Locking Down a MediaWiki Page

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Interactivity on a Wiki

One of the basic concepts of Web 2.0 technologies is to enable social interactivity around information and technologies. Wiki structures enable some of this give-and-take. The idea is to create an informational space within a wiki and then to invite participants to share their insights. The reversibility of wiki postings enables wiki administrators — and often general participants — to control the contents posted on the site.

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Wiki Page Protection

To add a deeper level of protection, though, wiki pages may be “protected” from editing, which keeps that particular webpage relatively safe against low-level hacking and digital graffiti postings. Every page on a wiki may be protected. Usually, however, only a few administrator (system operator or “sysop”) pages are protected, and the rest of the pages are fairly open.

This brief article focuses on MediaWiki, an open-source wiki software that is the underpinning of the well-known Wikipedia resource. To edit a page, this software clearly requires the human (vs. software 'bot) creation of an account and then the editing of the particular page. Or a user may merely input information, but then the software will capture his or her Internet Protocol (IP) address, which can be used as a unique identifier (and which may also be blocked retroactively).

However, if a wiki master is not paying attention, a human digital graffiti artist can wreak a lot of havoc before someone notices the damage. (Wiki masters usually check the “Recent changes” to see if inappropriate information has been posted.)

The Protection Process

To protect a page, one has to sign in with sysop privileges. After that, one goes to the desired webpage and finds the Protect tab near the top (second from the right).

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When Protect is clicked, it will bring up the page that enables editing of the protection level for that page.

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The usual default is to allow all users to edit a page. An intermediate level of protection involves blocking new and unregistered users. The highest level is to allow only administrator access to each page.

Users will be asked if they want to protect pages included in that page. Any pages that this particular page links to and which are hosted on the wiki site will also have the same layer of protections if that particular box is checked.

Watching Pages

Further, if a particular page is highly sensitive, the system operator may checkmark Watch this page, which will result in an e-mail notification being sent to the system operator of the wiki.

The debate about how much to lock down a wiki will likely go on for some time. Few wikis are fully democratic ventures with all contributors contributing equally. Ideally, a many-to-many model of wikis would have sufficient virtual community interest so that there are always a few to monitor the site and to delete erroneous information, including graffiti. Many fully open wikis demonstrate the so-called "power law curve" in which a few contribute inordinately, and the majority do not contribute at all.

Some wikis have a one-to-many model of creation, where a few create contents for the larger public. These types of wikis seem to do better with more of the site locked down, to head off a lot of tedious maintenance work — of scrubbing digital graffiti off the wiki.

See Also

References