Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Wikipedia-watch has kicked up a bit of a firestorm by tracking down and posting the names and addresses behind Wikipedia administrators' screennames. The mailing list reaction is predictably tinged with outrage and incomprehension (I share the former), but it's touched off a good discussion about wikipedian anonymity in general.

Steven Ericsson Zenith:

Hidden identity provides no basis for authority since the landscape of individuals is unknown and the changes to that landscape impossible to track. Such that, even if a group of anonymous admins is able to command respect for a period, there is no guarantee, no way to judge, that a group of admins have the same capacity in the future. Indeed, if the current group of admins do manage to establish public confidence then the public is immediately at risk since that group can be opaquely usurped.


Zenith is arguing on some rarified abstract plane, but more concretely: will accounts ever be covertly bought and sold? This seems unlikely -- wikipedia is too large and decentralized for something like that to stay secret (and who would do it? Paging Stalin's airbrushers and the Mossad.).

Fastfission argues that this whole line of thinking is moot from the get-go, that transparency is compatible with anonymity (and that seeing for yourself every edit an author's made on a project makes up for not knowing whether he's living in a bunker in Berlin):

Wikipedia is one of the most transparent enterprises on the entire internet -- it is easy to see in an instant everything a contributor has done, everything they have ever squabbled about, every time they change their mind and any place they might have been discussing a change before it was actually made. It is an easy task to show ever omission, every purposefully false addition, every bit of slander, as it went down, who did it, at what time, at what place.


A couple people add that anonymity is necessary, at least online:

What makes admins so special? A lot of them are mostly janitors. Non-admins do the majority of content edits, which is what Wikipedia's credibility is based on...There are a lot of wack jobs on the Internet that could use that information for nefarious purposes...as someone who is not yet secure in an academic career I would loathe if people could Google my real name and come up with results of me bickering with cranks online about any of the various subjects I end up bickering with cranks over.

1 comment:

Steven Zenith said...

To be clear - I was not suggesting in my mailing list posting that admin accounts could be bought and sold, just simply that the pool of admins will change over time.