Grants:IdeaLab/Edit your replica

status: idea
Edit your replica
idea creator:
project contact:
Edit an article—without changing Wikipedia! There are many cases where editing the live article is not possible, or is not desired.
created on: 08:00, 8 August 2013

Project idea


Improve MediaWiki software to support more complex editing situations, where there might be multiple versions of an article for a period of time.

Project goals

  • Handle massive editing demand for breaking news articles.
  • Make page protection transparent and friendly—every user sees an Edit button, on every page. Never "View Source".
  • Better coordinate article improvements across languages.
  • Offline Wikipedia which can be annotated and edited, then synchronized with others as communication becomes available.

Get involved


Welcome, brainstormers! Your feedback on this idea is welcome. Please click the "discussion" link at the top of the page to start the conversation and share your thoughts.

Use cases

  • Anonymous editors are not allowed to change a popular article. - Allow them to edit in a sandbox. Their changes will persist until someone can review and merge their work.
  • I haven't finished editing, but must step away from the computer. - Again, the draft can be saved in a sandbox, and resumed later.
  • Someone changed the article while I was working, and I can't save because of an "edit conflict". - The conflicting content is stored in the database until it can be reviewed.
  • I live in a town without internet access. There is a shared computer, and we want to write Wikipedia articles about our local farming systems. - The articles can be written in a full Wikipedia environment, including links and images, and will be stored on the town computer. These changes can be taken by thumb drive to a town with a satellite uplink.
  • I am translating content from a language wiki which is more active than my own. How do I appropriately give credit for the source of this content? - We will store metadata which describes the action that occurred. The newly edited article has two ancestors: its previous revision, and the current version of this article on the other wiki.
  • I distribute my own MediaWiki-powered content, and I want to offer easy updates. - Only new changes will be downloaded.

Technical challenges


Please see the companion RFC for a discussion of how such a feature could be implemented.



Encyclopedia projects based on MediaWiki are limited by a linear article history. The effects of this limitation are that, any edit is dependent on previous edits, and tools which protect an article from open editing (Pending changes, Flagged Revisions, Page protection) cause undesirable side effects such as discouraging new editors with good intentions from working on popular or controversial articles. There is a huge anti-vandalism maintenance overhead on Wikipedia, mostly attributable to the linear revision model — vandalism must be carefully reverted rather than simply ignored. Even the newest protection and antivandalism tools are using a "release tag" concept, which in the world of software development has been deprecated in favor of release branches for ... a very long time.

There has been some steady interest in implementing a branching model for Wikipedia, or even a forkable repository, which would have far-reaching implications ranging from lower maintenance overhead, to behavioral and cultural changes. See Tilman Bayer's excellent "Timeline of 'distributed Wikipedia' proposals" for an overview of similar initiatives. Many content forks have already been attempted, for example, the Spanish Wikipedia was challenged by the "Enciclopedia Libre Universal en Español" in 2002: a central demand of the seceding group was to guarantee that Wikipedia would not accept paid advertisements (which L. Sanger had promised to introduce). They have claimed that their actions forced WMF to eventually adopt this as a policy.[1] Therefore, forking is good for your health ;) Since there is no infrastructure supporting forking, derivative works quickly diverge and cannot be reintegrated easily. In the case of the Spanish fork, tens of thousands of articles were rewritten and synchronized manually.

This proposed change also has the potential to kill the "View source" tab, which is antithetical to the idea that the public is free to edit anything on the site. For example, when new editors create an account and attempt to edit a popular page such as (*cough*) Justin Bieber, they will discover that the page is semi-protected and cannot be edited, until the new user has become "autoconfirmed", proving that they are not a young fan :P

  1. Edgar Enyedy and Nathaniel Tkacz (2011) "Good luck with your wikiPAIDia": Reflections on the 2002 fork of the Spanish Wikipedia: an interview with Edgar Enyedy. In Geert Lovink and Nathaniel Tkacz Critical Point of View: A Wikipedia Reader. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, p. 115 (pdf)

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