Many of you have likely heard that Wikipedia, the popular community-edited online encyclopedia, recently hit a stumbling block. A user submitted a tasteless prank of an entry, falsely implicating another individual in the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert. The ensuing brouhaha became Wikipedia's first major controversy. On Tuesday, Wikipedia said that it is building more safeguards into its online encyclopedia. Judging by some Internet trends, that step can't come too soon.
Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, and access to this cornucopia of homegrown information is completely free -- and refreshingly free of ads. It's a grassroots effort that taps into the expertise of the Internet community, embodying many of the Web's largest current trends. Although some users felt dubious about the accurace of a user-edited encyclopedia's information, Wikipedia traffic has soared since its creation in 2001.
Following its recent black eye, what's next for Wikipedia? According to The Wall Street Journal, the site will begin implementing security measures in January to keep people from adding inaccuracies to the encyclopedia. These include a time-delay feature for submissions to some of its most popular pages, giving a team of volunteer editors time to ensure the posts are accurate. Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder, said that this move has more to do with curbing the online vandalism that has occasionally plagued the site than with the highly publicized prank mentioned above.
Eventually, the article said, the online encyclopedia will only consist of pages that have already been checked for accuracy before the public sees them, though that may take a year or two to implement. For now, its pages will be separated into "stable" pages -- those that have been checked for accuracy -- and "live" ones.
What the heck does this have to do with anything, since Wikipedia isn't even publicly traded? Well, some of us suspect that Wikipedia's rise to stardom has a certain Rule Breaking element to it, despite its status as part of the nonprofit Wikimedia. When I have a specific question, I often turn to Wikipedia before resorting to a search on Google
Furthermore, some believe that the future of the Internet is a trend dubbed Web 2.0 (though some skeptics call that moniker an empty phrase, born of marketers and smacking of empty sloganism). Community-based sites like Wikipedia are a big part of the supposed Web 2.0 movement, and companies like Yahoo!
Wikipedia's move to ensure the accuracy of its content is crucial, if you believe that community and social networking-inspired content sites are a big part of the Internet's future. If these collective communities are going to flourish, they'll need a lot more trust, and an equal measure of vigilance.
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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.