There’s been generous media coverage – and no shortage of angst and debate – over Wikipedia’s recent decision to add new oversights to its open editing mantra. Check out this article here. Going forward – as one example – Wikipedia will assign volunteer (trained) editors to approve certain public edits, notably those involving living people. The main driver for this change was an increasing number of inaccuracies appearing on the site, which clearly wasn’t being helped by existing tracking mechanisms. Some argue this step signals the end of true user-submitted content at Wikipedia, and an implicit acknowledgement that the “wisdom of crowds” is not so perfect after all.

But as the article notes, the idea of nominal controls and even site managers is not new, nor is it a sign of the apocalypse of social media. It’s inevitable that these sites have to evolve as they grow; in fact, its a core element of the social media “beta” philosophy. The experience at Wikipedia has shown that there will often be a minority who try to game the system, break the rules or use an open platform to vent their opinions – whether they are appropriate or not. (Unfortunately, among the culprits are corporate or agency PR folks who have trouble accepting that hype or whitewashing is not credible or appropriate.) That’s particularly true with sites that position themselves as legitimate sources of information or ideas.

The trick is to develop clear, simple, common sense rules that filter out the egregious abuses but keep the site dynamic and true to its free-flowing ethos. Perhaps I’m naive, but I still believe a majority of users have good intentions and want to make these user-driven sites relevant and appealing. (In one incident I personally experienced, a group of passionate users actually built a parallel website to show how the original could be improved. They were critics, but deeply committed to making the site productive, rather than just venting. We ended up using some of their ideas.) Like many topics related to social media, the best answer lies in avoiding dogma and absolutes…and listening to the crowds.