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Universal edit button

The universal edit button is visible in the address bar if the page is editable and the browser plug-in is installed
The universal edit button is visible in the address bar if the page is editable and the browser plug-in is installed

The Universal Editing Button allows an internet user to quickly recognize when a site — such as a wiki — may be edited. As it is said, "it is a convenience to web surfers who are already inclined to contribute, and an invitation to those who have yet to discover the thrill of building a common resource"[1].

The initial vision for the web was a read-write medium. However, as the web matured, very few web sites offered users the ability to change anything on they pages. However the success of Wikipedia, WikiHow and other similar sites shows that open editing creates usable and valuable information resources. We also would really welcome any constructive contributions, one of the initial ideas was that editing users can help to finish the work of the people who have already spent so much time by developing visualizations.

Surely you do not need any "universal button" just to make the page user-editable. Most of Wiki engines provide "edit" link somewhere that must be followed to initiate the editing session of the current page. However the exact location and appearance of this link may be different from site to site and the users may not notice it. The exact definition of "editing" may be different - for instance, some site may launch the online audio editor to edit audio clips.

Concept

On our opinion the we once discussed with approval in FOSDEM, it is not true that only experts have enough knowledge on the subject. Any person may have interesting knowledge on the subject just by chance, but for a non-expert this knowledge is fragmented. One piece of information is not supplemented by another that may be necessary to apply the knowledge or even to understand it properly. Hence expert can do something that requires the knowledge and the non-expert frequently cannot or performs worse. However when many such people meet, they may hold enough pieces together. Professors often tell that while it is possible to tell nonsense as a truth for a random student on they subject, the auditory of 50 - 70 the same students is a way more demanding listener. Hence the group not only may have more knowledge but is also more capable to separate sense from nonsense. The group also relatively easily spots mistakes of the ordinary student (this happens during seminar).

There are also other examples. For instance, let's assume we have a simple topic on the length of the pencil that all contributors can see. Anyone could tell the approximate length, and these values are likely to be distributed around the real length. Now, not surprising, the average of all estimations is likely to be closer to the truth than most of individual values.

Or, as another example, it is commonly believed that a parliament rules better than a king, and a referendum may decide better than a parliament, simply because more people are involved. Or, by Linus law, "many eyes make all bugs shallow" in the code of the software.

Importance of the source citation

It is difficult to find a "completely pure" Wikipedia-like site devoted to some really complex topic. The problem likely is that non-experts may not easily recognize some added information as misleading, or such recognition may take too long. To make verification easier, Wikipedia has a requirement to cite the sources of the contributed content. While not always convenient, this makes verification much easier and may be one of the mandatory building blocks of the "everyone can edit" concept.

Conversations about the "universal edit button" started in 2007. A handful of people explored the idea, got excited with auto-discovery, and helped spread the idea.

Appearance

The icon
The icon
If the appropriate browser plug-in is installed, the edit button, green pencil, appears in the address bar next to the orange RSS feed icon. This plug-in is available for Firefox, Opera and Chrome. It can be downloaded from the Universal Edit Button project website[2] and would allow you to recognize many user editable sites.

In our setup, the button only appears if the current page is not locked so the user can edit it. Majority of our pages (excluding some the most critical content as the front page) are editable, also by anonymous users. Surely, we watch the history many times per day and rollback any vandalism.

The button is not supported in JAMWiki 0.8.1 from that we have forked our wiki engine. However implementation of support is really trivial, it only took one evening, including all testing and redeployment. The recommended template can be added to top.jsp. The TopicServlet must set one additional variable, the edit link.


The button plug-in is not required for editing pages on our site.

Excessive vandalism in rare cases may force us to disable user editing for several days.

Notes

  1. 1 universaleditbutton.org, the official site of the project
  2. 2 We have not reviewed the source code of the plug-in so cannot be responsible for its improper work, if any