Wikipedia will start checking credentials… a very good move.

I’ve been saying for a couple of years now that annonimity on the Wikipedia was unacceptable and would have to go away and it seems like even Jimmy Wales is heading in that direction. After getting his butt kicked for the past two weeks for not only getting duped–but also hiring–a Wikipedia editor who lied about his credentials, Jimbo posted the follow (re)proposal to a Wikipedia discussion group.

Now, if Wikipedia/Jimbo would allow advertising–even opt-in advertising–the Wikipedia could afford to hire a half dozen people to run a “verification department” that would check people’s claims, names, etc.

Perhaps the simplest thing people could do to verify their name would be to charge something nominal on their credit in donation to Wikipedia (like $1). At least you would know that the person has a credit card with that name on it–it would be a start. You could back that up with a drivers license, email address, and diplomas.

The message from Jimbo below…

Accountability: bringing back a proposal I made nearly 2 years ago

by document.write(‘‘);Jimmy Walesdocument.write(‘‘); document.write(Nabble.formatDateLong(new Date(1173085087000)));Mar 05, 2007; 12:58am

In response to the EssJay scandal, I want to bring back an old proposal
of mine from 2 years ago for greater accountability around credentials:

http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikipedia-l/2005-May/022085.html

At the time, this seemed like a plausibly decent idea to me, and the
reaction at the time was mostly positive, with some reasonable caveats
and improvements:

http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikipedia-l/2005-May/thread.html
to read the entire thread of “An idea”.

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.

How to confirm? What counts as confirmation? What sorts of things need
confirmation? These are very interesting questions, as there are many
types of situations. But one thing that we have always been very very
good at is taking the time to develop a nuanced policy.

Just to take a simple example: how to verify a professor? This strikes
me as being quite simple in most cases. The professor gives a link to
his or her faculty page at the college or university, including the
email there, and someone emails that address to say “are you really
EssJay?” If the answer is yes, then that’s a reasonable confirmation.

We can imagine some wild ways that someone might crack that process
(stealing a professor’s email account, etc.) but I think we need not
design around the worst case scenario, but rather design around the
reasonable case of a reasonable person who is happy to confirm
credentials to us.

(This is a lower level of confirmation than we might expect an employer
to take, of course.)

For someone like me, well, I have an M.A. in finance. I could fax a
copy of the degree to the office. Again, someone could fake their
credentials, but I don’t think we need to design against some mad worst
case scenario but just to have a basic level of confirmation.

–Jimbo

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