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May 25, 2006

News of Wikipedia's Death Greatly Exaggerated

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Nicholas Carr has an odd piece up, reacting to the ongoing question of Wikipedia governance as if it is the death of Wikipedia. In Carr’s view
Where once we had a commitment to open democracy, we now have a commitment to “making sure things are not excessively semi-protected.” Where once we had a commune, we now have a gated community, “policed” by “good editors.” So let’s pause and shed a tear for the old Wikipedia, the true Wikipedia. Rest in peace, dear child. You are now beyond the reach of vandals.
Now this is odd because Carr has in the past cast entirely appropriate aspersions on pure openess as a goal, noting, among other things, that “The open source model is not a democratic model. It is the combination of community and hierarchy that makes it work. Community without hierarchy means mediocrity.”

Carr was right earlier, and he is wrong now. Carr would like Wikipedia to have committed itself to openess at all costs, so that changes in the model are failure conditions. That isn’t the case however; Wikipedia is committed to effectiveness, and one of the things it has found to be effective is openess, but where openess fails to provide the necessary defenses on it’s own, they’ll make changes to remain effective. The changes in Wikipedia do not represent the death of Wikipedia but adaptation, and more importantly, adaptation in exactly the direction Carr suggests will work.

We’ve said it here before: Openness allows for innovation. Innovation creates value. Value creates incentive. If that were all there was, it would be a virtuous circle, because the incentive would be to create more value. But incentive is value-neutral, so it also creates distortions — free riders, attempts to protect value by stifling competition, and so on. And distortions threaten openess.

As a result, successful open systems create the very conditions that require a threaten openess. Systems that handle this pressure effectively continue (Slashdot comments.) Systems that can’t or don’t find ways to balance openess and closedness — to become semi-protected — fail (Usenet.)

A huge number of our current systems are hanging in the balance, because the more valuable a system, the greater the incentive for free-riding. Our largest and most spontaneous sources of conversation and collaboration are busily being retrofit with filters and logins and distributed ID systems, in an attempt to save some of what is good about openess while defending against Wiki spam, email spam, comment spam, splogs, and other attempts at free-riding. Wikipedia falls into that category.

And this is the possibility that Carr doesn’t entertain, but is implicit in his earlier work — this isn’t happening because the Wikipedia model is a failure, it is happening because it is a success. Carr attempts to deflect this line of thought by using a lot of scare quotes around words like vandal, as if there were no distinction between contribution and vandalism, but this line of reasoning runs aground on the evidence of Wikipedia’s increasing utility. If no one cared about Wikipedia, semi-protection would be pointless, but with Wikipedia being used as reference material in the Economist and the NY Times, the incentive for distortion is huge, and behavior that can be sensibly described as vandalism, outside scare quotes, is obvious to anyone watching Wikipedia. The rise of governance models is a reaction to the success that creates incentives to vandalism and other forms of attack or distortion.

We’ve also noted before that governance is a certified Hard Problem. At the extremes, co-creation, openess, and scale are incompatible. Wikipedia’s principle advantage over other methods of putting together a body of knowledge is openess, and from the outside, it looks like Wikipedia’s guiding principle is “Be as open as you can be; close down only where there is evidence that openess causes more harm than good; when this happens, reduce openess in the smallest increment possible, and see if that fixes the problem.”

People who build or manage large-scale social software form the experimental wing of political philosophy — in the same way that the US Constitution is harder to change than local parking regulations, Wikipedia is moving towards a system where evidence of abuse generates anti-bodies, and those anti-bodies vary in form and rigidity depending on the nature and site of the threat. By responding to the threats caused by its growth, Wikipedia is moving the hierachy+community model that Carr favored earlier. His current stance — that this change is killing the model of pure openess he loved — is simply crocodile tears.

Comments (21) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software


COMMENTS

1. Judson on May 25, 2006 1:59 PM writes...

Also of note, there are currently 176 semi-protected pages out of about 4.3 million total pages. The semi-protection system was, in fact, a way to become more open as well, since articles like George W. Bush used to be completely protected (only admins). That was seen as too restrictive though, so in comes semi-protection. Unfortunately a lot of media just hears "new protection policy" and can't grasp that it might be less restrictive than the old policy and you end up with people like Carr writing these essays.

I don't disagree with you at all though, there will always be a balance between pure openness and some moderation if you want quality. I think people are starting to realize that balance can be way closer to pure openness than previously thought though.

Permalink to Comment

2. Bob Aman on May 25, 2006 2:45 PM writes...

Clay, I assumed that Nick meant mostly the same thing you did here, since, if you scroll all the way down and read through all the comments on that entry, you can see that he's not exactly saying what you think he's saying.

Further down in the comments, Nick said:

Now, you may say, "But having more formal editorial structures, and putting restrictions on our 'anybody can edit' promise, and redlining certain articles, and drawing distinctions between "good editors" and everyone else, and establishing mechanisms that allow content to be 'policed' more effectively, will allow us to create a better product." To which I would reply: Exactly so. And if through my post and your comments, we've made that a little clearer, then I have fulfilled my goal.

Nick's point appears to simply be that those who think that Wikipedia is this idealized, purely-democratic, shining-city-on-a-hill don't really know what they're talking about. I.E., he's saying in his terribly roundabout way, that, shock, government is a hard problem. Regretably, he phrased it in his typical sensationalistic trolling style, and managed to get the entirety of the Internet disagreeing with him in the process.

That said, the confusion over the whole thing is due entirely to Nick's obnoxious desire to make mountains out of every single last molehill.

Permalink to Comment

3. Joosee on May 25, 2006 5:10 PM writes...

see http://www.wikipediareview.com

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4. mac on May 25, 2006 5:31 PM writes...

Do you have a reference or a definition for how Usenet has "failed?" Usenet has 20TB daily volume. (Of course, a lot of that is pr0n, and some is spam, but it's still growing. With thousands of groups, some of them must be doing well.

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5. Nick Carr on May 25, 2006 9:39 PM writes...

Clay,

Great post, and I largely agree. The ideal of openness is in conflict with the reality of utility, and it's important that we see that without the sentimentality that so often afflicts and distorts discussions of Wikipedia and other "Web 2.0" stuff. I talk about this further, and with a bit less irony, in a followup post.

That said, it remains to be seen whether Wikipedia's evolving governance model is really as benign as you portray it. Power corrupts, even in volunteer collectives, and it's clear that the definition of "vandalism" can be stretched pretty far.

Bob Aman: One man's terribly roundabout way is another man's refreshing morning stroll.

Cheers,
Nick

Permalink to Comment

6. Ta bu shi da yu on May 26, 2006 3:54 AM writes...

I believe that a previous poster, Bob Aman, hits the nail on the head, whereas The Guardians Charles Arthur doesn't seem to have grasped this concept.

Part of the problem, however, is that Carr has not been entirely clear about what he was trying to say. As far as I can see, Carr says that Wikipedia is dead, in that he believes that Wikipedia was always able to allow anyone to edit articles. In this Carr has entirely missed the point of the site, and has totally misinterpreted the slogan "The Encyclopedia that anyone can edit". Carr seems to believe that the project has failed (it has "died") if it allows the semi-protection of articles.

This has now left Carr in the somewhat unenviable position of appearing to contradict himself. In his previous editorials, he has commented that pure openness can never work and that unless Wikipedia and other sites modify the way they do things then they will not stand the test of time. Now that Wikipedia has modified the way we do things (and, as I argue below, the way that we do things hasn't changed that much at all!) Carr believes that the project is "dead", something very far from the truth.

Indeed, Wikipedia is still something anyone can edit. I can still edit many thousands of articles on the site: not every article is protected (actually, to be totally correct: I can actually edit any article anyway, because I'm an admin, but I don't and I won't because it's rightly frowned upon by other admins and community members). At various times, there have always been certain articles that nobody was able to edit because they were locked down. The concept of protecting pages itself has never been controversial, though it is a given that there have been times when the fact that an article was protected was. I never heard Nicholas Carr describe Wikipedia as a "dead" project due to this temporary lack of openness during the period when only straight protection could be applied to articles.

I very much feel that Carr has missed the point of Wikipedia. I argue that the point of Wikipedia was never really that it could be edited by anyone: that is really just a means to an end. That allowing anyone to edit articles (albeit with restrictions and by only allowing edits that conform to site policies) is the best way of creating content is a happy side effect of the open Wiki model. The purpose of Wikipedia is not to be open, the purpose of Wikipedia is to be an encyclopedia and to be as good or better than existing references works.

Clay's point about the semi-protection mechanism of Wikipedia actually making things a lot more open is also spot on the money. I have rarely heard the philosophy of allow openness in a sensible fashion more eloquently stated than Clay's description:

"Be as open as you can be; close down only where there is evidence that openess causes more harm than good; when this happens, reduce openess in the smallest increment possible, and see if that fixes the problem."

Permalink to Comment

7. scalefree on May 28, 2006 10:11 PM writes...

Carr got very close but missed the mark by just a little bit. The source of Wikipedia's problem isn't that it has heirarchy, it's the nature of the heirarchy that's the problem. Absolute authority is vested in Jimmy Wales, who promotes others & parcels out pieces of his power to them as he sees fit. It's your typical, traditional top-down heirarchy. Power isn't derived from the community & Jimmy & his proxies ultimately aren't answerable to anybody but themselves. This creates a disconnect between the (external) users & (internal) staff, which over time has become more pronounced as more users realize their inability to effect change within the system except by currying favor with Jimmy in order to be promoted into the privileged community. What it really resembles most closely is a monarchy.

The solution is to invert the source of authority, to disperse it to the community as a whole & hold some form of election for the various authority roles. I have no idea what form that election should take & obviously it introduces a whole new set of dynamics & problems of its own that'll have to be worked out, but ultimately it's the answer to Wikipedia's problems.

Bottom-up, not top-down. Self-organized, not monarchial.

Permalink to Comment

8. Blissex on May 29, 2006 2:08 PM writes...

«Carr would like Wikipedia to have committed itself to openess at all costs, so that changes in the model are failure conditions. That isn’t the case however; Wikipedia is committed to effectiveness, and one of the things it has found to be effective is openess, but where openess fails to provide the necessary defenses on it’s own, they’ll make changes to remain effective.»

Ahhhh but there is an essential detail that is being missed: Wikipedia in the beginning was entirely closed, and that was not effective, so they went entirely open.

Jimmy Wales declamed a lot on the virtues of a completely open model (for it was «committed itself to openess at all costs») with community provided editing.

Now this has not worked either. No surprise, but it is yet another radical change, and one cannot regard it as trivial, especially given the previous declamations.

What the current working of the Wikipedia is neither total editorial control by its owners, nor total editorial control by the community, but mostly by the community for most topics with complete control by the owners for the most important topics.

Permalink to Comment

9. Joel on June 3, 2006 9:57 AM writes...

"The purpose of Wikipedia is not to be open, the purpose of Wikipedia is to be an encyclopedia and to be as good or better than existing references works."

Right on here. In my experience I have primarily used wiki for general study purposes only, but by no means is it "the final word" when it comes to research.

My take: If you let remain open you inevitably dilute content. I would much rather rely on wikipedia for its consistency of content rather than its diversity of content.

Permalink to Comment

10. c3o on June 7, 2006 5:49 AM writes...

But scalefree, the process already IS an election...

Permalink to Comment

11. Dr V P Kochikar on June 7, 2006 6:18 AM writes...

Yet Another Premature and Obnoxious Obituary!

The suggestion that Wikipedia is dead / dying has, predictably enough, been widely and vociferously pilloried.

Proclamations of the death of Wikipedia, if any, must be done based on establishing that it no longer serves the purpose of providing a reliable reference source, or at least that it has abandoned the spirit of what constitutes a 'wiki'.

Proclaiming its death based on a change in the administrative procedure that makes it somewhat less 'open' is, apart from being unnecessarily alarmist, completely unjustified, given that it continues to be as reliable as ever, and continues to be a wiki in spirit. For a more detailed opinion see http://webquarters.blogspot.com/2006/06/yapoo-yet-another-premature-and.html.

Permalink to Comment

12. Dr V P Kochikar on June 7, 2006 6:19 AM writes...

Yet Another Premature and Obnoxious Obituary!

The suggestion that Wikipedia is dead / dying has, predictably enough, been widely and vociferously pilloried.

Proclamations of the death of Wikipedia, if any, must be done based on establishing that it no longer serves the purpose of providing a reliable reference source, or at least that it has abandoned the spirit of what constitutes a 'wiki'.

Proclaiming its death based on a change in the administrative procedure that makes it somewhat less 'open' is, apart from being unnecessarily alarmist, completely unjustified, given that it continues to be as reliable as ever, and continues to be a wiki in spirit. For a more detailed opinion see http://webquarters.blogspot.com/2006/06/yapoo-yet-another-premature-and.html.

Permalink to Comment

13. Anonymous on June 20, 2006 2:14 PM writes...

Quote:

"We’ve said it here before: Openness allows for innovation. Innovation creates value. Value creates incentive. If that were all there was, it would be a virtuous circle, because the incentive would be to create more value. But incentive is value-neutral, so it also creates distortions — free riders, attempts to protect value by stifling competition, and so on. And distortions threaten openess."

James Boyle has some quite interesting comments aobut monopolies. Once you have a monopoly, you have to try to make that monopoly somehow cost efficient. So that students can afford student versions of software etc. The only way, you can create different prices, for different groups, with a monopoly product, is by knowing everything there is to know about your customer. It is a kind of big brother world, which Boyle illuminates very well.

He spoke at the CODE conference.

http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/aboutus/project_detail.php?sid=6&id=38&page=2

Brian O' Hanlon.

Quote from Boyle:

"We all meet this even though we may not be thinking about them in terms of monopolies. You're flying on an airplane. The airline company is going to fly an airplane from London to New York, it's going to have a hundred seats say. There are 30 people who would pay a $1000 because they've got to be there, okay. Now supposing the airline company has to pay the same price to everyone to charge the same price. Now all of us are far too cheap to pay a $1000 but we might pay $200 or $300 or $400 depending on our resources, our ability to pay and our willingness to pay....."

Permalink to Comment

14. ben jolliffe on June 21, 2006 11:56 AM writes...

Ta bu shi da yu says

"Be as open as you can be; close down only where there is evidence that openess causes more harm than good; when this happens, reduce openess in the smallest increment possible, and see if that fixes the problem."

it is indeed a good description of the requisite balance. And uncannily similar to how we happily lie to each other to maintain harmony until the benefits of inaction are outweighed by the suffering involved.

If a friend stinks, you might not tell them immediately - depending on the relationship -but if it continues you might, er, suggest, maybe something and then become More AND More VOCAL ABOUT IT UNTIL the necessary action is taken to remedy the situation.


Open open open close a little open up again

Permalink to Comment

15. Ian Thorpe on July 15, 2006 12:17 PM writes...

The concept of openess is the thing that makes the web 99.9% idiocy. People are never going to post quality content if it is only going to be ruined by morons. I am never going to post an article to a site that says "feel free to edit this item so it reads the way you think the author should have written it." Anything that carries my name stays how I intended it.

Wikipedia in its original form shows the naivete of web heads. I recommend they read Machiavelli (not my political blog but the fifteenth century Italian writer) because old Nikki would have seen right through what was going to happen on Wikipedia. Its just human nature at work.

The question of Wikipedia governance is really the question of web governance. There are a vast number of informative, well written and meticulously researched articles online there, but what I noticed a while ago, before I stopped looking, was that anything remotely controversial, anything that strays outside the boundaries of convention is quickly tarfeted by spoilers. These spoiling tactics have been used effectively at sites where people can post their poetry and stories, in discussion forums, in fact anywhere people dare to challenge convention. Lets stop fooling ourselves about the web, it is not a ninth dimension that exists outside time and space. It is part of human society. SAME RULES APPLY as when you are drinking in a bar, using the local library or in any area of human activity. Wikipedia has to change or become another victim of that unrepresentative element that thinks the anonymity offered by the web excuses them from any need to show courtesy and consideration to people who do not share their point of view.
So the changes at Wiki will in my view be good and will ensure its survival by relieving the moderators of the need to trawl through swamps of dross every day. If you have to identify yourself are you really going to act like a moron?

Permalink to Comment

16. webwhiz on August 24, 2006 10:35 PM writes...

Well, considering that the Wiki content is provided by a large colloboration of users from across the world who have the power to edit, change and even abuse the content. Can we honestly say that wikipedia is without flaw an accurate source of information for scholors and learners everywhere. Infact, many people are even mislead to beleive that the content is all verified and just. Isn't it time we bring light to the misconception out there and hold wikipedia accountable for the accuracy of the content provided?

Please feel free to read my article for further analysis of this revolutionary information portal: http://www.askdrweb.com/2006/08/14/wikipedia-%e2%80%93-is-it-a-trustable-source-for-accurate-content/

Permalink to Comment

17. Enlightenment on November 30, 2006 5:38 PM writes...

Wikipedia would be better if they used the scientific method instead of telling people what they want to hear. For example in their entry regarding 9/11. Let’s take a few moments and look at some of the details of that horrible event that precipitated the "war on terror" and around which America’s foreign policy has been inextricably wrapped ever since.

One thing that struck me as odd in the days after 9/11 was Bush saying "We will not tolerate conspiracy theories [regarding 9/11]". Sure enough there have been some wacky conspiracy theories surrounding the events of that day. The most far-fetched and patently ridiculous one that I've ever heard goes like this: Nineteen hijackers who claimed to be devout Muslims but yet were so un-Muslim as to be getting drunk all the time, doing cocaine and frequenting strip clubs decided to hijack four airliners and fly them into buildings in the northeastern U.S., the area of the country that is the most thick with fighter bases. After leaving a Koran on a barstool at a strip bar after getting shitfaced drunk on the night before, then writing a suicide note/inspirational letter that sounded like it was written by someone with next to no knowledge of Islam, they went to bed and got up the next morning hung over and carried out their devious plan. Nevermind the fact that of the four "pilots" among them there was not a one that could handle a Cessna or a Piper Cub let alone fly a jumbo jet, and the one assigned the most difficult task of all, Hani Hanjour, was so laughably incompetent that he was the worst fake "pilot" of the bunch, with someone who was there when he was attempting to fly a small airplane saying that Hanjour was so clumsy that he was unsure if he had driven a car before. Nevermind the fact that they received very rudimentary flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, making them more likely to have been C.I.A. assets than Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. So on to the airports after Mohammed Atta supposedly leaves two rental cars at two impossibly far-removed locations. So they hijack all four airliners and at this time passengers on United 93 start making a bunch of cell phone calls from 35,000 feet in the air to tell people what was going on. Nevermind the fact that cell phones wouldn't work very well above 4,000 feet, and wouldn't work at ALL above 8,000 feet. But the conspiracy theorists won't let that fact get in the way of a good fantasy. That is one of the little things you "aren't supposed to think about". Nevermind that one of the callers called his mom and said his first and last name ("Hi mom, this is Mark Bingham"), more like he was reading from a list than calling his own mom. Anyway, when these airliners each deviated from their flight plan and didn't respond to ground control, NORAD would any other time have followed standard operating procedure (and did NOT have to be told by F.A.A. that there were hijackings because they were watching the same events unfold on their own radar) which means fighter jets would be scrambled from the nearest base where they were available on standby within a few minutes, just like every other time when airliners stray off course. But of course on 9/11 this didn't happen, not even close. Somehow these "hijackers" must have used magical powers to cause NORAD to stand down, as ridiculous as this sounds because total inaction from the most high-tech and professional Air Force in the world would be necessary to carry out their tasks. So on the most important day in its history the Air Force was totally worthless. Then they had to make one of the airliners look like a smaller plane, because unknown to them the Naudet brothers had a videocamera to capture the only known footage of the North Tower crash, and this footage shows something that is not at all like a jumbo jet, but didn't have to bother with the South Tower jet disguising itself because that was the one we were "supposed to see". Anyway, as for the Pentagon they had to have Hani Hanjour fly his airliner like it was a fighter plane, making a high G-force corkscrew turn that no real airliner can do, in making its descent to strike the Pentagon. But these "hijackers" wanted to make sure Rumsfeld survived so they went out of their way to hit the farthest point in the building from where Rumsfeld and the top brass are located. And this worked out rather well for the military personnel in the Pentagon, since the side that was hit was the part that was under renovation at the time with few military personnel present compared to construction workers. Still more fortuitous for the Pentagon, the side that was hit had just before 9/11 been structurally reinforced to prevent a large fire there from spreading elsewhere in the building. Awful nice of them to pick that part to hit, huh? Then the airliner vaporized itself into nothing but tiny unidentifiable pieces most no bigger than a fist, unlike the crash of a real airliner when you will be able to see at least some identifiable parts, like crumpled wings, broken tail section etc. Why, Hani Hanjour the terrible pilot flew that airliner so good that even though he hit the Pentagon on the ground floor the engines didn't even drag the ground!! Imagine that!! Though the airliner vaporized itself on impact it only made a tiny 16 foot hole in the building. Amazing. Meanwhile, though the planes hitting the Twin Towers caused fires small enough for the firefighters to be heard on their radios saying "We just need 2 hoses and we can knock this fire down" attesting to the small size of it, somehow they must have used magical powers from beyond the grave to make this morph into a raging inferno capable of making the steel on all forty-seven main support columns (not to mention the over 100 smaller support columns) soften and buckle, then all fail at once. Hmmm. Then still more magic was used to make the building totally defy physics as well as common sense in having the uppermost floors pass through the remainder of the building as quickly, meaning as effortlessly, as falling through air, a feat that without magic could only be done with explosives. Then exactly 30 minutes later the North Tower collapses in precisely the same freefall physics-defying manner. Incredible. Not to mention the fact that both collapsed at a uniform rate too, not slowing down, which also defies physics because as the uppermost floors crash into and through each successive floor beneath them they would shed more and more energy each time, thus slowing itself down. Common sense tells you this is not possible without either the hijackers' magical powers or explosives. To emphasize their telekinetic prowess, later in the day they made a third building, WTC # 7, collapse also at freefall rate though no plane or any major debris hit it. Amazing guys these magical hijackers. But we know it had to be "Muslim hijackers" the conspiracy theorist will tell you because (now don't laugh) one of their passports was "found" a couple days later near Ground Zero, miraculously "surviving" the fire that we were told incinerated planes, passengers and black boxes, and also "survived" the collapse of the building it was in. When common sense tells you if that were true then they should start making buildings and airliners out of heavy paper and plastic so as to be "indestructable" like that magic passport. The hijackers even used their magical powers to bring at least seven of their number back to life, to appear at american embassies outraged at being blamed for 9/11!! BBC reported on that and it is still online. Nevertheless, they also used magical powers to make the american government look like it was covering something up in the aftermath of this, what with the hasty removal of the steel debris and having it driven to ports in trucks with GPS locators on them, to be shipped overseas to China and India to be melted down. When common sense again tells you that this is paradoxical in that if the steel was so unimportant that they didn't bother saving some for analysis but so important as to require GPS locators on the trucks with one driver losing his job because he stopped to get lunch. Hmmmm. Further making themselves look guilty, the Bush administration steadfastly refused for over a year to allow a commission to investigate 9/11 to even be formed, only agreeing to it on the conditions that they get to dictate its scope, meaning it was based on the false pretense of the "official story" being true with no other alternatives allowed to be considered, handpicked all its members making sure the ones picked had vested interests in the truth remaining buried, and with Bush and Cheney only "testifying" together, only for an hour, behind closed doors, with their attorneys present and with their "testimonies" not being recorded by tape or even written down in notes. Yes, this whole story smacks of the utmost idiocy and fantastic far-fetched lying, but it is amazingly enough what some people believe. Even now, five years later, the provably false fairy tale of the "nineteen hijackers" is heard repeated again and again, and is accepted without question by so many Americans. Which is itself a testament to the innate psychological cowardice of the American sheeple, i mean people, and their abject willingness to believe something, ANYTHING, no matter how ridiculous in order to avoid facing a scary uncomfortable truth. Time to wake up America.

Permalink to Comment

18. George W. Bush on February 23, 2007 6:36 PM writes...

I support lifelong learning. I support Wikipedia. I use it myself. I'm the president of the United States and believe in the nucular family.

Permalink to Comment

19. Martijn Kriens on June 7, 2007 9:35 AM writes...

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

But does this not like a lot like real (physical) life. The Romans already understood this: "who will guard the guards".

We already have a history in mechanisms for this for more than 3000 years since the forum in Athens and it is called democracy (OK, there where times when it did not work...).

In a democracy we elect people to rule our country. We elect people to make the laws and to enforce the laws. We appoint people that judge others within the context of that law. Reality is a big social network. And you know, when we are not satisfied with the ones that rule we send them away during election time.

The mechanisms in social software should not be that different from our democratic rules: we elect people in whom we trust that they will govern rightly. Some rules will be hard to change (the constitution) and others will be easy to change (parking fines), depending on how important they are for the foundation of the community. And regularly we will have the opportunity vote or run for administrator ourselves.

In order to make this work we should not just look at Machiavelli but also to Montesquieu who wrote about how to design the checks and balances to prevent the Machiavellian Kings.

Permalink to Comment

20. Martijn Kriens on June 7, 2007 9:37 AM writes...

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

But does this not like a lot like real (physical) life. The Romans already understood this: "who will guard the guards".

We already have a history in mechanisms for this for more than 3000 years since the forum in Athens and it is called democracy (OK, there where times when it did not work...).

In a democracy we elect people to rule our country. We elect people to make the laws and to enforce the laws. We appoint people that judge others within the context of that law. Reality is a big social network. And you know, when we are not satisfied with the ones that rule we send them away during election time.

The mechanisms in social software should not be that different from our democratic rules: we elect people in whom we trust that they will govern rightly. Some rules will be hard to change (the constitution) and others will be easy to change (parking fines), depending on how important they are for the foundation of the community. And regularly we will have the opportunity vote or run for administrator ourselves.

In order to make this work we should not just look at Machiavelli but also to Montesquieu who wrote about how to design the checks and balances to prevent the Machiavellian Kings.

Permalink to Comment

21. Martijn Kriens on June 7, 2007 9:39 AM writes...

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

But does this not like a lot like real (physical) life. The Romans already understood this: "who will guard the guards".

We already have a history in mechanisms for this for more than 3000 years since the forum in Athens and it is called democracy (OK, there where times when it did not work...).

In a democracy we elect people to rule our country. We elect people to make the laws and to enforce the laws. We appoint people that judge others within the context of that law. Reality is a big social network. And you know, when we are not satisfied with the ones that rule we send them away during election time.

The mechanisms in social software should not be that different from our democratic rules: we elect people in whom we trust that they will govern rightly. Some rules will be hard to change (the constitution) and others will be easy to change (parking fines), depending on how important they are for the foundation of the community. And regularly we will have the opportunity vote or run for administrator ourselves.

In order to make this work we should not just look at Machiavelli but also to Montesquieu who wrote about how to design the checks and balances to prevent the Machiavellian Kings.

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