[Wikipedia-l] An idea

Jimmy Wales jwales at wikia.com
Tue May 24 12:57:55 UTC 2005

I had an idea the other day while I was on a radio interview.

Someone was making the usual (uninformed) complaint about Wikipedia that
we "pretend to have no authors" -- which is nonsense of course -- but
the undertone (in my opinion) of the criticism was that Wikipedia is
written by a bunch of random morons on the Internet rather than Real
Professionals.  As such, it is argued, it's a perfectly fun forum for
people to post their stupid rants, but it is not an encyclopedia.

However, I travel all over the world meeting Wikipedians, and surprise
surprise, most of them are Real Professionals of some sort.  And of
course, Wikipedia *is* an encyclopedia.

Now, here's the idea that I had, and there are perhaps some reasons it
is a bad idea, but I think it has more merit than not, so I wanted to
bring it up for feedback and see if it is something we want to start
thinking about and discussing more generally.

Some years ago, Amazon.com instituted a system that they were calling
something like "Real Names intitiative" for user reviews.  In order to
increase the public perception of trust in those reviews, they made it
possible (but optional!) for people to go through a process to identify
themselves by their Real Names.

We could do something similar, but also allow for the inclusion of
credentials.  People could *optionally* go through a process to confirm
their credentials.  When you do this, a small icon appears by your name
in the edit history, and when you click on it, you get to a new tab of
the user page, which contains a list of the confirmed credentials.

What kinds of credentials would be acceptable?  This could be totally
open to a community process.  Clearly, all sorts of college degrees make
sense, but the wide kinds of expertise that are involved in writing
Wikipedia might call for useful credentials of many kinds.

Examples would include computer certifications such as MSCE or LPI or
Redhat.  Our article on [[Amateur Radio]] has surely been edited by
people who have advanced licenses.  Published books might count as a
credential.  Magazine articles.  Awards, recognitions of all kinds.
Positions held in relevant organizations.

Have you won a prize at a dog show?  Then this is a credential which
testifies to the public about your expertise in that area.

Such an initiative would have to be done carefully in order to respect
our (fairly anti-credentialist) culture.  First, anyone who ever
suggests that a credential gives one precedence in editing gets a bonk
in the head with a WikiClueStick.  Second, it should be made clear at
every point of contact with a credential system that it is fully and
completely optional.

The idea is this: people wonder, and not unreasonably, who we all are.
Why should the world listen to us about anything?  People think, and not
unreasonably, that credentials say something helpful about that.  As it
turns out, we mostly do know something about what we edit, and although
we never want Wikipedia to be about a closed club of credential
fetishists, there's nothing particularly wrong with advertising that,
hey, we are *random* people on the Internet *g*, but not random *morons*
after all.


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