pointed to a community poll that was taken over the proposal, where sixty per cent of responding Wikipedia members expressed themselves in favour of flagged revisions.

Meanwhile, efforts by the Britannica Online web encyclopedia to attract more user participation are making progress, although the Britannica blog says this week's media reports that it had completed its preparations for the birth of an online community, first announced in June 2008, were premature. In fact, it says, new functions are to be introduced gradually over the coming weeks. One innovation is that registered users will be able to edit Britannica articles, though their revisions will first be checked by editors. Users of the encyclopedia will be able to see who has made what contributions to an article.


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