Home' Technology Review : November December 2013 Contents 52
MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW
Elected; have powers including
deleting pages and blocking or
giving roles to other users.
Exempt from restrictions on
registering accounts in bulk.
Trusted to bypass some screening
processes applied to new articles.
Software that patrols and makes
edits, such as removing vandalism.
Elected; have powers over other
accounts, including the power to
Can view the IP addresses used
by other editors .
Edit filter managers
Manage tools to detect unwanted
edits and warn those who made
Can rename images and other
Can copy articles between
different editions of Wikipedia.
Can bypass blocks on editing from
certain Internet connections.
Can hide deleted content from the
history logs of article pages.
Investigate complaints that
bureaucrats used their role to
infringe an editor’s privacy.
The volunteers who produce the encyclopedia have created a complex system of governance.
Here are some of its roles.
Those participants left seem incapable
of fixing the flaws that keep Wikipedia
from becoming a high-quality encyclope-
dia by any standard, including the proj-
ect’s own. Among the significant problems
that aren’t getting resolved is the site’s
skewed coverage: its entries on Pokemon
and female porn stars are comprehen-
sive, but its pages on female novelists or
places in sub-Saharan Africa are sketchy.
Authoritative entries remain elusive. Of
the 1,000 articles that the project’s own
volunteers have tagged as forming the
core of a good encyclopedia, most don’t
earn even Wikipedia’s own middle-
ranking quality scores.
The main source of those problems
is not mysterious. The loose collective
running the site today, estimated to be
90 percent male, operates a crushing
bureaucracy with an often abrasive atmo-
sphere that deters newcomers who might
increase participation in Wikipedia and
broaden its coverage.
In response, the Wikimedia Founda-
tion, the 187-person nonprofit that pays
for the legal and technical infrastructure
supporting Wikipedia, is staging a kind of
rescue mission. The foundation can’t order
the volunteer community to change the way
it operates. But by tweaking Wikipedia’s
website and software, it hopes to steer the
encyclopedia onto a more sustainable path.
The foundation’s campaign will bring
the first major changes in years to a site
that is a time capsule from the Web’s ear-
lier, clunkier days, far removed from the
easy-to-use social and commercial sites
that dominate today. “Everything that
Wikipedia is was utterly appropriate in
2001 and it’s become increasingly out
of date since,” says Sue Gardner, execu-
tive director of the foundation, which is
housed on two drab floors of a downtown
San Francisco building with a faulty eleva-
tor. “ This is very much our attempt to get
caught up.” She and Wikipedia’s founder,
Jimmy Wales, say the project needs to
attract a new crowd to make progress.
“ The biggest issue is editor diversity,” says
Wales. He hopes to “grow the number of
editors in topics that need work.”
Whether that can happen depends
on whether enough people still believe
in the notion of online collaboration for
the greater good—the ideal that pro-
pelled Wikipedia in the beginning. But the
attempt is crucial; Wikipedia matters to
many more people than its editors and stu-
dents who didn’t make time to read their
assigned books. More of us than ever use
the information found there, both directly
and via other services. Meanwhile, Wiki-
pedia has either killed off the alternatives
or pushed them down the Google search
results. In 2009 Microsoft closed Encarta,
which was based on content from several
storied encyclopedias. Encyclopaedia
Britannica, which charges $70 a year for
online access to its 120,000 articles, offers
just a handful of free entries plastered with
banner and pop-up ads.
When Wikipedia launched in 2001, it
wasn’t intended to be an information
source in its own right. Wales, a financial
trader turned Internet entrepreneur, and
Larry Sanger, a freshly minted philosophy
PhD, started the site to boost Nupedia, a
free online encyclopedia started by Wales
that relied on contributions from experts.
After a year, Nupedia offered a strange
collection of only 13 articles on such top-
ics as Virgil and the Donegal fiddle tradi-
tion. Sanger and Wales hoped Wikipedia,
where anyone could start or modify an
entry, would rapidly generate new articles
that experts could then finish up.
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