Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Mailbox: Edit Warring

Dan Lawyer’s comparison of NFS to a moldy refrigerator struck a chord with many readers. Here are some of their comments.

Dear Ancestry Insider,

"You’ll be able to reject the change with one click of a mouse." - So what's to prevent edit warring?


Dear Readers,

In case you don’t already know what an edit war is, Wikipedia describes it thusly:

An edit war or revert war is a situation that sometimes arises on websites which are run on wiki principles, such as Wikipedia, where users repeatedly re-edit or undo or reverse the prior user's edits in an attempt to make their own preferred version of a page visible. With the ability for anyone to edit a page, and older versions of pages stored in the edit history, edit warring becomes possible as long as there is little or no control over the editing.

Ron Tanner, new FamilySearch Tree (NFS) product manager, has said that he wants NFS to have a dispute resolution process like Wikipedia. Edit wars occur constantly on Wikipedia, but the community has evolved rules for handling them.

I think the Wikipedia community has evolved since the last time I looked into their dispute resolution practices. Administrators can still protect pages from changes. But the old system, arbitration, no longer makes decisions about whose information is correct. The community has developed procedures to help disagreeing parties reach mutual agreement before resorting to arbitration. Parties are urged to use the discussion feature. Informal and formal mediation can help combatants reach mutual agreement.

Only when a user become uncivil is the old arbitration process invoked. According to the arbitration policy, the arbitration committee can apply sanctions including:

  • User X is cautioned against making personal attacks even under severe provocation.
  • User X is limited to one revert per twenty four hour period on article A.
  • User X is prohibited from editing group Y of articles for a period of Z.
  • User X is banned from editing Wikipedia for a period of Y.
  • If User X edits group Y of articles, they may be banned for a short period of time of up to one week.

Stay tuned to see if Tanner gets what he wants, or if FamilySearch is able to create a community that can rule itself.

The Ancestry Insider


  1. The dispute resolution process on Wikipedia may look good (to some) on paper. In reality, it's a disaster. Expecting civil self-rule for new FamilySearch is a pipe dream.

  2. Anonymous is right about the Wikipedia dispute process. It's rarely invoked for many edit wars, and lots of contentious articles never get close to that point. Look at the edit history of any article that's remotely considered controversial or political. You'll find a few edits by random Wikipedia editors, but the vast majority are from interested parties who zealously protect the "correct" version of the facts. I like Wikipedia and regularly use it as an initial research point, but only for non-controversial topics. And even in that case, I take any information from Wikipedia with a very large grain of salt.


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