http://invisible-island.net/personal/
Copyright © 2013,2014 by Thomas E. Dickey


Background

As implied in my contact information, I prefer to not be anonymous. This is not to say that I prefer the opposite extreme. However:

Anonymous people have no reputation.

That is the essential point. What good, you might ask, is reputation? Shakespeare had his perspective on the matter (from Othello, Act 3, screen 3):

Good name in man or woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

This is relevant to reputation and plagiarism, both of interest to people who do creative work, whether in the arts or the sciences (or technology, if you make that distinction).

I could explore at length Shakespeare's point on "good name". But I introduced the quote to illustrate reputation. My interest in reputation is its role in establishing facts.

Consider your store of facts. Where did you get them? You got most of them from others. While you may have forgotten how you acquired them, there was a point at which you accepted them. There are various ways this happened:

There are probably additional refinements. But the list illustrates my impression that you do not acquire all of your facts by your own efforts. The last two items bear on reputation: you likely accepted the fact (temporarily or permanently) based on the source's reputation. After all, lacking a reputation for accuracy, there is no reason to uncritically believe statements from an anonymous source.

There are of course cases which we deal with where the ultimate source of information is not known. For instance government publications may not mention the author's name. But there is (presumed to be) a means of accounting for accuracy which does directly affect the original author through incentives such as pay, promotions, etc.

Utility

What advantages can anonymity offer to offset the absence of reputation? Here are a few possibilities:

That last item is interesting: people want reputation among their close associates which may conflict with reputation on a wider scope. The concerns they may have depend on what their actions are, of course.

Drawbacks

Anonymity is accompanied by drawbacks. An anonymous person can only provide limited information. I can only accept information from those people which I can verify.

In my projects I deal with some people who prefer to be anonymous. Largely those interactions are reporting a problem, perhaps with steps to reproduce it. Far less often are solutions for a problem. For instance as of September 2013:

In short, anonymous people are not solving problems, but only advising me of their existence.

Other viewpoints

Inevitably I will receive anonymous email about this page, citing for example this essay written in support of anonymity (a collaborative effort by anonymous people of course). Incidentally, while writing this I happened upon another work—ironically on reputation—written by anonymous people. It has several entries added by nonentities to promote themselves. You may enjoy reading the page and spotting the ringers. I have no further use for that, myself.