- Starting point
DGG asked how editors might be able to access resources usually available at academic libraries and other subscription sites, to allow higher quality editing and sourcing of material.
The typical subscription model for these sites is that "[a]ll licenses are based on the existence of a limited and known body of users with discernible use expectations. Sometimes the number is very large, like the population of a city, but the assumption is made that a very small percentage of them will ever use it."
By contrast "Wikipedia is open to everyone, and all our resources need to be available equally; we have no pre-built class elite users that could form a delimited group"
DGG wondered whether:
- "[users] could form such a group, with a reasonable number--in terms of negotiating a reasonable sum, I would try to keep within the range of a small college, 2 or 3 thousand. I can certainly see how to select our 2000 most active mainspace editors, but we'd need to be accessible to people writing their first articles also. My current thought is, the first 2000 people who apply. I think actually we might not have that many who would actually use it, but we'd need to cope with the many who would only think they would. Publisher willingness to do it at all would depend on their opinion of whether it would cannibalize their existing markets. I know some who will not consent for any reasonable sum of money; I know some who might, at least as a 1-year experiment."
But (he said), the situation for publishers was deteriorating, so they might be more willing to experiment or try new avenues.
He later added further information:
- "There would be no caste formation if the arranged limit is not used., which is what I expect. Removing people from the list who do not use the resource is an entirely reasonable way of keeping the list open to newcomers. It might of course happen that 10,000 people would want to use these resources to write Wikipedia articles. This cannot be accommodated by my proposal, but if they actually did so, WP would be so much better off in multiple ways that we would well be able to find the money to renegotiate the contract; the publisher would be delighted to do so. All such contracts are renegotiated from year to year (or 2 or 3 -year periods) based on actual use. If the use goes up, more money is necessary. If it remains very low, the question is whether the resource is worth paying for at all. As for the legality or advisability of confidential negotiations about the cost, the entire industry works in this manner. Most librarians are unhappy with this, but almost all publishers insist. If people attempt to cover all problems, people never agrees on a contract. I imagine every publisher would see this as an experiment, and so would we."
He concluded that "if it turns out the WMF is seriously interested, please let me know privately. The entire possibility relies on the exact arrangements and costs being confidential. I am prepared to attempt to broker such arrangements and consult, but not engage in the routine work that would follow".
- General discussion
Randomran felt the idea would be exceptionally valuable.
FT2 noted that allow certain classes of editor access via a WMF service to online database subscriptions had been proposed at one point, on the WikiEN mailing list. He suggested that we might have fixed criteria for agreed (unpaid) access, and paid access for users who did not meet the criteria.
Bhneihouse agreed it would be of "huge benefit to content" but was concerned that "if [Wikipedia] is free to anyone, regardless of resources, to participate, then [this idea] risks building or reinforcing an elite who has access to other resources that many cannot afford [and forming a kind of club].[...] A club is that which includes but also excludes. I think that is a very dangerous slope for Wikipedia to stand in or to stand near... As soon as there are "classes" of users in a "free" encyclopedia where "everyone can participate" you are destroying... Wikipedia's brand".
FT2 disagreed, noting that "everyone can edit" does not mean "everyone has equal access to all facilities" and highlighting many existing examples of this. He did not see an inherent problem in saying "we have made arrangements with these suppliers to provide access to sourcing material as a paid service to anyone meeting criteria X. We also make it freely available to Wikimedia editors who meet criteria Y".
DGG noted that the key for a publisher was
- A preset limit (key factor)
- The overall use (number of places available times the probability that any one of them will be used)
- Whether it will draw away the basis of other subscriptions (eg , if everyone at a particular college decided to get access by becoming active Wikipedia editors). He felt this was "unlikely".
Randomran felt a good answer was that it was a good idea, it seemed to find ways to satisfy all parties, but if there were issues a quota system could be used while experimenting with demand - remove people who don't use the facility, and keep 66% for "trusted users" and 33% for "our [other] most active editors", with any unused balance on a first come first served basis to others.
Woodwalker felt this was a "marvellous" idea.
Yaroslav Blanter was concerned that some would sign up just to gain free access to data, while on the other hand many had such access via their workplace. He asked how common it was that a non-academic needed academic access to write an article and whether existing methods would be able to address this.
DGG felt the number in pure sciences would not be high but the numbers seeking access on humanities, social sciences and newspapers might be significant. He estimated half the references on these were by users who had not been able to access the actual articles.
Brya felt most who would be able to understand and process their content would have access already, and others would include a high proportion who wanted them more as "ammunition". There would need to be an effective way to deselect editors, and this must not be popularity-based.
Woodwalker felt this was inaccurate. Many specialist contributors were (for example) retired researchers who no longer had access. As well, mal-citation was a "plague" (discussed elsewhere) and many users were citing based on abstracts only since that was all they could see. Allowing access to full data for some users (especially in conjunction with a guideline that academic papers should only be used by those who understand them), would go a long way to address this problem. Yaroslav Blanter felt this was a good idea but "probably impossible to implement".
Woodwalker was concerned that while collaboration can work well, the replacement of bad with good references is overshadowed by the addition of bad citations. He feared that "we will never be able to become more trustworthy and useful for academic usage, if we don't address this problem".
Randomran noted that the Wiki process handled most of these issues - even one user with access could field queries for co-editors on similar articles or in the same WikiProjects. He also felt the right tools could greatly help on this issue:
- "We can make this even more powerful with the right tools. Using some sort of scholarly service would definitely help elevate the quality of sources, and settle disputes with less reputable sources. I always thought that Wikipedia should have its own internal search engine, which weeds out personal websites and other BS, and only searches peer reviewed sites with a reputation for fact checking. That would settle these issues quickly and effectively."
Woodwalker added that as well as a bibilography system, project-wide WikiProjects could help by creating "needed articles" lists (coverage), and acting as a central discussion point where any user can ask questions about the WikiProject's field of interest.