Saturday, March 29, 2008


Wikipedia, "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit", allows anonymous editing. It also allows pseudonymous editing. (yes, there's a difference)

Andrew Keen, a reporter for The Independent, makes the case that anonymity is bad for civil discourse, calling it "the last refuge for cowards and scoundrels". I can see some case for anonymity but I myself have never really hid who I was. My online identity is "Lar" wherever I can get it, and it's fairly tightly linked to my real identity, and has been for 25 years. I tend to find myself thinking that a fair few number of the problems that Wikipedia encounters would be reduced if a verifiable connnection to a real person was required.

I made a decision from the get go that this little blog would not allow anonymous posters in replies, only posts from blogger accounts. Some people have remarked on that, complaining a bit, at least in passing. Turns out since Blogger allows you to hide the account details, it's more or less the same thing, really, I still have no idea who some of these people are, even pseudonymously. This isn't the same thing as Wikipedia, to be sure, so perhaps some of Keen's arguments don't apply. Still, it is instructive.

What do you think of anonymity?


Scarian said...

The internet is (or was, rather) synonymous with anonymity.

I think for things like general web browsing anonymity is important in order to protect privacy.

For commenting on things like blogs etc. it's not so much important as it is a safeguard.

Someone could do any number of things anonymously to any blog or forum or whatever, which could cause distress to a wide number of people.

[Thank you for your comment on my posting, by the way. Yes, Wiki is a very impressive thing... if not a tad tiring :-) Cheers!]

private musings said...

..source of a core wiki tension here - the anonymity vs. responsibility arguments are complex - and you've got to through 'socks' in there somewhere... (if you don't know what I'm talking about; lucky you!)

Here's the conundrum as I see it. Allow for a moment that it's possible for a wiki article to have real world consequences - now imagine that they're bad consequences, and that harm comes from them. Where does the responsibility lie?

Well, with the editor of course! Quite literally, our wiki systems lack responsibility - the long term sustainability of this position (across many levels; legal recourse, public opinion, etc. etc.) is not guaranteed - indeed the situation seems unlikely to remain static.....

I suppose I should write something on this myself (it's part of PM's master work in the pipeline...!) - but thanks for prodding my interest, Lar!

private musings said...

the last comment is badly written, full of typos and clearly the writings of a fool....

and the owner of this blog has spoiled my intention in making such a silly post anonymously by prohibiting anonymous comments.... is this a reflection of Lar's wiki thinking too? ;-)

Lar said...


While requiring attribution is an imperfect arrangement, and introduces problems and shortcomings in some areas compared to anonymity, on balance I think it is a better approach than anonymity, or even pseudonymity.... for projects like encyclopedias.

For things like blogs, pseudonymity or anonymity is a personal preference matter. I prefer at least pseudonymity.

Blogger is flawed in not allowing editing of comments if the comment made is the last one or within some short time. My approach is to copy/paste and then delete the first one after the corrected second one takes.