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> Michel Bauwens : P2P Foundation, Wikipedia Governance: the power of admins
Newsfood
post Wed 6th February 2008, 2:49pm
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Michel Bauwens : P2P Foundation

Wikipedia Governance: the power of admins


"Continuing our inquiry into the dysfunctionalities of “peer governance”, we ask the question: Where is the power in Wikipedia? A large part is distibuted in the editor class of ‘admins’, and according to many, the process is not going well."
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Moulton
post Wed 6th February 2008, 3:40pm
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QUOTE(Excerpt)
Wikipedia is a quintessential post-apocalyptic warlord society. The warlords (admins) reign over subdomains of a generally anarchic space. They periodically fight each other (wheel wars), and participate in planned or ad hoc campaigns against each other. At the same time, they prevent the rise of additional opposition through exile (blocking) and assassination (banning), or cultivate acolytes and sycophants with privileges and rewards (tolerated rule-breaking, barnstars, admin status).

The warlords trade and jockey for status among themselves using a variety of mechanisms, including ritual combat — often with proxy fighters (ArbCom), denunciation (RFC), and whispering campaigns (IRC, off-wiki in general), and when one is weakened, they will ruthlessly turn on him/her.

This blog entry is worth reading.
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dogbiscuit
post Wed 6th February 2008, 4:11pm
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QUOTE(Moulton @ Wed 6th February 2008, 3:40pm) *

This blog entry is worth reading.


I also enjoyed reading Jon's debate in response to From Citizendium to Eduzendium
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Moulton
post Mon 1st December 2008, 1:34pm
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Banning the Wikipedia bans as a governance tool

Michel Bauwens
21st November 2008

This add-on to our comments field is worth upgrading to a full entry. It details another negative aspect of current Wikipedia governance: the practice of indiscriminate banning without due process.

QUOTE(Moulton @ November 12th, 2008 at 3:46 am)
The governance model of Wikipedia was so anachronistic that it took me over a year to place it in the timeline of historic governance models adopted at various times in the annals of human history.

The thing that stymied me was the prominence of blocking and banning as the primary tool of governance. I simply couldn’t place that among the recognized tools of governance in any historic context.

And then I happened to take a look at the oldest surviving account of secular law — the Code of Hammurabi of 1760 BC.

Of the 282 laws that Hammurabi of Mesopotamia carved into the stone tablets, take note of the very first one:
1. If any one ensnare another, putting a ban upon him, but he can not prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.
Evidently, banning (ostracism) was a common practice in the tribal cultures in the Middle East some 4000 years ago, at the dawn of civilization. Capricious and spurious banning was evidently such a common and egregious abuse of tribal overlords that Hammurabi made it a capital offense to ban someone without proving just cause.

And yet, on Wikipedia, indefinite blocks and bans without due process are a common occurrence. That is to say, the prevailing governance model of Wikipedia corresponds to a pre-Hammurabic tribal ochlocracy that is so anachronistic, it predates the advent of the Rule of Law.

When Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders drafted the US Constitution, one of the provisions they put in Article One was a prohibition against Bills of Attainder. A Bill of Attainder is the technical term in the law for declaring a person to be an outlaw (without respect to having violated any specific law that applies equally to everyone). The Founders excluded Bills of Attainder from the tools of governance because 4000 years of political history had demonstrated that such a toxic practice is corrosive and ridden with corruption, and invariably sinks any government that comes to rely on it.

The irony here is that Wikipedia purports to be the “sum of all knowledge” with an educational mission that reaches out to students, teachers, and scholars around the world. And yet those exercising power in Wikipedia have not yet learned the oldest and most profound lessons in the annals of human history — lessons enshrined in the first written law and in the first article of the US Constitution.

The consequence of adopting such an anachronistic governance model is that Wikipedians are fated to relive and reify the long-forgotten lessons of history. They relive those lessons by reprising the same kind of political dramas that fill the history books since the dawn of civilization.

The anachronistic governance model which Jimbo Wales foolishly and mindlessly introjected into Wikipedia is simply not a sustainable model in this day and age. Summary and capricious banning wasn’t even a sustainable model some 3768 years ago when Hammurabi first singled it out as an unacceptable practice in a civilized culture.

So what to do about it? The answer can be found in the second law of Hammurabi’s Code. As Hammurabi advises, the solution is to tell them to go jump in the lake.

Or as they say in Yiddish, Nem zich a vaneh!

This entry was posted on Friday, November 21st, 2008 at 4:08 am and is filed under P2P Governance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Banning the Wikipedia bans as a governance tool”

QUOTE(James says @ November 21st, 2008 at 12:40 pm)
It is quite ironic that being enmeshed inside peer based silicon enabled communication networks and culture, it’s as if were doing a complete re-run of political structural evolution in parallel with our existing structures.

QUOTE(Sepp Hasslberger says @ November 21st, 2008 at 4:16 pm)
Thanks for putting this on a separate page. The skewing of wiki editing towards certain established and entrenched views (and of course the practice of indiscriminate banning as a tool to enforce “editing discipline” or what passes for that really needs to be widely known and eventually overcome.

The usefulness of wikipedia as a repository of human knowledge suffers greatly from the current restriction to mainstream views only. There is more knowledge in the alternatives than in the entrenched views, so wikipedia gets to present less than half the available knowledge.

Whether something has been published elsewhere or is in accord with received wisdom should really not be a criterium for allowing publication. What’s wrong with a note saying that “this is not from published scientific sources”, somewhat akin to “this statement has not been evaluated by the FDA” which we sometimes find on food labels.

Banning is only the tip of the iceberg of a much more serious and potentially disastrous situation at wikipedia, which is the exclusion of new knowledge.

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Danny
post Wed 3rd December 2008, 4:36am
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This really is a fascinating post, and I agree with it whole-heartedly, even if some of the blame falls on my. I accept responsibility as part of the role I played back then.

What is especially interesting to me, however, is a step ahead of this. While the article describes what Wikipedia has become--I like to think of it in terms of the warlords of China before World War II, fighting among themselves--the real question is: Why did it become that? What was the basic flaw that allowed this to happen? Is the model flawed by its very nature, or were the wrong decisions made at certain junctures that led to this state of feuding fiefdoms each exerting its imaginary power? If it is the former, perhaps Wikipedia is completely irredeemable. If it is the latter, how might things have been done differently?
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Moulton
post Wed 3rd December 2008, 4:51am
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It's a good question, Danny. Perhaps Cla68 will weigh in on it, as he has some depth in the subject.

There is a cynical observation that what we learn from history is that we don't learn from history.

It's a supreme irony that Wikipedia, which purports to encompass the sum of all human knowledge, has not yet learned the oldest and most profound lessons in the annals of human history.

This is especially tragic in view of the WMF Mission, to reach out to students, teachers, and scholars around the world. What the devil is Wikipedia teaching the youth of the 21st Century?
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Kato
post Wed 3rd December 2008, 4:57am
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QUOTE(Danny @ Wed 3rd December 2008, 4:36am) *

This really is a fascinating post, and I agree with it whole-heartedly, even if some of the blame falls on my. I accept responsibility as part of the role I played back then.

What is especially interesting to me, however, is a step ahead of this. While the article describes what Wikipedia has become--I like to think of it in terms of the warlords of China before World War II, fighting among themselves--the real question is: Why did it become that? What was the basic flaw that allowed this to happen? Is the model flawed by its very nature, or were the wrong decisions made at certain junctures that led to this state of feuding fiefdoms each exerting its imaginary power? If it is the former, perhaps Wikipedia is completely irredeemable. If it is the latter, how might things have been done differently?

You'd know better than me, Danny, but I would guess that the problems started when insiders began to get as (or more) excited about the experiment of building a new form of "community" than creating a body of work for readers.

Presumably this stems from people steeped in the Usenet culture, or some US centered internet phenomenon that preceded Wikipedia. A whole naive, idealistic way of thinking that strove to be free of old ways of interaction, governance, management.

The content, the "body of work", has at times been extraordinary, and no one can question the sheer volume. I believe the downsides of even that content outweigh the good due to educational and privacy concerns, but that is another matter.

Meanwhile, the dream of a "new community", that excites so many insiders, died because as Moulton says, they ran before they could walk. They failed to initiate the kinds of checks and balances a working community needs. Leaving an increasingly barbaric, pre-historical mire of deepening divisions and feuds. The longer it goes on, and the longer individuals stay with the site, the worse it will get.
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Moulton
post Wed 3rd December 2008, 5:46pm
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It's hard to fathom how a project as ambitious as Wikipedia failed to craft a functional community governance model. Perhaps they were just oblivious of the concepts of community building that have emerged in both meatspace and cyberspace communities.

Other large projects (notably Debian Linux) successfully organized themselves around a Social Contract. Google also has a Social Contract with its own employees.

I had suggested on multiple occasions that WMF-sponsored projects would be well served by advancing to a Social Contract Governance Model.

But that would only make sense if that meant moving up no more than one incremental step in the Kohlberg-Gilligan Model.

What astonished me was that Wikipedia was operating at such a primitive level that it had not even embraced the most fundamental principles of the Rule of Law (e.g. Due Process, Equal Protection, Civil Rights, Evidence-Based Judgments, Duty of Care, etc).

I frankly don't see the core community of Wikipedia advancing through four millenia of bloody political history to arrive at an ethical governance structure suitable for the 21st Century.

What's especially disturbing is that Wikipedia is inculcating impressionable and naive youth into an anachronistic tribal warlord culture that was already going out of style some 3768 years ago.
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Pumpkin Muffins
post Wed 3rd December 2008, 6:16pm
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QUOTE(Moulton @ Wed 3rd December 2008, 9:46am) *

It's hard to fathom how a project as ambitious as Wikipedia failed to craft a functional community governance model...


Enormously wonderful goal which attracted a lot of good people; Enormously lazy asshole installed as god king.

This post has been edited by Pumpkin Muffins: Wed 3rd December 2008, 6:42pm
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Cedric
post Wed 3rd December 2008, 8:00pm
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QUOTE(Moulton @ Wed 3rd December 2008, 11:46am) *

It's hard to fathom how a project as ambitious as Wikipedia failed to craft a functional community governance model. Perhaps they were just oblivious of the concepts of community building that have emerged in both meatspace and cyberspace communities.

Not really that hard. Everything I have seen regarding the early history of Wikipedia is highly suggestive of WP being very much an improvisational project right from the start (as I suggested here). There seemed to be a "Neato! Now let's see what this button does!" kind of attitude in slapping the thing together. I tend to agree, however, that they were likely oblivious to basic community building principles. It is evident that those with a say in those early days learned very little or nothing at all from the flamewars of the Usenet, which had already passed into legend by 2001. WP's story thus serves as yet another cautionary tale of what can happen when you are unaware of, or simply ignore, the lessons of history.

QUOTE

What astonished me was that Wikipedia was operating at such a primitive level that it had not even embraced the most fundamental principles of the Rule of Law (e.g. Due Process, Equal Protection, Civil Rights, Evidence-Based Judgments, Duty of Care, etc).

I frankly don't see the core community of Wikipedia advancing through four millenia of bloody political history to arrive at an ethical governance structure suitable for the 21st Century.

What's especially disturbing is that Wikipedia is inculcating impressionable and naive youth into an anachronistic tribal warlord culture that was already going out of style some 3768 years ago.

Again, rather less surprising to me, once I had thought about it for a time. While I do strongly agree that WP has what amounts to a tribal, or feudal, warlord culture, that sort of culture has never entirely gone out of style, whether it be in Africa, or on any other continent. Time and time again, feudal-type societies have arisen in response to the collapse of an empire or other centralized state. This more primitive society may endure for a relatively short time, as in the case of the Warlord Era in 20th Century China; or for centuries, as in the case of Medieval Europe. I regret to say it, but like the pig, that other clever mammal, humans can revert very quickly to a more primitive set of behaviors and stratagems when presented with a radical change in their environment. For the pig, this means a return to the wild. For humans, it means the destruction of the political and social order in which they formerly lived.

I also strongly agree with the suggestion here that WP never devolved into a more primitive state of society in that it never had a sophisticated governance model to begin with. Merely engaging in rule-making does not generate a sophisticated governance model. Rules in themselves are largely meaningless unless they proceed from (dare I say it?) a social contract. So yes, WP's community (such as it is) does bear a strong resemblance to those societies that existed before the rise of the first nations and empires. But let us not delude ourselves; we are not so different from our ancestors of 10,000 years ago as we may prefer to think.

Image "Your diffs and your POVs-- they frighten and confuse me"
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Moulton
post Tue 27th January 2009, 1:15pm
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Bumping this item up...

It's been nearly a year since this thread picked up on the initial P2P Foundation post discussed above.

And it's been almost two months since the follow-on discussion received a booster shot.

Unlike the fast-breaking drama in the WikiSphere, scholarly reviews tend to lumber along at at pace slower than watching grass grow in winter.

Nonetheless, I can report that there are scholars around the world who, Wikipedia Review notwithstanding, do study these topics with professional academic rigor.

Some of them even keep their eye on these transient ripples even as these ephemeral threads echo off the measured studies of serious (if largely unseen) academics.
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emesee
post Sun 15th February 2009, 9:38pm
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"Where is the power in Wikipedia?"

In that it has enormous brand capital according to some.

In that it is basically a monopoly, at least in the realm of the Internet.

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