Anonymity and Accountability
Last week I blogged Kevin Kelly’s rant against anonymity. Today I wrote about it for Wired.com:
And that’s precisely where Kelly makes his mistake. The problem isn’t anonymity; it’s accountability. If someone isn’t accountable, then knowing his name doesn’t help. If you have someone who is completely anonymous, yet just as completely accountable, then—heck, just call him Fred.
History is filled with bandits and pirates who amass reputations without anyone knowing their real names.
EBay’s feedback system doesn’t work because there’s a traceable identity behind that anonymous nickname. EBay’s feedback system works because each anonymous nickname comes with a record of previous transactions attached, and if someone cheats someone else then everybody knows it.
Similarly, Wikipedia’s veracity problems are not a result of anonymous authors adding fabrications to entries. They’re an inherent property of an information system with distributed accountability. People think of Wikipedia as an encyclopedia, but it’s not. We all trust Britannica entries to be correct because we know the reputation of that company, and by extension its editors and writers. On the other hand, we all should know that Wikipedia will contain a small amount of false information because no particular person is accountable for accuracy—and that would be true even if you could mouse over each sentence and see the name of the person who wrote it.
Please read the whole thing before you comment.
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