There’s regularly wringing of hands over something wrong — or worse, poisoned — at Wikipedia. Where some see a problem, I see an opportunity:
If I were a reference publisher, a library association, a university, a media company, or a foundation, I’d take Wikipedia as raw material and vet entries, perhaps even charging for the service: On demand or on the basis of traffic and links, I’d go in and vet already-written pieces and bless that version of it. Then maybe I’d publish a book from it. Subsequent changes would be unvetted until and unless I chose to or the audience asked me to review them. If a piece just simply isn’t up to snuff, I’d put it on a gray list, which I’d also make available not only as a warning (that’s seeing the problem again) but as a challenge to Wikipedians to improve the piece and make the grade (that’s the opportunity). And if the public sees a piece that is haunted by inaccuracy or, worse, is manipulated for someone’s agenda, then they can post a public warning as well. And, of course, I don’t have to do all this just with staff. I can also vet Wikipedians or others so that when they review a piece and bless it, so we can consider it blessed. And if there’s any money in this, I share it with them. In short, I’d create a superstructure of known, proven editors and researchers not to replace a single thing about Wikipedia today but to add value on top of it.
I agree with Dave Winer that “we need to determine what authority means in the age of Internet scholarship.” And I agree with Rex that Wikipedia itself must remain as open as it is today and that we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater when one error or one Wikipedian in need of meds is found. The vast — and dynamic — resource that Wikipedia has become is invaluable and the vast majority of what is in there is quite useful. What we need is mostly a pressure-relief valve for these complaints and reputed scandals that inevitably emerge.
Now that I think of it, this might have been a nice business model for the shrinking Britannica. It might still be.
: UPDATE: Fred Wilson calls this the Redhat version of Wikipedia.