Thursday, March 1, 2007

Wikipedia 101: Check your sources

Wikipedia 101: Check your sources
March 1, 2007 5:22 AM PST

A few months back, The New Yorker published a long piece about online encyclopedia Wikipedia. This week, the magazine ran an editors' note detailing a problem with one of the sources in the article.

The Web encyclopedia's management team recommended a Wikipedia administrator, known to the Wikipedia community and to the article's author only as "Essjay," as a source for the story. According to the article, the source, who described himself online as "a tenured professor of religion at a private university" with "a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law," remained anonymous on Wikipedia and to the magazine because he was concerned about retribution from people he ruled against.

It turns out, however, that Essjay is a 24-year-old named Ryan Jordan, who is not a teacher and holds no advanced degrees. Jordan was recently hired by Wikia, a commercial company co-founded by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Wales told The New Yorker that he didn't "really have a problem with" Essjay's online profile, and regarded it as a "pseudonym."

The incident had bloggers buzzing trying to decide where the bigger problem lay: Was Wikipedia to blame for allowing administrators to lie about who they are? Or should the reporter have been more thorough in checking her sources?

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