I just stumbled across this post from Kevin Kelly on the dangers of anonymity.
However in every system that I have seen where anonymity becomes common, the system fails. The recent taint in the honor of Wikipedia stems from the extreme ease which anonymous declarations can be put into a very visible public record. Communities infected with anonymity will either collapse, or shift the anonymous to pseudo-anonymous, as in eBay, where you have a traceable identity behind an invented nickname. Or voting, where you can authenticate an identity without tagging it to a vote.
Anonymity is like a rare earth metal. These elements are a necessary ingredient in keeping a cell alive, but the amount needed is a mere hard-to-measure trace. In larger does these heavy metals are some of the most toxic substances known to a life. They kill. Anonymity is the same. As a trace element in vanishingly small doses, it’s good for the system by enabling the occasional whistleblower, or persecuted fringe. But if anonymity is present in any significant quantity, it will poison the system.
There’s a dangerous idea circulating that the option of anonymity should always be at hand, and that it is a noble antidote to technologies of control. This is like pumping up the levels of heavy metals in your body into to make it stronger.
For the newspaper.com, it’s not enough just to confirm an e-mail address — identity is important. Even if you will not require (or try to) real identity, there should be a mechanism for enforcing some sort of identity, even if it’s persona-identity, but even then, it should be traceable to a real-world person.
Communities built around anonymity eventually lack cohesion.
I started down the Kevin Kelly path this morning because of this post on “Better than Free.” Kelly’s point is that in a world where free copies are abundant, economic value is derived from other factors. In context of this issue, a newspaper.com that makes trust/transparency, authenticity/authority part of its brand promise (which goes hand-in-hand with requiring identity from contributors), then it is building value — a competitive advantage into its online efforts.
More on Keven Kelly here. His personal site starts here.
Previously: Real identity helps foster healthy communities.