Wiki - open to all that &quot;fit in with the community
Date: March 11, 2004 11:07AM
New open-source web sites intended to create documents for various purposes are promoting group management styles ostensibly governed by consensus. But sometimes the open-source communities are governed by intimidation, ridicule and high-pressure group coercion.
The original "wiki" was Wikipedia, at en.wikipedia.org . Scores of others have emerged around the world. The 16gb wikipedia database located in Florida is accessed by hundreds of writers who create as many as 2,000 new articles each day.
To achieve consensus, the groups often pressure non-consenting members to comply with group wishes. The pressure typically comes from old-time group members, especially those granted "sysop" tools, who dictate the direction of arguments by locking articles against editing and banishing users from contributing to the ostensibly open site. Writers who challenge content are often dismissed as "vandals" or "trolls", and an organized “IP Death Squad” stalks their user habits.
Cultural behaviors promoted within large open source writing "communities" may serve a covert, destructive purpose. In their very structure, open source encyclopedias confer authority on an arbitrary group. There is no authority cited to support the vast majority of documents in an open source encyclopedia. Readers are encouraged to accept the information on the assumption that an anonymous group with an undefined form of governance is a reliable authority. While claiming to write an encyclopedia, the groups encourage faith in group authority.
The more psychologically damaging element of the community might be the way the collectivity hedges on the invitation to contribute. On the top of the main page, an invitation states "anyone, including you, can edit an article now." Only after extensively exploring the site would one be likely to learn that the privilege of editing is contingent on the requirement that writers "fit in" with the "community at large".
What does it mean to fit in with the community at large? It depends on who is in the community. Things seem nice enough, new users are sometimes greeted with messages on personal user pages, but the messages are sometimes the first step in a group selection process. Some new writers are heartily encouraged, some are greeted with terse messages, and some are warned that if they don't get along they will be booted.
It would seem appropriate that any community must regulate behavior within its ranks. But in this community, there is no standard set against which to measure behavior. Conflicting FAQs encourage compliance with various conventions, or outright disregard for rules. The right choice ultimately comes down to an "arbitration committee" appointed in an Internet-based voting process where the balloting can easily be dominated by power users who create multiple accounts.
Hazing of new members is common. In many cases, users with poor skills in grammar, poor knowledge of a subject and a poor understanding of their point of view in perspective with other points of view are encouraged to edit articles, then aggressively hazed by regulars and power users who monitor all new user activity.
A large cadre of "administrators" and power users who visit hundreds of pages daily make small systematic interventions, or systematically label, harass and ban those they identify as "problem users." The cadre prohibits much talk critical of the project, prohibits some new members from leaving posts on discussion pages, arbitrarily changes edits by users identified as "problem users" and disparages various users in carefully crafted campaigns that attempt to recruit other users to review collections of allegations intended to prove a user is a “problem user”. Postings critical of the project sometimes are deleted not only from pages, but from page histories.
Internet community security based on the identification of "problem users" is flawed by a fatal fundamental attribution error. Loud disparagement of problem users serves to avoid problem solving based on identification and prevention of "problem practices".
The system assumes there will be "edit wars", assumes "edit wars" occur not because individuals with disagreements were invited to simultaneously write the same article, but because one party in a contested exchange of rewritten versions is a "problem user". The site maintains a regular, ongoing listing of problem users, edit wars, conflicts and nominations for disciplinary action. The lists allow power users to easily browse the conflicts and enforce values of the "group at large." The format attracts power users who spend several hours daily policing the behavior of new contributors.
The lessons to be learned from this encyclopedia are to trust information from unknown sources and to comply with the wishes of the more aggressive members of a group.
Wikipedia claims its name is not related to the Wiccan religion. Members were recently asked to carry press releases to their local news media to recruit new members for the "community."