Wikipedia: Play The Ball, Not The Man

June 16, 2009
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Today’s Freakonomics blog in the New York Times has a nice post entitled “By a Bunch of Nobodies: A Q&A With the Author of The Wikipedia Revolution“, in which Annika Mengisen interviews Wikipedia editor/administrator Andrew Lih.

Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

Q: A while ago, Essjay, one of Wikipedia’s most prominent editors, lied about his background. What, if anything, did this do to Wikipedia’s credibility?

A: A prominent Wikipedia editor nicknamed Essjay claimed to be a tenured academic theologian who had to stay anonymous to protect him from trouble with his school. He was exposed in the end to not have any of those credentials, also lying to The New Yorker magazine about his background.

In this case, what’s interesting is despite his deception, the tens of thousands of edits he made and the community decisions he oversaw were, by all accounts, legitimate and useful. Even with much forensic investigation by community members who were skeptical about whether his fraudulent identity translated into fraudulent edits, they found nothing of note that was considered malfeasance.

This is perhaps why the biggest identity fraud in Wikipedia’s

Today’s Freakonomics blog in the New York Times has a nice post entitled “By a Bunch of Nobodies: A Q&A With the Author of The Wikipedia Revolution“, in which Annika Mengisen interviews Wikipedia editor/administrator Andrew Lih.

Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

Q: A while ago, Essjay, one of Wikipedia’s most prominent editors, lied about his background. What, if anything, did this do to Wikipedia’s credibility?

A: A prominent Wikipedia editor nicknamed Essjay claimed to be a tenured academic theologian who had to stay anonymous to protect him from trouble with his school. He was exposed in the end to not have any of those credentials, also lying to The New Yorker magazine about his background.

In this case, what’s interesting is despite his deception, the tens of thousands of edits he made and the community decisions he oversaw were, by all accounts, legitimate and useful. Even with much forensic investigation by community members who were skeptical about whether his fraudulent identity translated into fraudulent edits, they found nothing of note that was considered malfeasance.

This is perhaps why the biggest identity fraud in Wikipedia’s history has not created much of a crisis in community. From the very beginning, to borrow a sports analogy, Wikipedians “played the ball and not the man.”

Read the rest of the article here.

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