The very wiki-nature of Wikipedia enables instant and continuous quality control, by allowing anyone and everyone to participate in improving articles and the encyclopedia as a whole. If someone comes across an error while reading Wikipedia, he or she can immediately and directly change it - by clicking on the edit this page tab at the top of the screen, and then by typing away in the edit window that appears. While there are a few bad apples who abuse this privilege by vandalizing or propagandizing, the vast majority of people who edit Wikipedia compose articles responsibly with the common good of mankind at heart - Wikipedia is a public resource intended to make knowledge freely available to everyone in the world, and most participants take this very seriously.
But mistakes do occur, and these and the damage done by the bad apples mentioned above need continuous attention. So...
A great deal of Wikipedia's volunteers' effort is applied to quality control. Wikipedia has an elaborate disciplinary system for handling vandals and other troublemakers, and a dedicated force of system administrators to enforce the Wikipedia community's decisions and policies - admins even have the power to block a bad apple permanently.
Once material is added to Wikipedia, an army of volunteers organized under various departments check and recheck it to make sure it conforms to the high standards set forth in Wikipedia's policies and guidelines (which were established specifically with the creation of quality articles in mind). There are departments for everything from typos to factual errors. For a list, see Wikipedia:Maintenance.
And Wikipedia even has robots, automated users that monitor for errors and correct them automatically. For example, these days most spelling errors and vandalism are fixed by Wikipedia's robots.
Monitoring articles and edits
Every edit is recorded!
- Main article: Help:Page history
Unlike paper encyclopedias, which can only display a single version of an article, Wikipedia tracks every edit to every page. Each of these versions of the article, or revisions, is listed chronologically in the history tab, from which any and all previous revisions can be viewed. This is useful not only as a historical record by which we can analyze how articles change over time, but also to protect the integrity of the article. Because the most accurate and complete version of an article is always stored and readily accessible, bad edits (whether blatant vandalism or good faith errors) can be quickly reverted.
Live feeds - monitoring Wikipedia in real time
Recent changes patrol
- Not Main article: Wikipedia:Recent changes patrol
Special:RecentChanges lists, by default, the 50 most recent changes to all of Wikipedia. Members of Wikipedia:Recent changes patrol periodically scan this page for unusual activity, such as a large removal of content, an automatic edit summary, or even just edits made anonymously. The corresponding diffs can then be examined to determine whether or not the edits were constructive. The 50 most recent edits may have all occurred within the past one to two minutes. Thus, the recent changes patrol ensures that obvious vandalism is reverted within a few minutes of being added.
New pages patrol
- Main article: Wikipedia:New pages patrol
Counter vandalism vigilance
A watchlist is a MediaWiki feature that presents in a special list format all the recent edits (configurable to display edits up to 30 days old) for every article on the watchlist. On Wikipedia, there are two types of watchlist that are commonly used...
- Main article: Help:Watching pages
The MediaWiki software upon which Wikipedia is hosted includes a powerful feature called "My watchlist", accessible at the top of the screen by every user who has a Wikipedia account (which are free, by the way). Editors interested in working on or monitoring specific pages can watch those pages. The watchlist simultaneously displays the most recent revisions of every article that an editor is watching. This makes it very easy for an editor to quickly check over the articles they are working on to see if any dubious edits have occurred. Watchlisting insures that editors with a good understanding of an article are aware of any incorrect information added, and that vandalism can be quickly reverted. Using this tool, experienced editors can effectively watch as many as 8,000 pages each.
Using changes to create specialized watchlists
- Main article: Wikipedia:Related changes
Reporting problems with pages and edits
- Main article: Wikipedia:Template messages
- Note: to deal with or report problems with a particular user, see Wikipedia:Dispute resolution.
Editorial oversight and control
- Main article: Wikipedia:Editorial oversight and control
How do Wikipedia's quality control procedures compare to other encylopedias?
Randy Pausch reported in his book The Last Lecture his experience writing an article for the World Book Encyclopedia, and recounts that "No editor ever questioned what I wrote, but I assumed that's the World Book way. They pick an expert and trust that the expert won't abuse the privilege." He then stated, "I have not bought the latest set of World Books. In fact, having been selected to be an author in the World Book, I now believe that Wikipedia is a perfectly fine source for your information, because I know what the quality control is for real encyclopedias."