Editor's Scam May Spell End of Wikipedia as We Know It

Michael Lindenberger

We're following with interest the uproar over the revelation that one of Wikipedia's most highly touted editors has resigned in shame, after his credentials were revealed to be fictitious.

The deception itself? Not so surprising. Why would the online encyclopedia -- largely edited by anonymous amateurs -- escape the same kind of risks faced by online daters who wonder if Mr. Wonderful is really all he appears to be?

What is surprising is the way Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has responded to the incident. Though he eventually asked for the 24-year-old's resignation, he defended 24-year-old Ryan Jordan's work in an e-mail to Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Andrew Wolfson.


"It is not good, obviously, but the interesting thing is that Mr. Jordan was an excellent editor, credentials or no. His work was extremely positive for Wikipedia."


That's surprising, but maybe it shouldn't be. Wikipedia, after all, is nothing if it is not an attempt to eliminate the need for credentials of any kind. Instead of paying a premium for education, background or prestige, the Wikipedia model rewards users who show only interest and willingness to participate.

On that score, Jordan was a standout. He wrote about 16,000 entries or other posts for the online encyclopedia, so many that one wonders if he wouldn't have been better off earning credits toward the degrees he pretended to have.

But it's Wikipedia's "anti-credentialist" philosophy that may take a beating as a result of the controversy, according to blogger Nicholas Carr. He writes that Wales has proposed that the site begin to certify any academic or other credentials claimed by its authors.

That would make the site more trustworthy, perhaps, but it would also make it different.

In another post, Carr recalls how an article last year in The Atlantic made the case that Wikipedia's allure for many of its loyal contributors has its roots in the infatuation with the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons from the 1970s and 1980s.

He writes that Jordan saw himself as something he wanted to be, but wasn't, and ended up believing it. He has a lot of company in that regard, Carr says.


"In the byzantine world of Wikipedia, with its arcane language, titles, and rules and its multitude of clans, Essjay wore the robes of a wizard. He was allowed to stand beside -- and to serve -- Jimbo the White. Together, they would bring 'knowledge' to the unenlightened masses. But then the Wizard Essjay tried to slip through the gates of the real. Now the game is up."

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post

Mar 14, 2007 1:30 AM anonymous jones anonymous jones  says:
It is the quality of work that a person produces that counts and not the education credentials. Reply
Mar 14, 2007 4:01 AM Jenn Jenn  says:
All this boils down to the fact that he lied and misled people to believe he had certain credentials. Had he been honest from the beginning, this would not be such an issue. Reply

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