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I'm shocked, shocked to hear about the secret Wikipedia cabal

A buddy asked me what I thought of the "secret wikipedia mailing list" brouhaha:

From the Register:

Controversy has erupted among the encyclopedia's core contributors, after a rogue editor revealed that the site's top administrators are using a secret insider mailing list to crackdown on perceived threats to their power.

Many suspected that such a list was in use, as the Wikipedia "ruling clique" grew increasingly concerned with banning editors for the most petty of reasons. But now that the list's existence is confirmed, the rank and file are on the verge of revolt.

He wondered if this was unique to Wikipedia, or if we'd seen this sort of thing at dmoz or topix.

The fact is that there is no way to prevent players in a social game from colluding to increase their effectiveness.

If players can coordinate their actions to get more power, they will. People are social creatures and form cliques, groups, tribes, and like to hierachically organize themselves. This consistently happens if you have any kind of extra priviledge for the senior folks -- e.g. editall or meta capability in the Open Directory. But it happens even in purely discourse-mediated systems, where parties will collude to promote / denouce agreed-upon subjects.

Sometimes what happens can feel like a virtual re-creation of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

What I pointed out to my buddy, however, was that you need to be careful before you try to architect or legislate this out of your system. Game designers know there is a careful balance between keeping long-running multiplayer systems inviting to new folks while letting experienced players continue to progress in status and power. The power is one of the main rewards in a social system. And it's going to your most loyal and productive game addicts.

The 80/20 rule is vastly over-used, but we found that it did apply in dmoz. A small group of editors did most of the work. If you remove the rewards for the power-users, to make the playing field more "democratic", you may be pissing off your best users.

Other takes from Matthew Ingram, Mashable, others.

Comments (2)

William Riker's book "The Theory of Political Coalitions" is one of the foundational texts of game theory, and interesting reading on this topic.

There's an excellent essay by Jo Freeman called The Tyranny Of Structurelessness that addresses this same issue (http://www.bopsecrets.org/CF/structurelessness.htm). She describes how unstructured groups, such as her 1970s womens' movement, tend to generate their own elites in the absence of defined chains of responsibility: "This hegemony can so easily be established because the idea of structurelessness does not prevent the formation of informal structures, only formal ones."

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