Note: "identity required" is just the title of this page. The discussion is about comments on the wiki, using real names, and when we think it's okay to remove no or low-value comments from no-identity, no-real name accounts

This page is for the discussion of the idea of requiring people to establish identity in order to participate on the Wiki in certain ways. The initial rambling is addressed to the current and ongoing issue of anonymous editors leaving controversial comments that accuse businesses of things like racism or significant food safety failures.

Woah. Long. There's a tl;dr below!

Recently, concerns about an aura of exceptional voice have come up in the context of organizational accounts. That's definitely an issue, but it's not the only time when the idea of exceptional voice arises around here, and it's far from the most egregious.

Tonight, I was talking with my wife about the revert war currently going on (see Red 88 Noodle Bar, and the idea that identity is or should be a prerequisite to leaving harsh comments. She was extremely put off by the idea that someone who has had a horrible experience somewhere needs to somehow defend it just to leave a comment on the Wiki. I believe the exact words were, "that sounds incredibly elitist." As usual, Bekka helped me hash out my own thoughts, and she really put the issues into perspective for me.

1. It's going to keep people out.

The idea of requiring people to go through a process of introductions, multiple edits, and defending controversial comments is, quite simply, creating an aura of exceptional voice. The way we've reacted recently, the editor who made the comment would essentially have to engage in a Q&A session or else have their comment removed. From the perspective of a user (as opposed to an editor), it comes across as saying that if you aren't a part of the wiki clique (i.e. the relatively few people who are actually going to see this page...), you have no voice here. Yes, you could gain a voice by doing loads of editing, introducing yourself, etc., but it's something you have to earn. While I'm not sure I completely agree with that characterization, I can't say I completely disagree, either. More importantly, though, if it seems like that's the case to someone who's considering leaving a comment, it's going to have a chilling effect on participation on the Wiki.

My wife is a perfect example. She uses the wiki frequently—businesses, reviews, and so on. But she isn't registered as a user, and hasn't really been interested in creating an account. One thing she was adamant about, though, is that she would not be at all willing to come here to express her concerns about a business engaged in shady practices if she knew she would have to defend it or jump through some arbitrary hoops, like editing other pages.

2. It's not going to protect businesses.

Yes, nasty comments can have a deleterious effect on businesses and potentially damage their reputations. But if people are inclined to make those comments, they are going to do so whether we as a community intervene or not. There are dozens of venues for leaving reviews, comments, and complaints about businesses online. Deleting nasty comments here is not going to prevent harm to a business's reputation if the person leaving them is doing so with the purpose of harming the business's reputation.

3. There's valuable information that gets excluded if you delete controversial comments.

See Barefoot Yoga Studio/Talk for a perfect example. There's a lot of value to be had. What if the original commenter hadn't checked back to see that her comment had been deleted? That whole line of discussion never would have opened up, and a very serious issue that has affected quite a few women never would have come to light.

Bekka stated tonight that it's ridiculous to require people to defend their comments just because they're an "outsider." I'm inclined to agree; see below.

4. The harms can be averted better in other ways.

My wife's response when I described the comment being deleted tonight was something to the effect of, "wow, that sounds really authoritarian. What are you guys, Nazi Gnomes?" Look at the reactions that have been garnered when other comments have been removed recently. Some people assume that administrators are getting kick-backs from businesses for clearing negative reviews. Several people have said they feel marginalized. Some have complained about not being allowed to edit unless they're a part of the clique (I'd welcome help digging up examples of these; not going to bother just yet, but I'll try and fill it in later. Feel free to edit in links to examples).

When you read a negative review and see it followed up by numerous people who say they've always had the opposite experience, it's telling. Readers are intelligent, and, particularly in a fairly internet-savvy community like Davis, are also discerning.

5. The Wiki is not promotional in nature.

Ultimately, the role of the wiki is neither to protect nor to promote businesses. It is to provide information (at least, according to the non-profit guidelines). Obviously that doesn't mean everything anyone wants to say must remain; but it does mean that excluding controversial information just because the person adding it isn't an established member of the online community goes against that purpose. While I take businesses' reputations seriously, ultimately, the Wiki can't serve as a guardian of business interests, when doing so comes at a cost to its ultimate function: providing the Davis community with information about Davis.

Conclusion (tl;dr)

In short, I think that nuking controversial comments from editors without an established identity is the wrong way to address the situation. It's not going to effectively protect a business, and the cost to the Wiki and to the Davis community is too great. There are better alternatives available: specifically, reply with questions, doubts, or contradictory experiences.

On a side note, I think that the discussion on the issue has become too much a personal matter. It's getting in the way of the issue itself. Wiki Chill Pill, anyone?



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2010-07-18 23:26:55   When I first came across the Wiki, I expected neutrality like I would on Wikipedia. Of course, things are done differently here but those who may not visit the Wiki as frequently as we do might not know such differences exist between Davis Wiki and Wikipedia. Therefore, people may be less likely to take certain comments or edits with a grain of salt like they should. Yes, the whole creating an identity thing is elitist, but we all know what happens when you let it go the other way(nsfw). With the Barefoot Yoga example, the user actually cared enough to create an identity in order to make her comments heard. I feel like if someone wants to say something on a community resource and needs to go through only a little more effort than just creating an account (if I recall correctly, an email address wasn't even needed?) and pressing a button to submit whatever they wrote, it's not a huge deal. —hankim

2010-07-18 23:30:59   I think that, as a guideline, having folks either use their real name or establish some minimal kind of identity when making purely opinion comments — without any information in them that can be verified — is reasonable. Not as a requirement for contribution, but rather— if you leave a comment that's purely opinion and use a fake name then I wouldn't expect it to stick around. A modified version of what Jason said:

Leave a comment but anyone can either integrate it, delete it, or leave it. If your edit is non-constructive, or doesn't add any information to the page, don't expect it to stay if you don't use your real name or make a few edits around here.

Not a prerequisite: I wouldn't like anything like this to be something someone signing up sees, but rather a guideline here for us folks who check the wiki to empower people to feel comfortable removing crummy comments from people. Crummy, in this case, being up to the editor who wants to remove them, but in general — purely opinion, no information, coming from someone with no real name or no identity, and harmful or of no value.

I'd also like to note that there's an absurd amount we can do to encourage more identity by changing the way the software here works. And we can also encourage people to more easily add information rather than just comments. So, that will happen.

I think that keeping participation high and all barriers as low as possible, as Tom notes above, is really important, even if it means that lots of comments aren't very good. I'd rather have a wiki that was incredibly useful, but has warts, than a wart-less, less useful wiki. -PhilipNeustrom

  • I kind of see it like this: Total inclusion of all voices from and tools from and for the community as a goal, with a practical effort made to curtail problems and abuse that threatens to limit inclusion (including through indirect means, like making the wiki so random it becomes impossible to navigate except by a few experts, or becoming a morass of anonymous rants). The pursuit of an intentionally vague and ideal goal, limited by the realities of compromise and the occasional nasty social interaction. The ideal goal should always remain paramount, however, not something to chuck out in the name of easy solutions. That's why these discussions run on so long, and we repeat them every year or two. ;) -jw
  • Note that Philip is (to my reading of it) saying the same thing: i.e., if there's no possibility of verifying a story, consider removing it. If they have a name, that makes it reasonable. If they are active, that's reasonable. If there are identifying elements in the story, that makes it reasonable. It's not the verification, per se, but the ability to reasonably assume that it was a good edit. And if it's not a good edit, it should always be subject to removal (or improvement to the point it becomes a good edit). -jw

Ok, two questions:

  • How do we decide what is constructive or adds information? I actually think that the edit that started this discussion did add information. Others, clearly, disagree. So, even taking the identity issue out of this, there is disagreement.
  • One reason to leave a string of comments, rather than always integrating, is to see where there are patterns. That being said, I have much sympathy for more integration of comments.


Information's easy — is it possible, in some universe, to verify whatever someone's saying? Constructiveness is tricky: it's up to whoever wants to take the initiative to remove the material. If there are folks willing to revert the material back on the page then that may be a sign that it's worth keeping.

So, what about one-time events, like one person's experience? Obviously, they can't be verified, but they might be important. A person's type of experience can be corroborated or shown to be unlikely by the experiences of others. As for the removal/revert: that's the infinite loop we got caught in today. We need a way out of that loop. —cp

But the question is what person? I keep swinging back and forth on this issue. I can see the value in leaving a "just my experience" (without information) comment from a no-identity editor around for a bit, but then cleaning it out (after some time has passed). Note that when I say "non-identity," I'm thinking "one comment" (or something close to that).

I can see that, too. It's primarily the deleting it immediately, without giving that editor a chance to edit more, or other editors a chance to respond by agreeing or disagreeing, that I object to.

2010-07-18 23:32:20   A simple of dealing with it. —JabberWokky

2010-07-18 23:33:40   "Leave a comment but anyone can either integrate it, delete it, or leave it..." Yes, but, you can't. Someone will just come along and revert your action, because all comments must be preserved regardless of merit, inflammatory content, or value. —DonShor

  • Don, I think that is changing tonight. —JasonAller
  • No one ever defended the position that Don describes (as we have been over, and over...). No one says that all comments must be preserved. I think that this one has merit. Some do not. —cp
  • I corrected the spelling of "sweat and sour pork" and got reverted and scolded. That is at the absurd end of the spectrum of comments which have been protected. —Don

There is a difference between not wanting others to put words in someone's mouth (changing words someone has put their name to) and wanting words to be preserved at all cost. I am strongly against people changing the attributed words of others, but I think comments that provide nothing of value should be axed. —WilliamLewis

  • Right. But checkit out, pretty much none of the same people were involved. I actually made the final edit by saying I called the guy. I agreed with you completely, I thought it was lame, and I don't really consider it changing the words of others in some cases. Come on WL, you just acted on your own pet peeve last night! ('right' to 'write'). I think in many cases, it's not any more intrusive than when you say "heh, don't you mean [XYZ]" in normal conversation when someone else misspoke. "sweat and sour" vs "sweet and sour" was certainly one of those cases, if not potentially just a typo. However, my point Don was that if you relook at that link you'd see a different set of people arguing about that edit. I tend to be in favor of letting non-abusive/violent/vulgar comments remain, but I've never had an issue with minor tweaks in many comments. Full-on spellchecking a comment is something else indeed. -ES

2010-07-18 23:36:13   I'm about to hit the hay, but I wanted to make one quick clarification. I do think that lack of identity is one of the most central problems to issues that arise on the wiki. It's a serious problem, and people should absolutely be encouraged to establish an identity. In the above ramblings, I'm only talking about identity as a prerequisite for certain types of participation here. The loss to the wiki from adding a hurdle for participation is simply too great. —TomGarberson

  • For what it's worth, I agree with this. And everything else that you've written on this page. I think you've articulated very well the concerns about requiring the establishment of identity in order to contribute to the wiki. Thank you for taking the time to do this. —cp
    • That's somewhat of a straw man, as I don't think there's been anybody mandating identity to contribute. -jw
      • That what's I took from the proposal that JA made awhile back, and DS agreed with — 5 edits + an introduction. Maybe I didn't understand correctly, or maybe they have changed their positions. —cp
        • You didn't understand correctly, but after the first few edits that page was a mess so it is totally understandable that you misunderstood. I also notice that while my position has evolved over time the perception of my position has not. —JasonAller
          • I just want to reiterate again that this was in the context of two recent arguments: the Strelitzia Flower Co. racist accusations and the Red 88 comment, where the general response seemed to be to remove the comments unless the commenter came back and established an identity. That, to me, seems like an identity requirement to participate in a serious way. This isn't a dig at Jason, and I'm still a huge proponent of the idea of an effective feedback system to help new editors. —tg
            • I think you're confusing the effort of finding a method to deal with an issue with the actual issue itself. I'm going to kick out the way I always phrase it when talking to newspaper editors about comments on their sites. You don't care about anonymity, but you care very deeply about accountability. The methods of keeping accountability can vary greatly, and there are many methods of abusing accountability (sockpuppeting, one hit hate accounts, plurality of people behind one account, trolls with no social impetus to behave in a civil manner), and each method of accountability usually produces either less participation in general or a heavier workload on the people watching for abuse (in the case of comments, they usually aren't interested in community, so there's some draconian admin activities that boot people quickly... and some encouragement of borderline trolls to encourage heated discussion and thus visitors). The key thing is that we're after accountability in one form or another. If there's no abuse, it's all okay. When there is, how do you make people accountable for their "business listing" whitewashing, over-the-top one hit pseudo-fantasy rants against a business, trolling, and other similar issues. They tend to appear and be most difficult to deal with in the context of one edit anonymous accounts and multi-person role accounts in some people's view. So... would discouraging (or even banning) such accounts help? If so, how much would it hinder participation? Would blocking those kinds of edits encourage participation by making the wiki a more civil and welcoming community to people who are put off by angry screeds and apparent commercial control of content? If anybody claims to know the answers for sure, they are dirty liars. :) But these are perpetual questions because they are both important to individual editors and the discussion shifts the traditions that define the wiki. -jw
              • The answers you'll get to those questions from wiki gnomes is generally going to be very different from the answers you'll get from casual users and infrequent/non-editors. The problem inherent in these discussions is that there's a huge self-selection bias: the voices we hear are those of people who already are a part of the community with a well established identity. If you pose the same questions to the 85% of Davisites who have never made an edit here, or the other ~10% who haven't done more than leave a comment or two, I think you'll find that people are exceptionally leery about any sort of draconian response to anonymity. Just having to create an account is enough of a barrier to prevent many people from participating. The bulk of college students hear frequently about the dangers of generating a Google footprint and how it can harm their future job prospects. People have become used to anonymity on the internet, and I'd venture to say that a substantial majority of people aren't comfortable with giving that up. Whether alienating that potential user base is worth averting the problems surrounding a lack of identity/accountability is up for discussion, but I'm inclined to think that when the Wiki is intended to be a resource for the community and depends on widespread involvement for content, it's not. I truly do like the idea of a community website where everyone's identity is as real as it is in real life, but I don't see the steps needed to get there as practical. —TomGarberson
                • Okay, I'll say the exact same thing, only more simple: Anonymity isn't the issue, accountability is. Stop discussing anonymity, as nobody has called for the elimination of the option to be anonymous (or, if somebody has in the long history of the wiki, they are no longer active editors or it is no longer their position). The next time somebody attacks that danged strawman, I swear I'm going to start arguing against banning vegans from being on the wiki (which is another proposal that is not on the table). There's been some discussion that anonymity encourages a lack of accountability, but that is a side observation, not the actual core issue. -jw
                  • JW, right, no one has said anonymity was the issue. But they have suggested that identity is — note that above, where you accuse me off attacking a straw man, I had said "identity," not "anonymity." Establishing identity requires either a real name (or a real-sounding name?) or a history of edits. —cp (jw notes: "people are exceptionally leery about any sort of draconian response to anonymity" was the reason for the above... I think I did accidentally accuse CP of blurring the two issues when s/he wasn't at some point in the past; these are fairly subtle topics at times).
                  • I don't see how you create accountability without either 1) eliminating anonymity; or 2) creating barriers to entry that require an investment on the part of new editors... Or wholesale IP bans or something of that sort, but that's obviously not on the table. If you look over at the identity page, the whole thing comes down to those same two options for a new editor: 1) non-anonymity (as an individual option; not a ban non anonymous user names); and 2) significant time commitment as a barrier to entry. That's the page that's always referenced for problem editors, and seems to be the primary way of addressing accountability. Is there some other aspect of it that I'm missing? —tg
                    • I don't think anyone has suggested a barrier to entry. Rather, if you contribute from a fake-name account with only one edit and the contribution is controversial & only-opinion, then you probably shouldn't expect it to stick around.
                      • You'd be hard pressed to convince the person whose comment is being deleted that that's not a barrier to entry —tg
                      • Here is where a barrier to entry was indeed proposed (JA has said I misunderstood this page and that he has changed his position since then. I will have to let him clarify). —cp
                      • Yes. That's exactly why I'm zeroing in on the core issue. So the question can be asked: What tools encourage accountability, and what are their drawbacks? For instance, only allowing legal names verified via credit card transactions would raise accountability... and would have massive negative problems associated with it, just one of which would be a serious barrier to entry. But that is a tool, not the actual goal. Personally, I advocate a different approach which completely bypasses the issue of the individual author entirely, at which point even the idea of identity is moot. But then, my concerns and occasional bitterness hasn't really been a popular position. :) That's fine... but now we're really facing a choice: either change how things work now, or accumulate more content that carries inherent issues and deal with it later. Of course, that's where we were last time this came up. -jw

2010-07-19 00:52:04   I made a small change to the new account creation form. Let's slowly watch new user accounts over the next week to see if there's any difference. The form has always said "(Please do not use nickname or business name.)", but I made it a bit more explicit. We can always change it around - I just want to run this as an experiment to see if there's a statistically meaningful effect. —PhilipNeustrom

2010-07-19 13:24:53   See my previous comment on this matter. —WesOne

2010-07-19 14:18:20   I mentioned this on another page at one point, but I'll add it again here. This problem of accountabilty/wikihurdles does not seem to have a clear resolution. While we work to find a fix, however, why don't we award "accounablity points" to those who donate to the fund drive. Of course it will be "blantantly fake accounablility", but hey, if we can win PN some more cash, why not make a little lemonade out of all these lemons. —jefftolentino