How wise are online communities?


Digg Comment

In JR Minkel’s post in Scientific American‘s blog, Most Hated Digg Comment Proves (Part of) Jaron Lanier’s Point about the Cracked Wisdom of Crowds, he discusses a recent incident on digg where a user’s comment was buried because it looked like spam. Read Chandler Kent’s post, What Happens When You Spam Digg? Updated 14x, for his experience of how horrendously digg users responded to his comment. Minkel goes on to relate this to the idea that online users increasingly believe that the collective is always wiser than the individual. Communities are now an essential part of the web, can they ever be more than just mobs?

Sites that rely on user generated content are now driving the Internet, such as Myspace, Facebook, Digg, and Wikipedia (as well as countless other wikis). Large online communities are here to stay, so how can they be useful and productive without becoming thoughtless mobs like on Digg? I believe that they behave in the same ways that any community in reality does. So the solution is the same: effective government.

Digg LogoIn small sites, the owner moderates the community, but as it grows, effective moderation quickly becomes impossible for one person. Community self moderation becomes the best alternative, but what is the best way for a community to moderate itself? Many questions need to have clear answers like “Who sets the rules?”, “Who enforces the rules?”, “How is a users say in the community determined?”, “By content generated?”, “By seniority?”, “By personal trust?”, “No say?”, “Maybe everyone have an equal say?”, “Or maybe a combination of factors?”. A site that doesn’t answer any of these question (i.e. most sites on the web) is an Anarchy. It mirrors Anarchies in reality, maybe it can work for small dedicated groups, but for a large group it will almost never work. In poor online anarchies instead of wars and crimes breaking out, there are flame wars and personal insulting.

One site with a very strong government is Wikipedia. There are countless pages on guidelines, standards, and rules. There is a small dedicated group of only 1000 admins, and the role is taken very seriously. This effective governing is how Wikipedia is able to function while anyone is able to edit a page.

Wikipedia LogoI see the Internet now as a great social experiment. Every online community has its own unique form of governing and the way the community behaves is a reflection of real life governing. I am eager to see what kinds of governments the Internet will produce and see which ones will be successful and which ones won’t. How far away are we from online governing becoming more important than real life governing, with people identifying themselves more with online communities than with countries and regions? Maybe in a decade or so people will stop saying “I am an American” or “I am a New Yorker” and say “I am a Wikipedian” or “I am a Digger”.

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