Wikipedia may add more fact-checking rules

Move comes after recent entries falsely reported deaths of Kennedy, Byrd

Wikipedia will test a new policy of checking user contributions to certain high-profile entries before publishing them.

If approved permanently, this policy would be at odds with Wikipedia's "laissez-faire" approach toward fact-checking that, while controversial, is nonetheless key to its massive popularity.

Wikipedia lets anyone instantly publish changes to most of its encyclopedia entries, except for some articles that are subject to constant malicious edits. Depending on the case, Wikipedia places different limits on who can edit these entries and to what extent.

Now, the English-language Wikipedia will begin testing a new process that, unlike the existing protection policy, would let anyone edit an entry but places these contributions in a holding queue pending approval from a user whom Wikipedia considers a "trusted editor" based on the person's participation on the site.

A version of this policy, called Flagged Revisions, is in place at the German-language Wikipedia.

The decision to test Flagged Revisions on the flagship English-language Wikipedia was prompted by changes to the entries of U.S. Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and Robert C. Byrd that incorrectly stated the men had died.

"This nonsense would have been 100 percent prevented by Flagged Revisions," wrote Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on his "user talk" page.

A poll of Wikipedia users showed that 60% support applying Flagged Revisions to certain entries, according to Wales. Contributions would be held for approval at most for one week but ideally "a lot less," he wrote, adding that Flagged Revisions will be tried out "for a time-limited test."

Launched in January 2001, Wikipedia, written and edited by volunteer users worldwide, is by far the most popular encyclopedia on the Web. It receives about 97% of the visits U.S. Web surfers make to online encyclopedias, according to Web monitoring company Hitwise.

Wikipedia is free and carries no advertising. Its parent organization, the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, recently held a successful fund-raising drive for the $6 million it needed to operate Wikipedia until the end of June.

The Wikimedia Foundation didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wikipedia is often criticized for what detractors perceive as a free-for-all attitude toward user contributions, something that has landed it in hot water at times but that is central to its popularity and growth. The site's philosophy is that its community of participants will police itself, correct mistakes, stamp out malicious activity and engage, when necessary, in discussions that lead to consensus over site policies and encyclopedia topics.

The English-language Wikipedia, for example, has more than 2.7 million articles and was, along with other, smaller Wikimedia-backed sites, the 10th most popular site in the U.S. in December, with 58.3 million unique visitors, according to comScore Inc.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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