Thursday, March 1, 2007

Wikipedia: did one of its admins lie?

Wikipedia: did one of its admins lie?
By Alex Zaharov-Reutt
Friday, 02 March 2007

Looks like one of Wikipedia’s admins has allegedly told some porkies about his qualifications, but instead of outrage it’s all been swept under the rug. Does it matter?

An article at The Inquirer points to another article at The New Yorker where they have uncovered that one of Wikipedia’s admins, originally known only by the pseudonym ‘Essjay’, but now known to be Ryan Jordon, had allegedly lied on his original Wikipedia ‘user page’.

The New Yorker’s article is about the history of Wikipedia, how it started, how it has grown, and some of the scandals it has endured on the journey to more than one million entries, which is many more times that of the Encyclopedia Britannica, on many more topics.

According to an Editor’s Note at the end of the article, they state that: “The July 31, 2006, piece on Wikipedia, “Know It All,” by Stacy Schiff, contained an interview with a Wikipedia site administrator and contributor called Essjay, whose responsibilities included handling disagreements about the accuracy of the site’s articles and taking action against users who violate site policy. He was described in the piece as “a tenured professor of religion at a private university” with “a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law.”

The note continues that: “Essjay was recommended to Ms. Schiff as a source by a member of Wikipedia’s management team because of his respected position within the Wikipedia community. He was willing to describe his work as a Wikipedia administrator but would not identify himself other than by confirming the biographical details that appeared on his user page. At the time of publication, neither we nor Wikipedia knew Essjay’s real name”.

Then we discover that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales isn’t worried about the honesty of Essjay in this matter.

The note concludes by saying that: “Essjay’s entire Wikipedia life was conducted with only a user name; anonymity is common for Wikipedia administrators and contributors, and he says that he feared personal retribution from those he had ruled against online. Essjay now says that his real name is Ryan Jordan, that he is twenty-four and holds no advanced degrees, and that he has never taught. He was recently hired by Wikia—a for-profit company affiliated with Wikipedia—as a “community manager”; he continues to hold his Wikipedia positions. He did not answer a message we sent to him; Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikia and of Wikipedia, said of Essjay’s invented persona, “I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it.”

Essjay, or Ryan Jordan’s updated user page clearly now reads differently to what it is said to have listed in the past.

While Jimmy Wales is well within his rights to disregard the alleged transgression, it is always worrying when an administrator of Essjay’s stature within Wikipedia has allegedly been found to be telling porkies, especially about his own qualifications.

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