Monday, November 2, 2015

Wikipedia just passed 5 million articles. That's astonishing.

The online encyclopedia focuses on building high-quality articles which are unbiased and which are fully cited using published, reliable sources. For most topics, I suspect that's good enough.

But what about change?

Last year, I worked on upgrading some articles on the four- and five-star hotels in Washington, D.C. There aren't many of them, but most of them lacked articles and the articles which did exist were stubs, with few or no citations. What citations existed were usually to the hotel's own web site (a clear conflict of interest and source of bias). But once the articles were brought up to speed, then waht? Hotels undergo refurbishment all the time. Their restaurants open and close, they add meeting space, they change ownership.

The challenge is to document this change. Far too many articles on Wikipedia become heavily dated after just a year or two. How can this be avoided?

The key is "article ownership". A contributor (like me) who engages in some heavy editing or upgrading of an article needs to take ownership of an article to ensure that it continues to be upgraded. But this commitment is difficult. It means going back to the article at regular intevals (yearly, say) and re-researching it. It means policing the article to ensure that the quality doesn't drop (by adding it to one's "watchlist" on Wikipedia). It means committing to five, ten, or even 20 years of "ownership". And if a person should quit Wikipedia, I think it's incumbent on them to try to recruit a new "owner" for the article from among the Wikiprojects to which the article belongs.

Little of this is happening, I think. Wikipedia actively discourages "article ownership" by contributors, and has no mechanism in place for identifying those articles which are dated or for encouraging users to bring articles back up to date. Wikipedia should have, I would think, an invisible tag which could be placed on articles which are in danger of "aging" -- like biographies of living people, corporations, news events, or buildings. As these articles age, they would be automatically added to a new category of "aged articles". Any contributor could go to that category, and randomly select an article to update (or at least check to ensure it hasn't aged badly).

I feel a little guilty today. I stopped "watching" a lot of articles about Washington, D.C., because I don't live there any more and can't keep up with all of the ones I worked on. Today, I saw an article about a hotel's renovation and I am absolultely, positively convinced that the renovation will be missed by other contributors. The hotel's article will age within just a few months, and the news about the hotel will be missed by Wikipedia. The article's quality will drop, and...

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