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Wikipedia looks reinforce trust, fires miscreant

By Layer 8 on Mon, 03/05/07 - 10:17am.

Another stink for the Wikipedia folks has resulted in one of the company's founders' calling for renewed requirements for trust on the ever-popular site. This action comes from last week's firing of one of the sites most prolific editors who wasn't who he said he was.

Ryan Jordan, known as Essjay on the Wikipedia site, claimed to be a tenured professor of religion at a private university with expertise in canon law, according to his user profile. But that turned out to be an elaborate fib. In fact he is a 24-yer old living near Louisville, KY. And while he attended a few colleges he doesn't apparently have any degrees, according to published stories. He had an excellent reputation on Wikipedia as he contributed to or edited thousands of Wikipedia articles and was one of the few people with the authority to deal with vandalism and to arbitrate disputes between authors.

A story over the weekend in the New Yorker said Jordan contended that he resorted to a fictional persona to protect himself from bad actors who might be angered by his administrative role at Wikipedia.Interestingly when Jordan's status was revealed, one of Wikipedia's founders, Jimmy Wales said or Jordan: "I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with it." He was since changed his tune and zapped Jordan from the site. And today Essjay's profile on Wikipedia has been "retired."

The other Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger didn't see any amusement in Wales response nor the whole Essjay scandal.Wales has changed his tune however and gave Jordan his walking papers. On his chat site today Wales proposed some changes:

"Nowadays, I bring back the proposal for further consideration in light of the EssJay scandal. I think it imperative that we make some positive moves here... we have a real opportunity here to move the quality of Wikipedia forward by doing something that many have vaguely thought to be a reasonably good idea if worked out carefully. For anyone who is reading but not online, I will sum it up. I made a proposal that we have a system whereby people who are willing to verify their real name and credentials are allowed a special notification. "Verified Credentials". This could be a rather open ended system, and optional. The point is to make sure that people are being honest with us and with the general public. If you don't care to tell us that you are a PhD (or that you are not), then that's fine: your editing stands or falls on its own merit. But if you do care to represent yourself as something, you have to be able to prove it.

This policy will be coupled with a policy of gentle (or firm) discouragement for people to make claims like those that EssJay made, unless they are willing to back them up."

While it's good to see Wikipedia aiming to bolster its reliability and reduce its tolerance of this kind f activity, one has to wonder how many times this will happen before it really impacts the site's livilhood. Certainly its trustworthiness has taken a number of shots lately. And these issues are in the face of the sites obviously growing popularity as the online encyclopedia cracked the top ten list of most popular Web sites in the U.S. for the first time in January, according to comScore Networks.