Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wikipedia's angle on anonymous IP addresses

I'm not sure when this kicked in, but the message you now get when you edit a page anonymously is intriguing ...
You are not currently logged in. While you are free to edit without logging in, be aware that doing so will allow your IP address (which can be used to determine the associated network/corporation name) to be recorded publicly, along with the dates and times at which you made your edits, in this page's edit history. It is sometimes possible for others to identify you with this information. If you create an account, you can conceal your IP address and be provided with many other benefits. Messages sent to your IP can be viewed on your talk page.
So in other words, if you have a user name, you're more anonymous than if you don't. It's an interesting angle.

From its beginnings, Wikipedia has been beset by anonymous vandals who find out about Wikipedia's "anyone can edit" ethos and think "Whoa, dude, I can totally write 'My math teacher sucks' here and no one will know who did it", or something similar, but generally less sophisticated and coherent.

Fortunately, a number of Wikipedians have taken it upon themselves to make life better for the rest of us by constantly scanning the change logs for such drivel and reverting it back. One does occasionally run across vandalized pages, but in general vandalism gets reverted within seconds. And may I join the rest of the community in repeating my sincere thanks for that.

With that for background, it's easy to see why the community would want to discourage anonymous editing in the first place. On the other hand, it wouldn't do to ban it entirely. Anonymous editing (and editing by registered users who, erm, forget to log in from time to time, not that anyone would do that ...) is a valuable part of the process. Trying to prevent it while still promoting anything like an open culture would be an exercise in frustration as vandals worked out ways of gaming the system anyway.

And thus the current formulation, part carrot -- register and you can create your own persona and reap other benefits -- and part stick -- misbehave and people may well be able to track you down. Oh look: all those nasty edits to the page on FooCorp are coming from BarCorp's IP addresses.

It also warns legitimate anonymous editors that they may not be as anonymous as they think. If you're blowing the whistle on FooCorp, do it from a cybercafe or public library, not from your office at FooCorp (well, you knew that anyway, didn't you).

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