LabelingThoughts:Policies at Wikipedia
This page is brief review of the policies and guidelines on Wikipedia, and some thoughts on how they might be an inspiration for or in some cases different from a collaborative reference project such as this site. Please add comments about these on this article's discussion page.
What is Wikipedia
Wikipedia is an free encyclopedia, written collaboratively. Anyone may edit, which creates a range of quality in articles from excellent to poor. A guiding vision for the project is to be bold and take risks in creating content and editing it with the vision that articles will over time evolve and improve and poor edits will be corrected by collaboration. Wikipedia allows anyone to edit an article, even with complete anonymity. This is quite amazing. No credentials are needed to contribute. No one is excluded.
Some of the downsides is frequent vandalism, partisan pushing of point of view, and introductions of errors. But studies are finding that vandalism is not that frequent and typically corrected within 14 minutes, and in general partisanship in articles evolves so that the article contains a balanced presentation of differing points of view. And the openness of the project prevents any one point of view from being forced upon the content. For mediation of contentious views, Wikipedia has an editorial board and a community process for resolving disputes.
As an encyclopedia, Wikipedia has particular advantages. It's low impact environmentally, since no print versions are published. Editing cycles are much shorter, as articles are updated real-time. Searches are more comprehensive. And links within articles allow people to easily see related content instead of attempting to summarize related content within each article.
Some articles that discuss what Wikipedia is and is not:
I was inspired by the Wikipedia vision and evolution in creating this site, though there are some key differences in vision currently and potential value to the community.
Vision as Guide
Wikipedia uses this vision as a collaborative encyclopedia as a guiding principle for policies and guidelines. The over-arching principle for the wikipedia is ignore all rules, a doctrine that if any rule obstructs the overall vision for the project then that rule can be ignored.
Wikipedia summarizes their policies and guidelines into five bullets, called the five pillars:
- Wikipedia is an encyclopedia written for the benefit of its readers.
- Wikipedia has a neutral point of view, which means we strive for articles that advocate no single point of view.
- Wikipedia is free content that anyone may edit.
- Wikipedia has a code of conduct: Respect your fellow Wikipedians even when you may not agree with them.
- Wikipedia does not have firm rules besides the five general principles presented here.
Policies and Guidelines at Wikipedia
Currently Wikipedia divides rules of order into policies (more established behaviors) and guidelines (useful suggestions for behavior). I think some of these are things we should adopt on this site open to community discussion. Some do not fit as well into the value of this site, and others are probably quite helpful. These evolved over the last few years as the Wikipedia has evolved, and anyone attempting a concord-based collaborative effort would be wise to review their approach in detail.
These guidelines and policies were not mandated, they were arrived at and continue to evolve based on community proposals and revision. Anyone in the community can make a proposal that is discussed and moved forward if in alignment with the greater community — a process of discovering concord in the community — and therefore in alignment with the vision. No unnatural hierarchy is needed as each person can contemplate a policy and offer insight into the process.
Davee's Critique: In the Wikipedia articles the term consensus is used but I prefer the term concord to describe this approach. Consensus I believe implies unanimity whereas concord less so. And unanimity is not necessary; it would be paralyzing for any process even. There is space for disagreement within concord and action can still proceed as long as there are no strong objections that the community feels blocks the action. I'd suggest reading the out of print book Beyond Majority Rule by Michael J. Sheeran (1984) ISBN 0-941308-04-9 (if you can find a copy. try Quaker Books), for more information about concord-based decision making processes.
The software that Wikipedia is based upon has evolved useful tools for monitoring changes, easy editing, and reversion of changes. Also included are discussions for every article. This facilitates easy review and editing of changes and community discussion of any changes or proposed edits. Members of the site also have access to monitoring tools so they can watch articles of interest, and even request emails for any changes that occur to those articles of interest. This site inherits all of those tools by using the same underlying software.
Wikipedia has also setup places for members to suggest changes, report problems, report bugs, and request dispute resolution. A volunteer run help desk takes questions and posts answers.
Wikipedia has evolved a very interesting approach. They have arrived at a set of policies and guidelines by concord that meets their needs well. Perhaps we could review and adopt some of these for this site and benefit from their process and developed tools.