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On Wikipedia, No One Knows You’re A Dog

February 28, 2007

Via the Freakonomics blog, a New Yorker story from last year on Wikipedia included a couple of paragraphs about an editor named Essjay who claimed to be “a tenured professor of religion at a private university” with “a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law.” Turns out Essjay is a 24-year-old guy with no advanced degrees and no teaching background. He now works for Jimmy Wales’ for-profit Wikia.

To me, things like this don’t really take away from Wikipedia—it’s still very useful for most bits of information you wat to know or for background on a subject. You just have to be sure you’re not taking anything there as complete fact, or that you cross-reference a fact if it’s something that’s really important—such as a statistic that you’d use in a report for example.

On the other hand, for a site that aims to be all about transparency, Wikipedia does allow its administrators to simply make up information about themselves, and, since they’re allowed to be anonymous, no one has the ability to edit their self-written biographies in the way they have the ability to edit everything else on Wikipedia. That’s weird, huh?

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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