Wiki-washers and grave-Digg-ers

By day, I masquerade as someone who knows a thing or two about digital security and identity.

So when my friend and collegue Charles mentioned wikiscanner to me, my split personality showed: one side cheered that the media manipulaters could no longer hide; the other side jeered because privacy and anonymity took another blow.

Wikiscanner, through the usage of computation and knowledge about who (which corporations or ISPs) own what blocks of IP addresses, takes away some of the anonymity that can be associated with changing a Wikipedia post. Kudos to wikiscanner creator Virgil Griffith for his creativity; because of his invention he can no longer remain anonymous, as media rags show how his creation reveals corps like Diebold editing Wiki articles on e-voting machines.

Identity and the concept of “authoritative” are interesting topics to discuss in terms of Wiki, and also in terms of other community sites such as Digg, eBay, Amazon, MySpace, dating sites and others. With the wide open Internet, one characteristic we all love is that we can all voice our opinion, read it and either agree with it or disagree with it. But the concepts of “is this person really who they say they are” (identity) and “do they really know anything about what they are talking about” (authority) are difficult to determine on most sites.

Mr. Griffith’s Wikiscanner adds some identity to the anonymous posts. But if a Wiki editor hides at his house and uses AOL or some other ISP that has a monster block of addresses, identity is still in question.

Identity is hard to determine at any rate. Most people use email addresses as credentials on community web sites, but email address are easy to get, easy to use, easy to call yourself whatever you want. For example, email addresses are all you need to “Digg” or “Bury” a story at My friend Paul Levinson talked a few days back about the “unofficial bury brigades” at Digg, who use their anonymity and votes to bury certain stories and raise others (Virgil Griffith, is de-anonymizing Digg your next post-grad project? Could have merit!). But without some type of official credential (and, no, I am not pushing for usage of some universal ID), anonymity will still be the rule on the Internet.

So, with anonymity, how do you determine if a source is authoritative or not? John Scalzi, noted SciFi author and cat bacon lover (just had to, John), tried to post on Wikipedia a notice of SciFi author Fred Saberhagen’s death. But the Wiki-police debated and decided he was not authoritative. Identity (I would assume) was not the question: with his Whatever and several other blogs, John’s identity is anything but anonymous. But how do you determine if a source is authoritative? Some sites (eBay) have ratings on certain identities so that you can determine if they are credible, but many do not.

Like identity, authoritativeness is going to be determined on a community by community basis. Those that comment the most, or vote the most, or buy the most with the best rating, even if their identity is questionable, will continue to be considered authoritative.

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1 Response

  1. September 14, 2007

    […] a month ago, I wrote a brief post on wiki-scanner and Digg buriers called Wiki Washers and Grave Diggers (catchy, eh?). A longer version of it has just been published in this month’s Global […]

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