A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy

An article by Clay Shirky about 'social software' (wikis, blogs, instant messaging, discussion boards, BBSs, all that stuff). The title really doesn't fit the content, and the article is really all over the place, but there's some interesting stuff.

The crux of it is Three Things You Have To Accept, which are:

  1. You cannot completely separate technical and social issues
  2. Members are different than users; a pattern will arise in which there is some group of users that cares more than average about the integrity and success of the group as a whole (we don't seem to have this here, but it does happen on older wikis)
  3. The core group has rights that trump individual rights in some situations

There are also Four Things You Have To Design For; it's interesting to see how wikis handle them.

  1. 'handles the user can invest in' - easy, we use our names; sometimes, we write without names, but we use them in situations where identity is important (that is to say, where reputation is important)
  2. 'a way for there to be members in good standing' - we handle that in the meatware level; there is no technical reflection of standing, only social (because there is no real technical reflection of identity)
  3. 'barriers to participation' - as it is written on <http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WhyWikiWorks>: "It's an intelligence test of sorts to be able to edit a wiki page. It's not rocket science, but it doesn't appeal to the VideoAddicts. If it doesn't appeal, they don't participate, which leaves the rest of us to get on with rational discourse."
  4. 'a way to spare the group from scale' - perhaps this is handled through the way wikis tend to bud off daughter wikis - when the chatter about society and politics got too much for Wards Wiki, it spun off Why Clublet, forming two separate wikis with usable levels of traffic

The anecdote about Communitree and the schoolboys is alarmingly reminiscent of the situation today with wikis and vandals; however, what Shirky doesn't ask is why wikis survive when Communitree didn't. It might be because wikis don't just give users the power to write, but to delete and edit. This is a power that is really, really novel; all social software prior to wiki was essentially write-only (well, read/write-only, but YKWIM - except usenet's alt, which really is write-only ;) ). People don't recognise what an important part of wiki this is.

WTF is a 'shared Flash object'?

The Library of Congress wikification story is cool! Awsoma powa!

The observation that hosting social software is more like being a landlord than a a warehouse manager is true, if not particularly insightful; it seems likely that everyone who has done any hosting has thought it. Tom Anderson certainly did.

Category Wiki (kinda)

Wed, 23 Jul 2003 23:55:50 GMT Front Page Recent Changes Message Of The Day