Thursday, September 25, 2008


Know It All is an old but good  New Yorker article by Stacy Schiff about whether Wikipedia can conquer expertise.   Stacy wrote it after Wikipedia hit the million articles mark, and starts the article with engaging examples of Wikipedia's seemingly endless breadth, scope, and ability to keep current.

Stacy also interviews an expert Wikipedian:
One regular on the site is a user known as Essjay, who holds a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law and has written or contributed to sixteen thousand entries. A tenured professor of religion at a private university, Essjay made his first edit in February, 2005. Initially, he contributed to articles in his field—on the penitential rite, transubstantiation, the papal tiara. Soon he was spending fourteen hours a day on the site, though he was careful to keep his online life a secret from his colleagues and friends. (To his knowledge, he has never met another Wikipedian, and he will not be attending Wikimania, the second international gathering of the encyclopedia’s contributors, which will take place in early August in Boston.)
Only to later have to update the article with an errata.

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.”

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. 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.”

I read this on the Internets it must be true.

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