This is a follow-up on something I posted a few weeks ago, with comments from Stu, Ian and TJ. The issue was about moderators becoming some sort of gatekeepers over time and the existence of some sort of continuum across which this happens.
While researching some of the control issues related to Wikipedia, I happened upon some very useful comments from Clay Shirky on all this; he was in turn responding to something Nicholas Carr had written on the “death” of Wikipedia; by following the Shirky link, you should also be able to see Carr’s original piece and his rejoinder to Shirky.
A few quotes from the Shirky piece:
- 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 â€” free riders, attempts to protect value by stifling competition, and so on. And distortions threaten openness.
- As a result, successful open systems create the very conditions that require [a response that threatens] openness. Systems that handle this pressure effectively continue (Slashdot comments.) Systems that canâ€™t or donâ€™t find ways to balance openness and closedness â€” to become semi-protected â€” 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 openness 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 doesnâ€™t entertain, but is implicit in his earlier work â€” this isnâ€™t happening because the Wikipedia model is a failure, it is happening because it is a success.
Shirky notes later on in the same piece that “the rise of governance models is a reaction to the success that creates incentives to vandalism and other forms of attack or distortion.“
In the context of the continuum put forward by Ian and TJ, I think this is an important statement, and one that bears further discussion and analysis.
We need to think of governance models as evolutionary responses rather than immune system responses. An evolutionary response adapts to changing external stimuli in order to preserve and extend existence. An immune system response seeks to annihilate the interloper. While both are defensive in nature, I believe the principles by which they operate are as far apart as is possible.
An evolutionary response is open and knows no taboos. An immune system response is closed and knows only taboos.
We need to ensure that as we move across this suggested continuum, we stay on an open-with-as-few-controls-as-are required approach, rather than a this-doesn’t-work-so-let’s-bury-it-in-six-feet-of-concrete approach. What I have seen so far is too often the latter, which is why I brought this up again.