Given the recent debate on this blog over the merits of Wikipedia, I’m tickled to see that Jimbo Wales, Wikipedia’s controversial founder, is coming out in favor of requiring anonymous edits to be approved. (via Matthew Webber at UID Teatime Blog). I’m stoked, since this is the one point on which I think Knol beats Wikipedia. Read my past rants on the subject here.
2 replies on “Wikipedia Embracing Information Accountability?”
While I doubt that this will adversely effect Wikipedia’s popularity (about the only thing that will is demoting Wikipedia out of the top 5 for every search result), I can’t help but think that it will negatively effect Wikipedia’s copy-editing.
I can’t be bothered to create an account and log in just to fix something like “teh” or any of the other numerous but trivial edits I made over the years. Requiring every anon edit to be approved is going to overload the admins or whatever they’re called at Wikipedia, and so the overall rate of corrective edits will drop.
The concerns about people creating “wikiality” as Stephen Colbert put it, has been around since the start of Wikipedia. It seems that the only reason that Jimbo is promoting this now is because he’s in a moral panic over the Kennedy-and-Byrd-died-at-the-inauguration story (He explicitly cites that incident.), which ironically was created by a named (albeit bogusly named) account. Previously Jimbo and has fans would have pointed out that the offending edit was caught and reverted in about 5 minutes, but now that’s no longer good enough. What changed? I don’t know.
As for transparency, I agree that transparency wrt conflicts of interest is a good thing, but at the same time I wonder how a named edit does anything more than an IP address. Afterall, many many people sign in under pseudonyms. The only real identifying information that can be trusted is IP address, and even that is problematic. (e.g I can create an account named “TheRealDtunkelang” and then compete for recognition. The only difference is that my IP addresses would be geolocated to the west coast, and yours to the east coast, thus implying that TheRealDtunkelang isn’t actually the real one at all.) In fact, the all the incidents of outing conflicts of interest that I can remember were all uncovered via IP addresses. Named edits only solve this problem, if you can verify the identity of the person behind the account, and that’s problematic to say the least.
You’re right that requiring user ids isn’t enough. A name needs to at least be persistent to have any use (as opposed to, say, one-time names for each edit) and ideally should be tied to a name in the real world.
On this front, I think that Knol actually provides a good example. If I recall, they use phone or credit card authentication to validate authors’ names. That is a strong entry barrier, but perhaps there is something in between, such as not requiring such authentication to make minor edits (measured in edit distance).