Saturday, March 03, 2007

Essjay quits

Well, Ryan Jordan, apparently realizing that his goose is quite thoroughly cooked, has withdrawn from participation in all Wikimedia projects, including resigning all special roles and privileges he held. (He is also no longer employed by Wikia, if this is any indication.)

I won't say I'm happy, because I'm not. However, I am at least relieved that the "crisis" phase of this episode is over. There remains some considerable risk of an edit war or wheel war breaking out over his user page, user talk page, or the Request for Comments that was in progress regarding his conduct. I am also concerned about the number of people running around declaring that there's now a shortage of bureaucrats, checkusers, and oversights (many of whom are clearly preparing runs for one or more of these positions).

Rather than jockeying for the vacancies created by Essjay's departure, I think it is far more important for the community to discuss the issues raised by his conduct. Specifically, the Wikipedia community very much needs to discuss:
  • the role of experts on Wikipedia
  • how to deal with pseudonymous individuals who seek to claim expertise in a topic area
  • whether or not to allow pseudonymous individuals to hold positions of authority, and if so under what conditions
I personally think that anybody who claims any sort of expertise on Wikipedia for the purpose of influencing discussion or debate must be prepared to immediately identify themselves in such a manner as would be sufficient to allow any reasonable person to confirm their credentials.

Also, any person who, in the course of performing any special duties within Wikipedia or within Wikimedia, would have access to information which would be subject to the provisions of the Wikimedia Privacy Policy, must identify himself or herself to the Wikimedia Foundation before being given that access. The same should also apply to those who are authorized to speak for or on behalf the Wikimedia Foundation. (The Foundation should be required to treat such identity information consistent with the privacy policy, of course.) This would include, amongst other things, all checkusers, stewards, and OTRS volunteers. It would not include administrators or bureaucrats. It would also include Arbitrators unless the practice of sharing checkuser data freely with Arbitrators is discontinued.

In any case, the community needs to discuss these matters. It certainly cannot hope to sweep these issues under the rug if it hopes to get through this incident without permanent damage.