11 May 2009

Filtering an Inclusionist Wikipedia

Why didn't somebody think of this before?

Wikipedia for schools is ... a free, hand-checked, non-commercial selection from Wikipedia, targeted around the UK National Curriculum and useful for much of the English speaking world. The current version has about 5500 articles (as much as can be fit on a DVD with good size images) and is “about the size of a twenty volume encyclopaedia (34,000 images and 20 million words)”. It was developed by carefuly selecting for content, then checking for vandalism and suitability by “SOS Children volunteers”. You can download it for free from the website, or as a free 3.5GB DVD.

The following point is even more interesting:

I also see this as a potential future model for Wikipedia — allow people to edit, but have a separate vetting process that identifies particular versions of an article as vetted. Then, people can choose if they want to see the latest version or the most recent vetted version. To some, this is very controversial, but I don’t see it that way. A vetting process doesn’t prevent future edits, and it creates a way for people to get what they want... material that they can have increased confidence in. The trick is to develop a good-enough vetting process (or perhaps multiple vetting/rating processes for different purposes). This didn’t make sense back when Wikipedia was first starting (the problem was to get articles written at all!), but now that Wikipedia is more mature, it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s a new need to identify vetted articles. Yes, you have to worry about countries to whom “democracy” is a dirty word, but I think such problems can be resolved. This is hardly a new idea; see Wikimedia’s article on article validation and Wikipedia’s pushing to 1.0. I am sure that a vetting/validation process will take time to develop, and it will be imperfect... but that doesn’t make it a bad idea.

Indeed. What this means is that different organisations could pass the whole of Wikipedia through their particular prisms - like that filtering stuff for children. This is a very strong argument for Wikipedia being inclusionist - having as much stuff as possible - and letting the filters take out stuff that particular groups don't want. These would then offer their seals of approval to that particular cut - even if many people would disapprove of the choices made. That's freedom for you, I'm afraid.

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Anonymous said...

I don't see quite how self-appointed censorship groups can be classed as an expression of freedom.

The way you are introduced to a topic seems fairly important, especially for children, and wikipedia seems likely to have content that is not as biased as many other sources.

I wonder, for example, whether the "child safe" version of wikipedia contains articles on homophobia - that would be of use to a child understanding their sexuality - or human sexual reproduction - which might help with the appallingly high teen pregnancy rate - and all the articles wikipedia links to on these topics.

Somehow, I doubt it. Censorship always seems to me to be a way for some supposed moral arbiter to enforce their view of society on others, on the basic assumption that parents can't look after kids and adults aren't capable of making reasoned decision about what content they want to view.

Glyn Moody said...

Because allowing others to censor in this way is the price of freedom. I don't say it's good, but I think that any mechanism put in place to stop it will be worse.

Nihiltres said...

No, it's not a strong argument for inclusionism: it fails to take into account Wikipedia itself.

Were Wikipedia merely a source text for reduction and vetting, then the point makes sense, but whereas Wikipedia seeks to be useful per se, over-reaching inclusionism isn't entirely justified. Wikipedia itself shouldn't be taking on questionable material simply because some outside group will cut it out in their version.

Glyn Moody said...

Well, I'm not arguing for allowing "questionable" material, more widening the reach of Wikipedia. And in any case, the Wikipedia team could always apply *their*, official filter to produce the real Wikipedia, rather than just its raw materials.

Anonymous said...


What is questionable is surely in the eye of the beholder.

It's hard to take on an all encompassing remit without touching subjects that one or other group might consider questionable.


Maybe this plays into your take on trademarks.

When is wikipedia not wikipedia? When it's a selection maybe.

In GPL or MPL etc. software we have the freedom to take and adapt the source code, to remove chunks etc. If a project takes the code of another and reinvents it, it normally does so under a different name from the original. So wine becomes winex and firefox becomes iceweasel (unless you are Ubuntu).

Adaption is a useful process.

Speech or writing is more subtle than software. If we take and a quote out of context we can misrepresent, if we readers digest a novel we end up with an interpretation. What happens when we remove the associated articles from wikipedia topics?

Glyn Moody said...

Yes, I would suggest that only the "official" filter of Wikipedia be called such; others would be called "Fred Bloggs' Filter of Wikibase" or something similar. It would all come down to Seals of Approval: you'd trust the filter if and only if you trust the people making it (all of this could be sorted in the background cryptographically using hashes etc., I imagine.)