Boosting Wikipedia Quality

By Peek, Robin | Information Today, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Boosting Wikipedia Quality


Peek, Robin, Information Today


The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) has been involved in two pilot projects designed to improve the quality of Wikipedia's encyclopedia articles as well as attract new contributors to craft the content.

The mission of WMF, a nonprofit charitable organization, is to encourage wiki-based multilingual content that is free to the public. While best known for its large, collaboratively edited reference works (most notably, Wikipedia), the organization supports other smaller wiki projects as well. For example, the foundation supports the development of MediaWiki, the free open source wiki package that is generally considered to be the backbone of most wikis.

Last summer, two announcements revealed WMF's strategic directions. The first was the Rate This Page tool, which launched in May as a pilot and is now unfolding throughout the English-language Wikipedia pages. The second, which was a pilot in 2010 and 2011, is called the Public Policy Initiative (PPI). The PPI, which will be expanded this fall, asked professors in public policy programs to improve the articles by giving classroom assignments to students.

The new Rate This Page feature lets page visitors rank an entry on a 1-5 scale on trustworthiness, objectivity, completeness, and quality of writing. Vistors who rate articles have the option of self-identifying as a subject matter expert for whatever article they rate. The pilot was run on 100,000 Wikipedia pages starting in May. "The survey we're currently running shows that over 90% of users find the ratings useful," according to Wikimedia's blog. "Many of these raters see the tool as a way to participate in article development--when asked why they rated [an] article, over half reported wanting to 'positively affect the development of the page.'"

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WMF is cautiously optimistic that this feature will entice new editors to participate in creating content. Of the randomly selected set of users who were shown an invitation to edit the page, 17% attempted to edit the page, and 15% of that initial group were successful in completing the edit. However, the WMF also realizes that the editing tool in MediaWiki and the editorial process itself can present barriers for participation.

Public Policy Initiative

In its search for new editors and content, WMF is also encouraging universities to develop new editorial troops. During the last academic year, 45 professors and instructors in U.S. universities voluntarily gave assignments to 816 students to improve English-language Wikipedia articles on public policy topics. Although I did not participate directly in the project, I have been following it closely and involved some of my own students with my own version of the PPI project.

The PPI seeks to assess the quality of these articles throughout the process to "track changes to the article quality," with the goal of improving the content of U.S. public policy articles. But more broadly, the foundation aspires to create a model for developing curricula for Wikipedia use in university classrooms, including the recruitment of new subject matter experts and "gaining support for these activities from the Wikipedia community." This latter point is an important one because editing articles also means understanding a culture.

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The English-language version of the 10-year-old Wikipedia currently claims that more than 3,677,000 articles exceed (typically by several-fold) the eight other major languages covered by Wikipedia. …

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