August 9, 2011
Starting in mid-July, Wikipedia quietly launched a new feature to its over 3.7 million English-language entries: the article feedback tool. An inconspicuous box at the bottom of articles, it asks you to “rate this page” on a scale of 1-5 as trustworthy, objective, complete, and well-written.
Wikipedia’s first goal for the project is to improve article quality. Wikipedia contributors can view a dashboard with the highest- and lowest-rated articles, and ratings could someday become a filter for Wikipedia search. Raters can check a box next to “I am highly knowledgeable about this topic,” separating the experts from the crowd. But only one-third of raters do check this box, suggesting that most ratings come from respondents with little background knowledge. And ratings top off an already-elaborate system of tagging questionable content for flaws like missing citations, conflicts of interest, and personal attacks.
Beyond boosting quality, Wikipedia hopes to engage readers more. After you rate a page, Wikipedia enjoins you to create an account, take a survey, or become an editor. This last one may be the most crucial: though contributors to the English Wikipedia are still growing, the number of active contributors (who have made five or more edits in the previous month) is not; after steadily rising to around 55,000 in March 2007, that number declined to about 36,000 in June 2011. The feedback project began in 2010 as part of the Public Policy Initiative, where professors require students to contribute to Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation provides lesson plans and mentoring on how to edit.
Higher quality and engagement are Wikipedia’s stated goals, but they may be making a move toward curated content. They hint at another use for the dashboard of high- and low-rated articles—which only includes those with ten or more edits on the past day—noting that “the articles that appear on the dashboard reflect, to a certain degree, what’s popular on Wikipedia within a given 24 hour period.” These data could lead to a “trending articles” or “controversial articles” section on the homepage to complement the featured article, picture, and list that currently reside there.
The Wikimedia Foundation sees this project as part of a larger push for innovation: “This tool also reflects a shift in the Wikimedia Foundation’s development processes towards more systematic experimentation and trials with new technology. We believe small experiments like this can be very useful in helping Wikimedia to innovate and learn.”
With this small experiment, Wikipedia joins the ratings trend alongside Facebook likes, Google +1s, and thumbs up for comments. But they clearly didn’t just leap on the bandwagon. Adding this feature has been a slow, conscious process, beginning with 400 articles last September, then 50 more, then 3,000, and then 100,000, before fully deploying. Throughout that process, raters were surveyed about the usefulness of the feedback tool, and Wikipedia users can still choose to hide the tool altogether.
Expect future innovations, but incremental ones, as “the people’s encyclopedia” is clearly wary of jeopardizing the goodwill of its community.
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