In response to the Seigenthaler incident last week (see related story), the creation of new Wikipedia articles has been restricted on an experimental basis.
On Monday, Jimmy Wales announced that "as an experiment, we will be turning off new pages creation for anonymous users in the English Wikipedia." He then quickly logged onto the IRC channel #wikipedia and discussed the issue with various Wikipedians for several hours. A considerable amount of vandalism on Wikipedia comes in the form of new pages with offensive or pointless content, and the bulk of these are created by users without registered accounts, commonly referred to as "anons" or anonymous users. The purpose of the change is "to reduce the workload on the people doing new pages patrol" and hopefully reduce the chances of a problematic article such as the Seigenthaler case slipping through.
Wales acknowledged that this might have some undesirable side effects. People bent on creating nonsense articles could easily use an account to do so, and the change would cause the loss of some valuable efforts in creating new articles. However, based on his personal survey of the situation and discussions with people who regularly monitor new pages, Wales said that on balance he felt "a substantial improvement" was possible.
Wikimedia Chief Technical Officer Brion Vibber implemented this change shortly after 19:00 UTC on 5 December. He clarified that the restriction only applies to encyclopedia articles; editors can still create talk pages without logging in, for example. With the number of articles on the English Wikipedia approaching one million, Vibber commented that creation of new articles "is less of a priority than it was two or three years ago, while tuning up existing articles is quite important."
Initial reactions included a mixture of praise, skepticism, and questions about how the change would work. Users who attempt to create an article without logging in now receive a message that explains the restriction and directs them to Wikipedia:Requested articles if they still prefer not to use an account. There was some dissatisfaction from people who learned about the change from the media, as CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman wrote a story about it prior to the announcement. A subsequent AP story about the change was also widely distributed.
Wales reiterated that this experiment was not a prelude to requiring all editors to have an account: "I am a firm believer in the validity of allowing anons to edit." He later mentioned the possibility of changing to a less restrictive system, suggested by developer Tim Starling, which would only prevent the creation of "orphan" articles by users who are not logged in. Orphaned articles have no inbound links from other articles, and normally would only be reached through the random article feature, or by directly searching for the article. Starling explained that this would be a fairly straightforward thing to determine from a technical perspective, noting that many poor-quality articles are also orphans. Similarly, the John Seigenthaler Sr. article, although not an orphan, had very few inbound links before the recent publicity.