March 30, 2007

.XXX domain rejected

Via Susan Crawford, the .XXX domain proposal has been voted down.

The [.XXX domain registry] Application raises significant law enforcement compliance issues because of countries' varying laws relating to content and practices that define the nature of the application, therefore obligating ICANN to acquire a responsibility related to content and conduct.

And there was much rejoicing, among everyone except the registry investors who wanted monopoly rents.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on March 30, 2007 07:33 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
March 28, 2007

My _Guardian_ column on COPA and the censorware effectiveness argument,,2044595,00.html

"Would you be surprised to hear US civil liberties groups arguing that Internet censorship is cheap, easy, relatively effective and difficult to circumvent? While in reaction, the US government claimed that such efforts had an unacceptable amount of collateral damage?"

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , copa , press | on March 28, 2007 08:19 PM | (Infothought permalink)
March 27, 2007

"Life Trumps Blogging", iteration N

Posting will be light/echolinkish in the next week. I have too much real work to do, and I should think further on the fish-or-cut-bait decision I keep putting off (about shutting down versus going for higher levels).

If anybody is waiting for me to weigh in on the recent bogospheric mob scene, I'm taking discretion rather than valor (email me if you're one of my journalist friends, but I'm not jumping into the hurricane - I don't like blogging. I really don't.).

Life trumps blogging. At least it does for most sane, balanced people. -- Walt Crawford

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in misc | on March 27, 2007 05:10 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
March 25, 2007

Free Expression Policy Project on COPA and censorware

Worth echoing: Free Expression Policy Project on COPA (and censorware)

Ironically, in view of the ACLU's educational materials pointing out the massive censorship potential of filters, the ACLU and its fellow plaintiffs now presented experts touting filters' virtues, while the government, which had praised filters a few years earlier when it successfully defended a federal law that mandated their use in schools and libraries now pointed out their flaws. The ACLU explained its apparent inconsistency by saying that filters are fine as long as nobody is compelled to use them.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , copa | on March 25, 2007 11:46 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
March 22, 2007

COPA links roundup

I doubt there's anyone who reads my blog who doesn't already know what I think on the various topics. But since it is incumbent on me to pundit about the "Children's Internet Protection Act" - COPA decision, I'll round up a few pointers for my obligatory post.

Note the opinion wasn't a surprise. Nothing is certain, but it was highly expected to turn out as it did, given an earlier similar ruling by the same judge, and encouragement there by the Supreme Court. This round was basically a refresh of the evidence in the record, and nothing much changed there.

Basics: American Civil Liberties Union: Blog - COPA: We Won!: (h/t: Catherine Crump)

Today brings excellent news for free speech: A court declared the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), a federal Internet censorship law, unconstitutional, and forbade the government from enforcing it. It has taken nearly a decade of litigation -- we first brought the suit in 1998, then called ACLU v. Reno.-- and two trips to the Supreme Court to achieve this result, so this victory for online free speech is especially sweet.

For "opposition research", it's also important to note what the censors have to say in reaction, e.g. Morality in Media:

"But even assuming that every parent with one or more computers in the home used [censorware] at all times on each computer and even assuming that [censorware] blocked all pornography and could not be circumvented by tech-savvy children, there would still be a huge problem -- namely, as children get older they increasingly have access to the Internet outside the home.

Lessig has his "HTM"proposal. I earlier sent him email with some extensive thoughts regarding it. I'll probably pass on a detailed comment or blog conversation. I can say things in private email about matters of history and free-speech politics that would be dangerous to put in a public posting. Tell it to the ACLU.

As to the censorware implications for me, well, I've written about that before

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copa | on March 22, 2007 04:20 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)

"COPA" Internet Censorship Law Loses Again

[Pure echo. Ready, set, pundit!]

As expected, the COPA ("Child Online Protection Act") decision found against the censorship effort:

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A federal judge on Thursday dealt another blow to government efforts to control Internet pornography, striking down a 1998 U.S. law that makes it a crime for commercial Web site operators to let children access "harmful" material.

More later.

[ Update: COPA decision full text]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copa | on March 22, 2007 09:01 AM | (Infothought permalink)
March 21, 2007

KinderStart v. Google - Google wins, KinderStart lawyer SANCTIONED

KinderStart v. Google, a lawswuit challenging Google's ranking algorithms, has been dismissed - hard and with sanctions against the KinderStart lawyer (h/t Eric Goldman). That last part, the with sanctions is a very significant part here. Essentially KinderStart's lawyer went so far out of bounds on some issue that the court imposed a punishment.

From a quick read of the judge's reasoning, it seems he really didn't like the charges of paid placement, and of political and religious discrimination in Google's search rankings. Google critics take note.

I know some people were rooting for KinderStart because they tried (unjustly, in my view) to position themselves as a focus of the fear of Google's power. But being the enemy of your enemy doesn't make them right.

[See also earlier post on previous dismissal here, Kinderstart vs Google lawsuit dismissed, and ranking on ranking]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on March 21, 2007 12:20 PM | (Infothought permalink)
March 19, 2007

XXX Domain Decision Delayed, Expected Soon

I don't see the latest "XXX domain" saga news mentioned anywhere much, so I might as well pretend I'm doing some good in blog posting about it. At the March 13 meeting of ICANN (the organization in charge of approving such new domains), they eventually decided not to decide at that meeting, but:

The Chairman asked if the Board would be prepared to vote on this matter at the Lisbon meeting [March 28] and suggested that it would be useful for the Board Members to engage in additional deliberation on the materials already received and that they spend time setting out their positions in writing and reaching a clear rationale regarding to any proposed board action.

Reading between the lines, I suppose that means prepare for an upcoming flamestorm, whatever the outcome. To wit:

John noted in relation to community input that since the initial application on the proposed application and revised contract, there had been over 200,000 emails sent to ICANN and additionally over 1300 separate comments had been received in the public comment forums established by ICANN. Paul Twomey added that he had personally received many personal emails, mainly from the American Family Association, opposed to the creation of the domain. John confirmed that those emails were included in the overall count and that Staff had attempted to post all of them. John stressed that it was important that the ICANN Board take into account the unprecedented public comments regarding this matter relating to any decision that might be made on this topic.

In terms of strange bedfellows (pun unintended), the two groups which have been lobbying intensively are the Religious Right and the "Adult Industry" - both against the domain. My superficial take is that many at ICANN now realize that the XXX domain is a horrible idea, but they don't want to be seen as caving into political pressure.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on March 19, 2007 09:25 PM | (Infothought permalink)
March 18, 2007

Business Strategy Nugget For Wikipedia-like "Google Killer" Search Engine

In a discovery worthy of echoing, a nugget of information has been found regarding some of the strategic thinking behind the so-far vaporware Wikipedia-model search engine. And wonder of wonders, miracles of miracles, there seems to be a method in the madness. In a New Scientist interview with J-Wales, he states (my emphasis below)

Why are you developing a search engine?

Transparency is what I'm really after, the idea that we can go in and see exactly how web pages are being ranked. We need to have a public debate about it. We just don't know if there is any dishonesty or strange incentives in today's algorithms that rank searches. Since news of this venture broke (see we have been contacted by more than one second-tier company that develops search engines. They recognize that acting individually they are going to have a hard time catching up with Google, because Google has so much money and so many great people.

What's your plan for search?

It's too early for specifics, but one thing that has worked is an alliance in which people contribute to a free software project. We saw this succeed with Apache, the open-source webserver. Apache was a tiny group of volunteers, yet the vast majority of its code has come from companies who paid people to work on it. It's essentially an industrial consortium that has been able to fend off Microsoft's closed-source webserver. So it makes sense for second-tier search companies who are falling behind Google to contribute to a free search software project that will make us equal to Google in terms of search quality.

Note, just in passing, he's wrong: We do know that there are "strange incentives in today's algorithms that rank searches". The poster-child there is Wikipedia! (given its search-ranking dominance).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on March 18, 2007 06:11 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
March 16, 2007

Wikipedia is an ATTRACTIVE NUISANCE, "Sinbad dead" edition

Yet another example of Wikipedia as an "attractive nuisance":

Wikipedia falsely reports comedian Sinbad's death

The St. Petersburg-based company, which describes itself as "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit," leaves it to a vast user community to catch factual errors and other problems. Apparently, someone edited it to say Sinbad died of a heart attack. By the time the error was caught, e-mail links of the erroneous page had been forwarded to hundreds of people.

Importantly, note the vandalism was not fixed rapidly. It persisted long enough to spark the hoax. Now, it's not that hoaxes, even major media hoaxes, didn't exist before. But what's changed is how Wikipedia has made such attempts almost an off-the-shelf activity available to anonymous scammers, with only extremely weak, after the fact, safeguards.

We know what the Wikicultists will say - No responsibility must be attached to someone who lets a bunch of kindergartners run around with matches in a firecracker factory. "It happens sometimes. People just explode."

I can keep writing this, and it won't do any good: The fact that Wikipedia lends its full reputation (such as it is ...) to random trolls and vandals is different and dangerous. It is not a good reply to say that all damage it does is someone else's problem.

Bonus link: Tom Melly: Truths, half-truths and Wikipedia

... then, to return to an earlier question: who, and what, is Wikipedia for?

Well, it's for Ade in the office, who wanted to know what Catharism is. It's for Tim, who brushes up for pub quizzes. It's for my wife, who reads up on authors before going to her book club. It's for its editors, who take pleasure in the activity. It's for everyone who is absolutely, never, ever, going to attempt to do anything serious with the information it contains. Not because it's inaccurate, and not because the majority of articles are, to be frank, fairly amateurish, but because a resource for "facts" that generates its own references is an irretrievably flawed creation. It cannot evolve out of this problem, because evolution is the problem.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 16, 2007 01:07 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
March 15, 2007

"Essjay" Scandal New Yorker Wikipedia Apology Letter

[Echoed from a mailing list, a letter following-up on the Essjay deception scandal ]

"Making Amends"

I am writing to apologize to "The New Yorker" and Stacy Schiff, and to give some follow-up concerning Ryan Jordan (Editors' Note, March 5). When I last spoke to "The New Yorker" about the fact that a prominent Wikipedia community member had lied about his credentials, I misjudged the issue. It was not O.K. for Mr. Jordan, or Essjay, to lie to a reporter, even to protect his identity. I later learned more about the deceptions involved and asked Mr. Jordan to resign from his positions of responsibility at Wikipedia. He has since resigned from his position at Wikia as well. Mr. Jordan is a wonderful and thoughtful young man who made a series of very bad judgments. I consider him a friend, and I hope that the world will allow to move forward in peace and dignity to regain his honor through a life well lived. Wikipedia is built on trust and love. Our trust has been broken, and only love can rebuild it. The community has begun discussing a proposal of mine that we adopt some verification measures for claimed credentials, so that Wikipedia may further improve from this painful experience.

Jimmy Wales
President of Wikia, Inc.; board member and chairman emeritus of the Wikimedia Foundation, St. Petersburg, Fla.

[reportedly "published on p. 24 of the March 19, 2007 issue of the New Yorker"]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 15, 2007 12:39 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5)
March 13, 2007

The POWER of Google - Topix edition

Echo: Rick Skrenta of Topix, about worries regarding How Search-Engine Rules Cause Sites to Go Missing:

To say that a content site should not rely on search engine traffic -- most of which comes from Google -- is naive. The web is 10 billion pages now, with a single point of entry. That's the web the way works. If you want to have a web business, you have to acknowledge this reality. ...

Sometimes retailers get hosed because the city decides to re-pave the street their business is on. The street is infrastructure. Like it or not, Google is infrastructure on the net now. They're the source of all the foot traffic. The three words in retail are "location, location, location." The three words online are "search engine optimization." It means the same thing.

The point I want to make in echoing that, is both another proof (if any were needed) that the monopoly effect is quite real, and further that it has substantial implications way beyond web business, to what gets heard in society in general. This is repetitive, but it's worth emphasizing from the monetary angle to establish the reality.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on March 13, 2007 10:26 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
March 12, 2007

More On The Vaporware Cult Search Engine


Wikia plans editable Web search engine

The goal for the project is to get 5 percent of the search market, Gil Penchina, chief executive officer of Wikia, said Thursday in an interview. He doesn't know when the service will be released.

"We're really trying to build a movement to make search free and open and transparent," Penchina said. "We have some servers up, and people are hacking away."

I'm not saying he's wrong, but I have no idea what he means here in terms of existing servers and development. I don't know of any real public information on this project in the last month. It's sort of ironic to be talking about make search free and open and transparent, while being totally opaque.

Then again, I hardly qualify as a member of the Movement, why should I know anything that would contradict a Movement Council Member?

[1, 2, 3, 4, we will go and work some more ... 2, 4, 6, 8, free labor's really great ...]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on March 12, 2007 08:11 AM | (Infothought permalink)
March 11, 2007

Statistics On The Recent Wikipedia Blog Posts

I ran some analysis to see how many additional hits (past the core blog audience) I'd gotten from all the wasted time, I mean, citizen-netfinity, spent recently on writing about Wikipedia.

The most-read item was the post What The New Yorker Article Fraud Tells Us About Wikipedia, which received a grand accumulated total of 1,541 unique IP's (excluding known crawler-bots). Nothing else broke 1,000.

Of those hits, no referers = 281 (i.e. can't tell source, could be unknown spiders), and internal referers = 162.

For the purposes of seeing what sends traffic, let me toss those out, leaving a base of 1541 - 281 - 162 = 1098. The top referers were: 344 - 31% (that was surprising, making good screen placement) 176 - 16% (from a mention in somebody's comment)
[note - top *two* are nearly half!] 133 - 12% 96 - 9%
Google searches 94 - 9%
[note - about a quarter!]

So, a handful of sites are approximately 75% percent of the referals. Not news, but another proof of the silliness of "Long Tail" fable.

I know a few people enjoyed it. But for the amount of effort involved, the result is overall just more frustration.

Bonus link, maybe I can get away with this recent specimen:

The Net is a giant zero. It puts everybody zero distance from everybody and everything else. And it supports publishing and broadcasting at costs that round to zero as well.


By Seth Finkelstein | posted in statistics | on March 11, 2007 10:51 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (9)
March 09, 2007

Unpaid-Labor-Powered Search Engine Still Vaporware For Now

Segueing to search: Wikipedia founder says to challenge Google, Yahoo

TOKYO (Reuters) - The online collaboration responsible for Wikipedia plans to build a search engine to rival those of Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., the founder of the popular Internet encyclopaedia said on Thursday.

Wikia Inc., the commercial counterpart to the non-profit Wikipedia, is aiming to take as much as 5 percent of the lucrative Internet search market ...

I've been on the project's public mailing list, and there hasn't been much activity lately. Down in the land of developers outside of Wikia, there still isn't even a machine set up for initial exploration. Not that this means much, as projects go. But in case anyone wants, or cares, to read something besides gush, the citizen-mushrooms are still in the dark here.

I wonder if one Wikia "exit strategy" under consideration is to be bought by Yahoo or Microsoft. Note the search project might not actually produce much in terms of search innovation, but if it prompts an acquisition somehow, that's a big win for the Wikia investors. Again, just speculation on my part.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on March 09, 2007 11:50 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5)
March 08, 2007

Cites & Insights November, March 2007 - Wikipedia, Long Tail

Let me close out (I hope) "Wikipedia-fest" by pointing to Walt Crawford's issue 7:3 (March 2007) of Cites & Insights, for the long section on Wikipedia Revisited. The "revisit [of] past items regarding the project" covers 2002 to the present. Skimming over the material, this phrase was never more prescient:

I also discussed a lengthy New Yorker article on Wikipedia, a thoughtful piece that pointed out some of its strengths and weaknesses and included the pointed comment that "Wikipedia's bureaucracy doesn't necessarily favor truth."

Also note the Long Tail discussion:

Does the power-law curve function in most media? Sure it does. That's neither new nor particularly surprising. What's somewhat new is that the curve can keep trailing off to the right--the "long tail" -- in TV ... and, more effectively, in movies thanks to NetFlix. For magazines, there's nothing new here, although even smaller niches can be served entirely online. ... For books, it's not clear whether the internet makes the "long tail" more important. It is clear that most books have been niche books ever since thousands and tens of thousands of books came out each year. ... Meanwhile, to be sure, Chris Anderson has the kind of Bestseller that supposedly doesn't exist in a "long tail economy." I'm sure he's taking that irony to the bank.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 08, 2007 11:56 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (7)
March 07, 2007

My _Guardian_ Column on "Essjay" / Ryan Jones Wikipedia Editor Fraud,,2028328,00.html

"One of Wikipedia's major public relations successes has been in misdirecting observers into a narrative of technological miracles, diverting attention from analyzing its old-fashioned cult appeal. While I don't mean to imply that everyone involved in Wikipedia is wrapped up in delusion, that process is a key factor. A charismatic leader, who peddles a type of spiritual transcendence through selfless service to an ideal, finding a cadre of acolytes willing to devote their lives (without payment) to the organization's projects - that's a story worth telling. But not abetting."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 07, 2007 08:07 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (27)
March 05, 2007

Scandal Kabuki, Compassion vs. Cover-up in the Wikipedia Deception

I may soon have to rename my blog to Wikipediathought, but I suspect the "Essjay" scandal has peaked now, and we're entering the mop-up phase. Obligatory New York Times link: "A Contributor to Wikipedia Has His Fictional Side"

I've got to give Wales credit for being willing to respond to my emails. I don't want to ask him about posting them, I think it'll give the flavor to note his most recent public comment

It was a scandal. And I have apologized for my role in it. I made several mistakes of judgment at various points along the way, and I am very much in favor of reforming our processes so that we are not so vulnerable. I am spending a lot of time reflecting carefully on my role here. The primary mistake that I made is one that I have trouble condemning myself for, because I think that one of my personality flaws is actually a strength for Wikipedia: a willingness to trust people and assume good faith even in difficult times. That caused me to wrongly minimize the importance of this, and to make bad decisions for a time. I am very sorry for that, and the only solution I know of is to work for positive change. -- [[User:Jimbo Wales|Jimbo Wales]] 11:09, 5 March 2007 (UTC)

This is also, however, a standard scandal script. All the troubling details can be brushed aside with the claim that he's a busy man, he was just too nice a guy to ask hard questions, his trusting nature has been taken advantage of, by an immoral subordinate, let us now move on to Morning In America ....

I joked, isn't this pretty much what's being played out now in the "Scooter" Libby trial over the Valerie Plame CIA case? And pleading it was how Karl Rove avoided being indicted himself?

The problem is that unless some very hard evidence to the contrary is leaked, this sort of defense is nigh-impossible to disprove. We can't subpoena the other senior members of the Wikia corporation. And they'd probably all have lapses of memory anyway ("Sorry, I was so overworked, I just can't remember the details of that meeting when it was decided to hire Essjay ..."). See also Jason Scott: Another Essjay Essay.

Elsewhere, discussion on Wikipedia is in a full-force firestorm over people who want to be compassionate and delete "Essjay"'s old material and comments about him, now that's he's retired, and others who argue this is a cover-up in practice if not in intent. Round and round the "wheel-warring" goes, and where it stops, nobody knows. This is not a good model for society, though the law/policy pundits who need to hear that aren't listening (link omitted for self-preservation).

I have to side with those in favor of keeping the material online and available. Combing through it all helped establish the truth. And it's possible more information may come out. Look at it this way: It's always different when it's you. The history is unquestionably "notable" under a public-interest standard in regard to investigating the scandal, and, institutionally, Wikipedia doesn't exactly place a huge value on people's privacy. There's too much of an appearance of impropriety, of using privacy as an excuse to destroy embarrassing documents, even if some people have generous motives.

History, I think from Daniel Brandt:

Some of us expected this and archived some things with

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 05, 2007 08:44 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (12)
March 04, 2007

New Yorker Wikipedia "Essjay" Fraud Aftermath

With the retirement of Essjay in the Wikipedia scandal over fabricating credentials, attention has shifted to "What Did He Know And When Did He Know It?" type questions for Jimmy Wales. The critic's theory is that Jimmy Wales regarded lying about credentials to the New Yorker as no big deal, but lying in the Wikipedia community was unacceptable to him. Thus, he keeps saying that until this weekend, he didn't realize how much Essjay was lying in Wikipedia, which is probably true, and deliberately passing over the charge that he did know for weeks that Essjay had lied to the New Yorker, but his attitude was "I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with it.".

In terms of citizen-journalism, I had earlier sent Jimmy Wales some email to check the accuracy of that quote. He replied last night, but his reply didn't help much in disambiguation. [Update: Got some more nice mail from him. I've got to say I'm impressed that he was at least willing to respond.]

It'll be hard to pin him down on this, since he's not stupid, and it's very understandable that given the firestorm, he'd never want to come out and blatantly admit he didn't care about fraud to the New Yorker.

Larry Sanger is perhaps the most prominent of those calling out Jimmy Wales over the issue:

Jimmy, to call yourself a tenured professor, when you aren't one, is not a "pseudonym." It's identity fraud. And the full question is not why you appointed Essjay to ArbCom, but: why did you ignore the obvious moral implications of the fact that he had fraudulently pretended to be a professor -- ignoring those implications even to the point of giving him a job and appointing him to ArbCom -- until now? The problem isn't just that he won arguments on WP by citing his false credentials. It's that he got into positions of authority in WP that way, he was interviewed by The New Yorker that way, and played make believe that he was a professor for six hours straight to a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. And you had to know all of this before this morning. Your claim, "I want to make it perfectly clear that my past support of EssJay in this matter was fully based on a lack of knowledge about what has been going on," seems disingenuous. You fully knew that he was impersonating a professor and you had to know that he had gotten advantages as the reward of his duplicity; and, despite knowing this no doubt last January, you gave him a job and appointed him to ArbCom anyway. --Larry Sanger 01:36, 4 March 2007 (UTC)

The Freakonomics blog also has raised the matter. Right now, it's a battle over who has more power to define the media view of this. Wikipedia has both many who love it, and many who hate it. I won't speculate on which side will win (it sure doesn't depend on who is right ... :-( ).


Andrew Lih catches Essjay in another lie, defaming the reporter

Nick Carr on "Essjay's world"

Rogers Cadenhead - "There aren't many situations in life where an anonymous mob of people, working in an atmosphere allergic to the concept of personal accountability, is relied upon to achieve a societal good."

Shelley Powers - "Interesting how hard items like ethics, honor, and truth metamorphose in the the soft environment encompassed by so-called social software."

Kelly Martin's coverage

[Update, from comments: The critic site Wikipedia Review has an extensive coverage collection. ]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 04, 2007 12:09 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
March 03, 2007

New Yorker Article Fabricator Retires From Wikipedia



This user is no longer active on Wikipedia.

My comments here will be short and to the point: I'm no longer taking part here. I have received an astounding amount of support, especially by email, but it's time to go. I tried to walk away in August, and managed to do so for quite a while, but I eventually came back, because of the many requests I received urging me to return. Many of you have written to ask me to not leave, to not give up what I have here, but I'm afraid it's time to make a clean break.

I ask that the first steward to see this message please remove my various flags from this wiki, as well as from Meta, Commons, and Wikiquote, and remove the bot flags from my bots, which of course will no longer be running. My tools will be taken down shortly. I had planned to delete my user-space myself, but I don't want anyone to think I was going on a rampage, so instead, I ask that one or more administrators who are friends please delete the 288 pages that form my userspace (leaving only my userpage and this talk page).

I've enjoyed my time here, and done much good work; my time, however, is over, and leaving is the best thing for me and for Wikipedia. I walk away happy to be free to go about other things. I hope others will refocus the energy they have spent the past few days in defending and denouncing me to make something here at Wikipedia better.

With love to all who have been my friends here, Essjay (Talk) 03:17, 4 March 2007 (UTC)

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 03, 2007 10:42 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5)

Wikipedia's Value System

I started to write a letter to Jimmy Wales about all the fabrications in this scandal. But I decided to dump it after re-reading his statement. At best, he'd just delete it, at worst, it would be another item added to my already disqualifying weight of political "baggage" :-(. I've got to stop shouting to the wind.

This was the key sentence that convinced me I'd already wasted my time:

I only learned this morning that EssJay used his false credentials in content disputes.

It doesn't matter that Essjay lied to the New Yorker reporter about his credentials, making Wikipedia look good to the media - a matter Wales has known about for weeks. No mention of the dishonesty of using degree falsification to endorse Wikipedia in a letter to a professor. That's lying to those outside The Family.

But he used his false credentials in content disputes. That's serious! It's an IN-WORLD offense! It's inside The Family.

Go read Jason Scott's essay on Wikipedia's values

What is going on in all this, and which I am fearful is going to be missed, is how Wikipedia's Value System functions. "Honor Killings", "Circumcision", "Dog Shows", "Child Soldiers", "Abortion" ... there are thousands of events and values that people engage in every day that are completely inscrutable to a good portion of the rest of the people on the Earth. Sometimes you can see the logic and decide it's just not your cup of joe, but other times you see things that are allowed in one jurisdiction that would have "those people" turned into organ donors anywhere else.

Wikipedia's value system is not obvious to "outsiders", that is, the millions who now browse the articles and don't do much editing (which is the vast majority of people). But those values are there, and they're sometimes not as obvious as you think. ... [snip]

It's too easy, when you run into these clashing value systems, to get hung up on the differences between the system and your own. That's basically what people are doing right now, wondering why this Jimbo guy gets to shut down discussions or marvelling over the tortured lyrical games being played to justify Essjay's behavior. What I think is in danger of getting lost here, though, is the level of corruption even within the value system.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 03, 2007 11:36 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (8)

Jimmy Wales Reverses On New Yorker False Credentials, Asks Resignation

Jimmy Wales' latest statement:

... I have been for several days in a remote part of India with little or no Internet access. I only learned this morning that EssJay used his false credentials in content disputes. I understood this to be primarily the matter of a pseudonymous identity (something very mild and completely understandable given the personal dangers possible on the Internet) and not a matter of violation of people's trust. I want to make it perfectly clear that my past support of EssJay in this matter was fully based on a lack of knowledge about what has been going on. Even now, I have not been able to check diffs, etc.

I have asked EssJay to resign his positions of trust within the community. In terms of the full parameters of what happens next, I advise (as usual) that we take a calm, loving, and reasonable approach. From the moment this whole thing became known, EssJay has been contrite and apologetic. People who characterize him as being "proud" of it or "bragging" are badly mistaken.

On a personal level, EssJay has apologized to me, and I have accepted his apology on a personal level, and I think this is the right thing to do. If anyone else feels that they need or want a personal apology, please ask him for it. And if you find it to be sincere, then I hope you will accept it too, but each person must make their own judgments. Despite my personal forgiveness, I hope that he will accept my resignation request, because forgiveness or not, these positions are not appropriate for him now.

I still have limited net access... for a couple of hours here I will be online, and then I am offline until I am in Japan tomorrow morning. I beleive I will have a fast and stable Internet connection at that time, and I will deal with this further at that time.

Wikipedia is built on (among other things) twin pillars of trust and tolerance. The integrity of the project depends on the core community being passionate about quality and integrity, so that we can trust each other. The harmony of our work depends on human understanding and forgiveness of errors.

--Jimmy Wales Sat Mar 3 06:44:50 UTC 2007

My opinion: Damage control.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 03, 2007 09:43 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
March 01, 2007

Jimmy Wales Defends Wikipedia New Yorker Article Fabricator

[News! Not an echo!]

Jimmy Wales comments on the controversy:

In his "talk page" discussion, Wales states:

EssJay has always been, and still is, a fantastic editor and trusted member of the community. He apologized to me and to the community for any harm caused. Trolls are claiming that he "bragged" about it: this is bullshit. He has been thoughtful and contrite about the entire matter and I consider it settled. -- [[User:Jimbo Wales|Jimbo Wales]] 14:40, 1 March 2007 (UTC)

Wales' statement that "... claiming that he "bragged" about it: this is bullshit. He has been thoughtful and contrite about the entire matter ..." is utterly false. And is repeatedly refuted by references in the discussion where he made the comment.

"good job playing the part"

Actually, I did six hours of interviews with the reporter, and two with a fact checker, but I was really surprised that they were willing to do an interview with someone who they couldn't confirm; I can only assume that it is proof I was doing a good job playing the part. Essjay (Talk) 05:25, 6 February 2007 (UTC)

Essjay / Ryan Jordan has now posted a statement.

I'm not going to bother documenting all the dishonest aspects of his statement, such as that he began his fabrications way before any trolling was an issue, or that as a serial liar, he does not deserve any benefit of the doubt regarding his claims about the New Yorker reporter.

[Update: Some references for a fabulism pattern, for those interested in the gory details]

[Moved to main post from comments:]

I pointed out last night on one of Wikipedia's internal discussions that Jordan has been touting these false credentials since he started editing:

"Here's one from April 2005, referring to a book he cited as authoritative: 'This is a text I often require for my students, and I would hang my own Ph.D. on it's credibility.' If Wikipedia's willing to excuse this, what won't it excuse? The notion Essjay will sit in judgment of anybody on the Arbitration Committee is hilarious. [[User:Rcade|Rcade]] 04:18, 2 March 2007 (UTC)"


In response, an admin with 40,000 edits suggested I lose editing privileges:


So it's possible that someone will indeed face the music in response to this controversy -- me!

Posted by: Rogers Cadenhead at March 2, 2007 09:27 AM

Larry Sanger (the other Wikipedia co-founder, now doing an alternative, "Citizendium"):

For Jimmy not to "have a problem with" Essjay's identity fraud is essentially for him to declare: you can falsely claim all sorts of credentials you like on Wikipedia, and not have them. Truth-telling about yourself really doesn't matter on Wikipedia, and credentials (of course) don't matter either. Perhaps we already knew this. But nothing has ever more eloquently illustrated it.

The People In Charge Of Wikipedia And Wikia have obviously made a decision to brazen it out, that they have enough media popularity to snow anyone who matters, and to dismiss any evidence via ad-hominem attack.

Which, obviously, should really make you wonder about the whole effort, but also obviously, won't be heard enough to matter.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 01, 2007 10:00 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (9)

What The New Yorker Article Fraud Tells Us About Wikipedia

Executive summary: This is the delusion Wikipedia fosters - it's what it is, how it runs.

As I read further about the scandal where Wikipedia administrator and now Wikia employee "Essjay" / Ryan Jordan pretended to be a "a tenured professor of religion at a private university" with "a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law.", I ended up feeling more sadness for him than anger. In fact, I think some of the fury at him from critics, while very understandable, is a bit misplaced.

One of the points I try to make about Wikipedia, and am usually ignored because one type of pundit wants to sneer at Wikipedia's large amount of pop-culture, while another type of pundit wants to hype it as the self-emergent ubermind, is that it fundamentally runs by an extremely deceptive sort of social promise. It functions by selling the heavy contributors on the dream, the illusion, that it'll give them the prestige of an academic ("writing an encyclopedia"). It won't deliver. All that'll happen is those citizen-lunchmeats will work for free, while the Wikia investors will reap the rewards. But it's a powerful dream.

And "Essjay" / Ryan Jordan is that dream's poster child:

Professional Qualifications

Yes, I'm a professor.

I am a tenured professor of theology at a private university in the eastern United States; I teach both undergraduate and graduate theology.

My Academic Degrees:

* Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies (B.A.)

* Master of Arts in Religion (M.A.R.)

* Doctorate of Philosophy in Theology (Ph.D.)

* Doctorate in Canon Law (JCD)

That's what he wants to be. That's what he wishes he was.

And Wikipedia gave him the opportunity to represent himself as this fantasy.

Part of his pattern of misrepresentation includes a letter to a professor (my emphasis)

I am an administrator of the online encyclopedia project Wikipedia. I am also a tenured professor of theology; feel free to have a look at my Wikipedia userpage (linked below) to gain an idea of my background and credentials. ...

Well credentialed individuals (myself included) participate in the project in the hopes that our involvement will help to make Wikipedia a better source, and dispel the misconceptions held by the public.

This is a fascinating letter to read, especially with knowledge that the writer is a fraud. The themes just leap out at you:

1) I am academically respectable

2) Wikipedia should be academically respectable

3) We're wonderful people, the God-King has "amazing ability for clarity". (ironically used to describe a passage which is a model of smoke-blowing!)

And it's a very nice letter too. The sort of thing written either by a slick con man who is cleverly utterly false, or a delusional personality who is playing a role so deeply as to believe it with every fiber of his being.

It's no surprise that he was hired to be "community manager". This is exactly the sort of person they want for their community!

I'm tempted to go to certain A-listers and ask them, "NOW, with this blatant example right in front of you, do you understand my argument about what's wrong with Wikipedia?". But I know better, and in their way, I suspect they know better :-(.

[Credit where due: Some references publicized by Daniel Brandt]

UPDATE 3/1: Jimmy Wales comments on the controversy:

In his "talk page" discussion, Wales states:

EssJay has always been, and still is, a fantastic editor and trusted member of the community. He apologized to me and to the community for any harm caused. Trolls are claiming that he "bragged" about it: this is bullshit. He has been thoughtful and contrite about the entire matter and I consider it settled. -- [[User:Jimbo Wales|Jimbo Wales]] 14:40, 1 March 2007 (UTC)

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 01, 2007 12:56 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (32)