I would like to propose that MediaWiki use endorsements as an infrastructure to permit validation. An endorsement is simply an assertion that user X approves of version Y (and no other version) of page Z. If you trust X's opinion, you can set your preferences to show X's endorsed version of a page, rather than the most recent version, when such an endorsement exists.
How it would work
- If you are logged in, you can endorse any version of any page in the main namespace (the UI would have an "endorse this version" button). You cannot endorse more than one version of the same page. You can change which version you endorse, refrain from endorsing any version of a page, or say that the best version of the page is the blank page that existed before the first version was written.
- If you have a page on your watchlist, you can set a flag to "endorse after N days"--the system will automatically declare that you endorsed whatever version was current as of N days ago, without any further action on your part. (We are assuming that if you didn't approve of that version, you would have manually endorsed a different version before the N-day window expired.)
- You may also endorse other users by adding them to your "endorsement list", which is part of your user preferences. When you endorse a user, you may merge that user's endorsement list with your own, and you may ask to be alerted whenever someone is added to or removed from that other user's endorsement list.
- When you view a page, you may either view the "most recent version" or the "most recent endorsed version". The "most recent endorsed version" is the most recent version that was endorsed by you or someone on your endorsement list. You are notified when people on your list disagree about which version to endorse. The history page tells you which versions are endorsed by which users.
- Just as articles have a "what links here" tool, user pages have a "who endorses this user" tool.
- Just as there is a "recent changes" special page, there is a "recent endorsements" special page.
- The power structure may provide a default list of endorsers, for the benefit of new users who are looking for some kind of quality control but have no idea who to trust.
- Endorsement is at least as easy to implement as the various article validation features being proposed. Once it is implemented and running on Wikipedia...
- Users without programming skill can take advantage of it right away by volunteering to endorse articles or building their endorsement lists. A page can be set up in the Wikipedia namespace for people to announce that they are volunteering. ("Hi! I have a master's in English from Duke; I'm going to put all the lit crit articles on my watchlist and endorse what I think is accurate." "Hi! I'm incredibly anal about punctuation, so I'll endorse whatever articles on my watchlist have been adequately copy-edited." "Hi! I want to bring Wikipedia up to encyclopedic standards, so I'll endorse anything that's been endorsed by a subject-matter expert and which meets our standards for good style and completeness." Etc.)
- Users with programming skill who are trusted to run bots can use them to implement the article validation scheme of their choice as a layer on top of the endorsement system. For example, a bot could keep track of which users have had accounts for at least six months, and whenever it sees one of those users endorse a version of a page, the bot could add its endorsement.
- If two users have radically different ideas of what constitutes a good literary-criticism article, the Wikipedia administration doesn't have to choose between them. If two programmers have radically different ideas of what constitutes a good validation algorithm, the Mediawiki developers don't have to choose between them. As much responsibility as possible is pushed out to the users, in the Wiki spirit.
- Members of various interest groups can participate in the endorsement process as easily as they participate in editing Wikipedia itself. Professional associations could compile a list of experts who are willing to endorse Wikipedia articles in their respective fields; teachers could insist that whenever a student cites a Wikipedia article, it must be a version endorsed by one of those experts.
- Endorsements add a new dimension to Wikipedia as social software. Authors are no longer just competing or collaborating to have their preferred text be in the most recent version of an article; they can also work on soliciting endorsements, finding a text that can be endorsed by as many interested parties as possible, or building their own reputations so that their endorsements are accepted by more users.
- People who don't have a lot of time to write and edit articles, but do have the expertise to recognize mistakes, can watch and endorse articles in their field of expertise; when they see a mistake, they can either correct that mistake or just put a note in the talk page saying "hey, that's wrong, check your references again". Thus, the number of people who can contribute to Wikipedia's quality goes up.
- If you know that a page you've worked on has been endorsed by someone who is widely accepted, then you know that the endorser will notice when someone else changes the page dramatically for the worse, and you know that your version, not the newer-but-worse version, will remain the endorsed version. People don't get a "heckler's veto" simply because they have the time to pound away at an article until the better-informed authors give up on it. This reduces Wikistress, reduces the temptation for edit wars, and reduces the chance of your giving up on Wikipedia entirely. When it's necessary to revert and protect a page, sysops can use the endorsements as a guideline for which version to revert to.