I have made up my mind about Wikipendium’s account implementation, which I will describe in a few moments. However, I would firstly like to introduce you to the purpose of this essay.
I wish to make my opinions on Wikipendium’s account name practices perfectly clear so that, in any future time, I will be able to point to this essay and say, “This is why,” instead of endlessly rehashing my arguments; I also want to document my viewpoints now, while they’re in my head, rather than later trying to remember my justification for implementing some aspect. And while I suspect that my implementation will not be met by too much controversy, at least in the early days, I think you, and all members of the public, should know why I hold opinions that I publicly hold.
Several times in this essay I draw upon examples or analogies from Wikipedia and Citizendium, two (fairly different) encyclopedia projects produced collaboratively by online communities. I have accounts on both projects, but my majority of experience comes from Wikipedia, where I participated for about two years.
Let me move onwards to Wikipendium’s account implementation itself.
- Potential participants will be required to register and log in under an account (and thus qualify as an editor) before being permitted to modify content or perform other actions associated with their user rights.
- The registration process will be computer-operated (there will be no humans involved to process applications), although human assistance will be afforded to people who require it.
- Account names will be required to be in the form of real names, and people will be encouraged (but not required) to use their real names as their account names.
- Editors will not be eligible for a higher-than-standard access level or position in the system unless they use their real name as their account name and have this verified, or unless justifiable explicit permission is granted by project management to bypass this requirement.
I will now discuss, and hopefully justify, each aspect of these implementational aspects.
Explanation of this implementation
Potential participants will be required to register and log in under an account (and thus qualify as an editor) before being permitted to modify content or perform other actions associated with their user rights.
It is vitally important to any community, online or offline, that a sense of community identity be maintained among community members. One crucial aspect of community identity is the definition of who is, and who is not, a community member. One way, although imperfect, of making this definition in an online community is recognising only people holding an account in the community as community members.
More practically, however, requiring potential participants to register and log in under an account on Wikipendium – a five-to-ten-minute process – is an effective way of deterring potential abusers and encouraging potential contributors. Projects such as Wikipedia maintain a practice of absolute openness to participance, allowing virtually anybody to modify virtually any content without necessarily registering and logging in under an account, but this participance is often disruptive and not always helpful. My hypothesis is that the barrier of acquiring an account on the project will deter casual would-be project abusers; casual abusers generally damage projects because they can, not because they want to, and restricting absolute openness will logically quell this type of disruption. Motivated abusers are another kettle of fish altogether; but they are not so much of a problem as they might appear, as I will soon explain.
Therefore, Wikipendium will require potential participants to register an account on the project and then log in under the account before being permitted to modify content or perform other actions associated with their user rights; this measure will help avoid project abuse, and will also serve to create social identity.
The registration process will be computer-operated (there will be no humans involved to process applications), although human assistance will be afforded to people who require it.
Computer-operated account registration’s main benefit is rapidity, as potential participants can register and log in under an account in a matter of five to ten minutes. It also has one notable disadvantage: there is no effective manner to restrict the types of people who may participate, so potential damagers can just as easily create an account as potential helpers. As I have argued, casual potential damagers will generally not bother to register an account on Wikipendium; but motivated potential damagers, people who have an interest in damaging the project due to ideologies, philosophies, strong point-of-views, vendettas, profits, or other motives will likely take the time to register accounts through which to enact various forms of abuse, and will pose a problem to the project.
However, the extent of this problem is often overestimated. On Wikipedia, motivated abusers form a small minority relative to casual abusers, indicating that fighting casual abusers should be Wikipendium’s main priority; and motivated abusers, while troublesome, are not worth, in my opinion, deterring many potential participants due to an account requests system which would not even work as intended.
An alternative account registration process would have potential participants apply to an account registration group, which could then choose to grant or deny an account request. However, it is questionable whether such a process would even work effectively on Wikipendium. If the purpose of such a process was to ensure that motivated abusers could be effectively ejected from the project, each potential participant would have to be required to release their real name and associated evidence to the account registration group so that the group could ensure that nobody with the same real name had an account on the project already; but Wikipendium will not require potential participants to release their real names, even to project management, as I will soon explain. The lack of this requirement of participants releasing their real names therefore would render an account requests process largely ineffective in accomplishing its purpose.
“Captchas” – images with distorted text which must be repeated in a text box in order to validate a request – will be employed to avoid mass registration of many accounts through automated means. People unable to read these captchas – due, for example, to poor eyesight – or unable to register an account due to other valid reasons will be given an opportunity to obtain human assistance.
Therefore, Wikipendium’s account registration process will be computer-operated, and there will be no humans involved to process applications, although human assistance will be afforded to people who require it.
Account names will be required to be in the form of real names, and people will be encouraged (but not required) to use their real names as their account names.
Wikipedia and Citizendium differ widely in their approaches to account naming. Wikipedia is liberal, allowing participants to choose virtually any account name provided it is not offensive; and Citizendium is conservative, requiring virtually all participants to use their real name as their account name. Wikipedia’s approach makes for an environment of made-up pseudonyms such as “Blue cheese”, “PurpleSquid”, and “I like crackers”, which arguably foster an environment of amateurishness; Citizendium’s approach makes for sensible account names but arguably deters many potential helpful participants from participating in the project. Wikipedia follows its approach because allegedly it encourages many new participants to become involved; Citizendium follows its approach because allegedly it makes for an accountable environment of participants and thereby increases behavioural standards.
Frankly, I dislike both of these extremes. While I support pseudonomity to some extent, I become dubious when it reaches the point of allowing ridiculous account names which are, in my humble opinion, overly crude. Yet enforced releasing of virtually all participants’ real names, while it might increase accountability and have some associated good effects, inevitably deters many potential participants who do not want to, or simply cannot, release their real name on the Internet; and such a system increases chances of identity theft, and potentially allows employers to fire participating employees due to their neutral Wikipendium representation of (possibly negative) company facts.
Wikipendium will maintain a compromise position between these two polar approaches. Participants will not be required to release their real names to any Wikipendium body, as this requirement deters potential helpful participants in addition to potential disruptive participants; but participants will be encouraged to make their names known to the general public as a token gesture of personal accountability. Ridiculous or offensive pseudonyms will be prohibited; pseudonyms will be required to be at least in the form of a real name. Any pseudonyms will be required to reflect on participants’ gender (otherwise, with men using women’s names and women using men’s names we could end up with inaccurate statistics, and a rather crude environment if you ask me).
Therefore, Wikipendium participants’ account names will be required to be at least in the form of real names – to avoid ridiculous pseudonyms – and people will be encouraged (but not required) to use their real names as their account names. This approach will arguably foster a more accountable, and more comfortable, environment of excellent participance.
Editors will not be eligible for a higher-than-standard access level or position in the system unless they use their real name as their account name and have this verified, or unless justifiable explicit permission is granted by project management to bypass this requirement.
People in positions of power in communities should be secure, safe, and mature – and thus should be able to use their real names as their account names in online communities. In addition, it is important that people in authority are accountable for their actions, and people who feel that they have been abused by somebody in authority should have the means of challenging that person. Wikipedia’s community frequently alleges that people in positions of authority in the community abuse their power in various manners; if these allegations are true, as some undoubtedly are, then Wikipendium has a strong basis for enforcing accountability of authority.
Authority can be social, but it can also be technical; people who have social authority should be accountable, but people who have technical authority should also be accountable. Thus, people with a higher-than-standard position should be accountable, and people with a higher-than-standard access level should also be accountable.
Therefore, editors will not be eligible for a higher-than-standard access level or position in Wikipendium’s system unless they use their real name as their account name and have this verified, or unless justifiable explicit permission is granted by project management to bypass this requirement.