Opensource communities have always had some form of moderation.
Sometimes they are called “the core“, sometimes they are referred to as “1000lb gorillas”, and sometimes they’re just called “moderators”. The term itself doesn’t matter, but the function represented by the term does matter.
Unless the term itself is wrong.
Like “gatekeeper”. [Yup, this was partially triggered by some of the Rogers/Searls/Finkelstein debate. But only partially. The true kernel for this post was a piece by FactoryJoe which I will come to later.]
Why do I think it’s wrong? Let me try to explain. To keep the argument simple I am going to compare “gatekeeper” with “moderator”. This is not some deep semantic exercise going into the etymology of each word; it is nothing more than my personal view on what the terms conjure up, and the contexts they tend to get used in.
- A gatekeeper checks your credentials before he lets you in, the default is access denial; a moderator assumes you are in unless some simple overarching community principle is broken by you, the default is access approval.
- A gatekeeper protects a narrow entry into an exclusive space; a moderator seeks to prevent an open space from being polluted.
- A gatekeeper provides the credentials he later checks; a moderator neither provides credentials nor checks them.
- A gatekeeper is a concept rooted in hierarchy; a moderator is a participant in a network, although sometimes moderators have supernode status within the network. In this context the moderator operates, in a Gladwellian sense, as part-maven, part-connector. And the connections tend to operate on a soft-touch-weak-interaction network-oriented basis rather than a Pyramid-Selling exploitative strong interaction which is hierarchical in nature.
- Moderators need the deep domain knowledge that mavens have, and the wide social networks that connectors have; gatekeepers need authority from on high within the hierarchy, like parking wardens and ticket inspectors have.
- Gatekeepers are about exclusion. Moderators are about inclusion.
- Gatekeepers can be automated; moderators can’t.
I could go on, but I won’t. What I wanted to do was get a worthwhile debate going, so that I can learn from it, and hope that the community learns as well. How will I know? Simple, the market/community will tell me. Many comments and links, the snowball works. None or few, the post will atrophy into nothingness. The market decides.
The essence of democratised innovation, be it opensource software or for that matter the blogosphere, is enfranchisement of all. Which is what a moderator seeks to do. The essence of what a gatekeeper does is enfranchisement of a few. Which is about as counter to opensource thinking as is humanly possible.
So when I read Chris Messina’s recent post on Building a Better Mousetrap, I was thinking “Oh dear, gatekeeping, path pollution” and not “Wow, enabling”. Maybe I’m wrong; I’d love to find out otherwise. Here are a few quotes from Chris’s post:
- The problem that I see is Googleâ€™s ability to shut out third party services once youâ€™ve imported yourself into the proverbial gLife.
- In simplest terms, with the state weâ€™re in with centralized authentication in web applications, itâ€™s like waiting for Microsoft and Apple to strike a deal enabling you to copy and paste from Appleworks to Word.
- To put it in greater perspective: Web2.0 should have been the â€œgreat wide openingâ€ â€” that is, where you could be in utter control of your data and move it in and out of services at your whim, just as you can with your money, in and out of banks depending on the quality and diversity of services they offer. And indeed, theyâ€™ve got to compete just to keep your business
Great post, Chris.
Ability to shut out. Centralised authentication. Rather than the “great wide opening”. In other words, gatekeeping rather than moderation.
This is why getting identity and authentication and permissioning right is critical for a functioning Web 2.0; this is why getting IPR and DRM right is critical for a functioning Web 2.0; this is why getting an internet that is neutral to what’s in the bits is critical for a functioning Web 2.0.
Otherwise what we will have is a Web 2.0 that is less than Web 1.0 ever was, and a pitiful shadow of what it could have been. That’s like building planes and then ensuring by law rather than by technology that they can’t fly. And that’s why I’m confused.
An aside on the “mathematics of opensource”, a rule of thumb that I’ve seen work:
For every 1000 visitors/lurkers you get around 80 active participants; of the 80 active participants you get maybe 20 hyperactives. These hyperactives often form the core, the 1000lb gorilla, the moderators.
And guess what? These moderators don’t get elected, blessed or knighted into place as a result of some grace and favour by a ruling monarch. They vote themselves in to that place by active (and valuable) participation. Participation that needed no prior authentication or credentials. Just their brains and their willingness to participate. Participation that generates value to the community.
I think this rule of thumb works for the blogosphere as well. I know many so-called A-listers, but nothing in their behaviour makes me think of gatekeeping. Open access. Nobody owns it Everyone can use it Anyone can improve it. That’s how these A-list people have behaved with me.
It is possible that some of the access I’ve had was bequeathed upon me as a result of my title or my status. I can’t discount that. But most of the time, in my experience, people don’t even ask me what I do, they use something that is more akin to a trusted domain approach. And perhaps, as a consequence, there is something that looks like gatekeeping to those who look for something like gatekeeping.
But it’s not gatekeeping.
Moderators connect. Gatekeepers channel. Connected, not channelled.