The New Wikipedia (1-12-06)
It's in everybody's interest to make Wikipedia a trusted source for information (Except the nice people at Britannica, they're scared). However, even its authors agree that by its very nature, its not a stable, reliable source. We need a way to keep the positive aspects, like the ability for anyone to easily contribute. However, we need a way to make the good content stand out, the controversial content be know, and the bad content fade to the back. It should also be able to change rapidly with the times, yet preserve some historical record of what the original authors were thinking. To achieve all this, Wikipedia will have to change and grow in new ways.
The first step is to allow multiple entry for each article. The way of selecting what the user sees will be explained in a second. The idea is that anyone who wants to can create their own entry from scratch (or borrow from existing entries). They would then be the owner of that entry. Others could edit that entry, but the owner would have the ability to deny any changes....the owner could select the level they want to allow others to edit their entry...from requiring any changes to be submitted to the owner before being published, to simply getting a notification when a change has happened. The idea is that the owner would have complete control of the entry, and it would always represent their understanding of the article's topic.
If a user submits a change to an entry and the owner doesn't like it, or is negligent and doesn't respond, then the user with the new change could simply start their own entry using the original entry plus their change.
So now we've got a proliferation of entries for each article. For some articles there could literally be hundreds or thousands of entries. There needs to be some way to find the one (or ones) that readers should see when the want information on this article. The way to accomplish this is with some social networking. For each article, a user (registration might need to be required, to keep it fair) gets to vote for the one entry that they see as the best representation of that article. This will quickly promote articles that are good. Additionally, on controversial topics, multiple points of view may emerge....which is a GOOD thing.
The other aspect that needs to be taken care of is user accountability. Each person who creates an entry should enter data about why they are qualified to create this entry. As the system spreads, they will get a user ranking that is based on how many votes the entries they write receive. This information should be prominently displayed on their entry to encourage people to read (and then vote for) articles written by qualified people.
Finally, there will need to be minor interface changes to access the multiple entries for each article. It would probably be wise to automatically display the entry with the most votes. If there are multiple entries that have a similar number of votes, then a bright warning could be on a page such as the warnings for neutrality, etc. and have links to alternate entries. Additionally, there should be another tab added which lists all the entries for that article and can be sorted on various categories such as vote, date submitted, user ranking, etc.
I personally love Wikipedia and hope with all my heart that it can grow into a even better tool for even more people. I want it to get past the state of something that is on par with a printed encyclopedia (though totally different at the same time) to a source of information that is unrivaled.