News from wiki-land: the free and pervasive consumer-generated Internet encyclopedia plans to ask expert contributors to prove their credentials. How exactly? Beats me.

Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales spoke via IM with The AP from Japan last night to confirm the plans, which were prompted by the revelations that a senior wiki board person, posing and posting as a professor of religion, is actually a college dropout. Wales wrote:

“We always prefer to give a positive incentive rather than absolute prohibition, so that people can contribute without a lot of hassle.”

Hey look: pseudonymous postings, professions and personalities are part and parcel of the social media phenomenon. Just think back to the nascent days of AOL chat rooms, then flash forward to Second Life. (We won’t even talk about all the gray goods on eBay or predators on MySpace.) I wonder if it’s human nature to deceive when shielded by the cloak of anonymity?

But back to Wikipedia. This citizen-created online global encyclopedia has some serious Google juice. A search query for almost any proper noun invariably produces a wikipedia listing on the first page of the Google’s organic search results rankings.

As such, the constitution and veracity of the world’s default encyclopedia has undergone its share of scrutiny. The history department of Middlebury College recently banned its use by students. Other academic institutions are sure to follow.

Since this is a PR blog, my beef has more to do with Wales’ contempt for the PR profession than anything else. Constantin raised this issue last summer after a German PR firm attempted to game the encyclopedia for one of its clients. Wales felt that being paid to influence Wikipedia content “is a serious serious no-no because of the obvious conflict-of-interest issues.”

To me, it makes no difference if you’re paid to post or not. If you have timely and accurate information that improves Wikipedia’s content, then you should be allowed to post. And guess what? More often than not, the PR department at a company with a presence in the online encyclopedia actually knows better than some motivated NGO or disgruntled customer.

On the other hand, I believe that this latest effort to prove one’s credentials is a positive step. The identity of the source often speaks louder than the submission itself.