The curtain has dropped on the web's longest running farce. Or so it seems.
Back in December, we told you the tale of an epic online spat pitting the cult of Wikipedia against the quixotic CEO of Overstock.com. It had everything from conspiracy theories to tabloid UFOs. There was sockpuppeting, spyware, and a cover up of laughable proportions. There was even a SlimVirgin.
And now it's over. Last week, after years of bickering, Wikipedia finally banished the anonymous editor at the heart this bizarre kerfuffle. Mantanmoreland is no more.
Since early 2005, Overstock boss Patrick Byrne has waged an outrageously public battle against a Wall Street sleight-of-hand known as naked short selling - a trick that may or may not break the law. In February last year, Byrne actually slapped a suit on 12 New York brokerage firms, alleging a "massive, illegal stock market manipulation scheme." But that's just the back story for the Wikimadness to end all Wikimadness.
Byrne and his spyware-wielding henchman Judd Bagley accuse a well-known financial journalist named Gary Weiss of spending the past two-and-a-half years gaming the "encyclopedia anyone can edit," using certain pages as a convenient means of discrediting Byrne and his views on naked shorting. Somehow, Byrne and Bagley say, the Fortune.com columnist and one-time BusinessWeek reporter made all the right friends inside the Wikipedia elite.
During multiple phone conversations and email exchanges with The Reg, Weiss always denied these charges. In fact, he says he's never even edited Wikipedia. But Byrne and Bagley insist he's behind multiple Wikipedia accounts, including one called Mantanmoreland.
When Bagley attempted to out Mantanmoreland, accusing the account of sockpuppeting and conflict of interest, he was less than successful. Wikipedia promptly banned Bagley from editing entries on the site. Then it banned his entire Utah neighborhood. And all of Overstock.com. Sockpuppeting and conflict of interest are against the rules, but so is outing people. Yes, that's a paradox. But this is Wikiland.
Then, in the wake of our story, the Wikipedia elite seemed to lose a little eliteness. In April, after a mini-revolt from the rank-and-file, Mantanmoreland was barred from editing the articles in question - though he was free to edit elsewhere. He'd been caught editing those hot-bed articles from at least two different accounts, and the no-outing rule went by the wayside. Almost.
"There was significant evidence that tied these accounts to a real-life identity," says David Yellope, the longtime admin who led the Wikinvestigation. "When a well-known financial writer was in India for his wedding, two accounts in question started editing on India time."
Yes, there was an Wikinvestigation. And a Wikicourtcase. Like we said, Wikimadness. But Mantanmoreland lived on.
Then, last week, he was caught sockpuppeting again. And his sockpuppet was tinkering, once again, with the article on naked shorting. An uber-administrator known only as FT2 finally laid the account to rest.
But FT2 won't acknowledge the Wikimadness. The way he sees it, Wikipedia banned Bagley - and then it banned someone else. "Two people with some kind of battle going on off-site, decided to use Wikipedia as their battleground for their PR campaign," he told us. "Both get caught and dealt with. Life carries on. We deal with cases like this as routine."
Of course, Patrick Byrne sees things differently. To him, this is the end of a 30-month Wikiconspiracy. And this conspiracy, he says, is just the tip of the iceberg. You can read his whole sordid story here. Or listen to it here ®