Evaporative cooling in online communities

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Evaporative cooling in online communities

David Gerard-2
http://blog.bumblebeelabs.com/social-software-sundays-2-the-evaporative-cooling-effect/

Warrens versus plazas. The former scales (writing articles), the
latter doesn't (the project space areas of Wikipedia, participating in
which sets you firmly on the path to working through your
eighteen-month wikiburnout).


- d.

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Re: Evaporative cooling in online communities

Ryan Delaney
On Sun, Oct 10, 2010 at 3:54 PM, David Gerard <[hidden email]> wrote:

>
> http://blog.bumblebeelabs.com/social-software-sundays-2-the-evaporative-cooling-effect/
>
> Warrens versus plazas. The former scales (writing articles), the
> latter doesn't (the project space areas of Wikipedia, participating in
> which sets you firmly on the path to working through your
> eighteen-month wikiburnout).
>
>
> - d.
>

Now here's the interesting point:

"High value participants are treated as special because they have
recognition & reputation from the community. But, as the community
scales, these social mechanisms break down and often, if nothing is
done to replace them, high value members get especially miffed at the
loss of special recognition and this accelerates the Evaporative
Cooling."

We have the reverse problem on Wikipedia, where visibility and
reputation allows some editors to get away with behavior that we
otherwise wouldn't tolerate. John Locke called this kind of reputation
'prerogative' -- it's now become a technical term in political
science, but it basically means that when we notice someone making
decisions that everyone else goes along with, we start to 'go with the
flow' and accept that person's authority in future cases as well. It's
a kind of momentum building of social power, and since it's the only
real power anyone has on Wikipedia, it is very significant - and
vulnerable to abuse. Where a contributor known to make lots of
valuable contributions in other areas suddenly demonstrates insanity
on a specific topic, people will tend to give way where they wouldn't
if it were coming from someone they didn't know or view as a 'valued
contributor'. The result is the 'evaporative cooling' of those who
don't have that social power on Wikipedia, or less of it, but whose
edits are no less valuable - if only less voluminous.

This is a problem that is largely the result of what this author calls
the 'plaza' nature of Wikipedia: where one has had a pleasant and
long-standing editorial relationship with a contributor, you will tend
to afford a lot of prerogative to that contributor, even when you see
them engaged in disputes about which you know very little. You respect
and maybe admire that contributor, but you don't see them from the
standpoint of other people -- whose experience may not be so rosy.
The Wikipedia community has the illusion of being homogenized, but it
is not, in that sense; because every editor only has his fingers in so
many pies, he can't know whether the rest of them taste good or not.

- causa sui

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Re: Evaporative cooling in online communities

Gwern Branwen
On Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 2:27 PM, Ryan Delaney <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Now here's the interesting point:
>
> "High value participants are treated as special because they have
> recognition & reputation from the community. But, as the community
> scales, these social mechanisms break down and often, if nothing is
> done to replace them, high value members get especially miffed at the
> loss of special recognition and this accelerates the Evaporative
> Cooling."
>
> We have the reverse problem on Wikipedia, where visibility and
> reputation allows some editors to get away with behavior that we
> otherwise wouldn't tolerate. John Locke called this kind of reputation
> 'prerogative' -- it's now become a technical term in political
> science, but it basically means that when we notice someone making
> decisions that everyone else goes along with, we start to 'go with the
> flow' and accept that person's authority in future cases as well. It's
> a kind of momentum building of social power, and since it's the only
> real power anyone has on Wikipedia, it is very significant - and
> vulnerable to abuse. Where a contributor known to make lots of
> valuable contributions in other areas suddenly demonstrates insanity
> on a specific topic, people will tend to give way where they wouldn't
> if it were coming from someone they didn't know or view as a 'valued
> contributor'. The result is the 'evaporative cooling' of those who
> don't have that social power on Wikipedia, or less of it, but whose
> edits are no less valuable - if only less voluminous.

Arguably we have the reverse of your reverse problem.

What is the ultimate status-lowering action which one can do to an
editor, short of actually banning or blocking them? Deleting their
articles.

In a particular subject area, who is most likely to work on obscurer
articles? The experts and high-value editors - they have the
resources, they have the interest, they have the competency. Anyone
who grew up in America post-1980 can work on [[Darth Vader]]; many
fewer can work on [[Grand Admiral Thrawn]]. Anyone can work on
[[Basho]]; few can work on [[Fujiwara no Teika]].

What has Wikipedia been most likely to delete in its shift deletionist
over the years? Those obscurer articles.

The proof is in the pudding: all the high-value/status Star Wars
editors have decamped for somewhere they are valued; all the
high-value/status Star Trek editors, the Lost editors... the list goes
on. They left for a community that respected them and their work more;
these specific examples are striking because the editors had to *make*
a community, but one should not suppose such departures are limited to
fiction-related articles.

--
gwern
http://www.gwern.net/

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Re: Evaporative cooling in online communities

Ryan Delaney
On Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 11:51 AM, Gwern Branwen <[hidden email]> wrote:

> On Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 2:27 PM, Ryan Delaney <[hidden email]> wrote:
>> Now here's the interesting point:
>>
>> "High value participants are treated as special because they have
>> recognition & reputation from the community. But, as the community
>> scales, these social mechanisms break down and often, if nothing is
>> done to replace them, high value members get especially miffed at the
>> loss of special recognition and this accelerates the Evaporative
>> Cooling."
>>
>> We have the reverse problem on Wikipedia, where visibility and
>> reputation allows some editors to get away with behavior that we
>> otherwise wouldn't tolerate. John Locke called this kind of reputation
>> 'prerogative' -- it's now become a technical term in political
>> science, but it basically means that when we notice someone making
>> decisions that everyone else goes along with, we start to 'go with the
>> flow' and accept that person's authority in future cases as well. It's
>> a kind of momentum building of social power, and since it's the only
>> real power anyone has on Wikipedia, it is very significant - and
>> vulnerable to abuse. Where a contributor known to make lots of
>> valuable contributions in other areas suddenly demonstrates insanity
>> on a specific topic, people will tend to give way where they wouldn't
>> if it were coming from someone they didn't know or view as a 'valued
>> contributor'. The result is the 'evaporative cooling' of those who
>> don't have that social power on Wikipedia, or less of it, but whose
>> edits are no less valuable - if only less voluminous.
>
> Arguably we have the reverse of your reverse problem.
>
> What is the ultimate status-lowering action which one can do to an
> editor, short of actually banning or blocking them? Deleting their
> articles.
>
> In a particular subject area, who is most likely to work on obscurer
> articles? The experts and high-value editors - they have the
> resources, they have the interest, they have the competency. Anyone
> who grew up in America post-1980 can work on [[Darth Vader]]; many
> fewer can work on [[Grand Admiral Thrawn]]. Anyone can work on
> [[Basho]]; few can work on [[Fujiwara no Teika]].
>
> What has Wikipedia been most likely to delete in its shift deletionist
> over the years? Those obscurer articles.
>
> The proof is in the pudding: all the high-value/status Star Wars
> editors have decamped for somewhere they are valued; all the
> high-value/status Star Trek editors, the Lost editors... the list goes
> on. They left for a community that respected them and their work more;
> these specific examples are striking because the editors had to *make*
> a community, but one should not suppose such departures are limited to
> fiction-related articles.
>
> --
> gwern
> http://www.gwern.net/
>

This could be interpreted to reinforce the point I made in the quoted
post. Articles penned by authors who are experts in obscure (from the
standpoint of US culture: see Wikiproject Countering Systemic Bias)
social or historical topics are generally deleted by
pitchfork-wielding mobs of vested contributors, who are vested due to
their contributions in other areas. Gnomes and anonymous users never
banded together to delete valuable content.

- causa sui

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Re: Evaporative cooling in online communities

MuZemike
In reply to this post by Gwern Branwen
Perhaps it's more of a misunderstanding that this is still a wiki above
anything else - in particular, those understandings that literally
anyone else you write, and you can edit anything anybody else writes.

I believe those who have a good understanding of those two fundamental
wiki concepts tend to do better in a wiki environment (not just
Wikipedia) than most others who do not.

But this is coming from a person who specializes in building up
already-existing articles over trying to create brand new articles from
scratch.

-MuZemike

On 10/11/2010 1:51 PM, Gwern Branwen wrote:

> On Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 2:27 PM, Ryan Delaney<[hidden email]>  wrote:
>> Now here's the interesting point:
>>
>> "High value participants are treated as special because they have
>> recognition&  reputation from the community. But, as the community
>> scales, these social mechanisms break down and often, if nothing is
>> done to replace them, high value members get especially miffed at the
>> loss of special recognition and this accelerates the Evaporative
>> Cooling."
>>
>> We have the reverse problem on Wikipedia, where visibility and
>> reputation allows some editors to get away with behavior that we
>> otherwise wouldn't tolerate. John Locke called this kind of reputation
>> 'prerogative' -- it's now become a technical term in political
>> science, but it basically means that when we notice someone making
>> decisions that everyone else goes along with, we start to 'go with the
>> flow' and accept that person's authority in future cases as well. It's
>> a kind of momentum building of social power, and since it's the only
>> real power anyone has on Wikipedia, it is very significant - and
>> vulnerable to abuse. Where a contributor known to make lots of
>> valuable contributions in other areas suddenly demonstrates insanity
>> on a specific topic, people will tend to give way where they wouldn't
>> if it were coming from someone they didn't know or view as a 'valued
>> contributor'. The result is the 'evaporative cooling' of those who
>> don't have that social power on Wikipedia, or less of it, but whose
>> edits are no less valuable - if only less voluminous.
>
> Arguably we have the reverse of your reverse problem.
>
> What is the ultimate status-lowering action which one can do to an
> editor, short of actually banning or blocking them? Deleting their
> articles.
>
> In a particular subject area, who is most likely to work on obscurer
> articles? The experts and high-value editors - they have the
> resources, they have the interest, they have the competency. Anyone
> who grew up in America post-1980 can work on [[Darth Vader]]; many
> fewer can work on [[Grand Admiral Thrawn]]. Anyone can work on
> [[Basho]]; few can work on [[Fujiwara no Teika]].
>
> What has Wikipedia been most likely to delete in its shift deletionist
> over the years? Those obscurer articles.
>
> The proof is in the pudding: all the high-value/status Star Wars
> editors have decamped for somewhere they are valued; all the
> high-value/status Star Trek editors, the Lost editors... the list goes
> on. They left for a community that respected them and their work more;
> these specific examples are striking because the editors had to *make*
> a community, but one should not suppose such departures are limited to
> fiction-related articles.
>


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Re: Evaporative cooling in online communities

Ian Woollard
On 12 October 2010 18:08, MuZemike <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Perhaps it's more of a misunderstanding that this is still a wiki above
> anything else - in particular, those understandings that literally
> anyone else you write, and you can edit anything anybody else writes.
>
> I believe those who have a good understanding of those two fundamental
> wiki concepts tend to do better in a wiki environment (not just
> Wikipedia) than most others who do not.
>

The problem comes when an expert (in the broadest sense) understands
something that most people don't get, or get exactly wrong, and where most
people can't or don't or even refuse to understand the literature on it.

In that case, much of the population of the wiki will be repeatedly editing
the material back to what they believe, rather than what is actually true.

The expert can try to explain the problem, they can revert it back to the
objective truth of the literature, but in the end they will be the ones seen
as problematic, rather than the majority of people that are repeatedly
putting the wrong information into the wiki.

The more careful experts are, the more likely that they are to get banned or
otherwise censured for 'causing trouble'.

The classic example of this is William Connolley.

He stuck around, but other experts have evaporated.

Long term I see issues though. The expertise needed to improve the Wikipedia
is ratcheting ever upwards, but I doubt that the admins are; if they see a
person 'causing trouble' they tend to attack the minority as being 'not
consensus', but people with genuine expertise are always in the minority.

The Wikipedia should be and needs to be becoming more expert friendly, not
as a matter of policy, but due to some of the subject matter being more
fine-grained and precise.

I suppose at the moment, the admins are acting as a plaza, whereas
specialist admins may be more and more desirable.

-MuZemike
>

--
-Ian Woollard
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Re: Evaporative cooling in online communities

George William Herbert
On Tue, Oct 12, 2010 at 11:20 AM, Ian Woollard <[hidden email]> wrote:

> On 12 October 2010 18:08, MuZemike <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
>> Perhaps it's more of a misunderstanding that this is still a wiki above
>> anything else - in particular, those understandings that literally
>> anyone else you write, and you can edit anything anybody else writes.
>>
>> I believe those who have a good understanding of those two fundamental
>> wiki concepts tend to do better in a wiki environment (not just
>> Wikipedia) than most others who do not.
>>
>
> The problem comes when an expert (in the broadest sense) understands
> something that most people don't get, or get exactly wrong, and where most
> people can't or don't or even refuse to understand the literature on it.
>
> In that case, much of the population of the wiki will be repeatedly editing
> the material back to what they believe, rather than what is actually true.
>
> The expert can try to explain the problem, they can revert it back to the
> objective truth of the literature, but in the end they will be the ones seen
> as problematic, rather than the majority of people that are repeatedly
> putting the wrong information into the wiki.
>
> The more careful experts are, the more likely that they are to get banned or
> otherwise censured for 'causing trouble'.
>
> The classic example of this is William Connolley.
>
> He stuck around, but other experts have evaporated.
>
> Long term I see issues though. The expertise needed to improve the Wikipedia
> is ratcheting ever upwards, but I doubt that the admins are; if they see a
> person 'causing trouble' they tend to attack the minority as being 'not
> consensus', but people with genuine expertise are always in the minority.
>
> The Wikipedia should be and needs to be becoming more expert friendly, not
> as a matter of policy, but due to some of the subject matter being more
> fine-grained and precise.
>
> I suppose at the moment, the admins are acting as a plaza, whereas
> specialist admins may be more and more desirable.


We have a danger here though; peoples bona fides are hard to verify
online in general, and on Wikipedia with its culture of pseudonymity
particularly.

An "expert" may not be who they say they are, and we may have no way
to tell either way even if they are.  A large part of the system we
have is designed to mitigate not knowing the quality of the people we
have editing.

Various other online communities have tried to work around that with
different concepts (which is probably good) but failed for unrelated
reasons (rendering their approaches a no-test, as it were).

We have many experts using Wikipedia.  Some really haven't gotten the
community part, some have.  Some who haven't gotten it are working OK
in their areas anyways, for various reasons including good luck.

We also have a significant number of - for want of a better word -
kooks who feel they're experts and are attempting to meld Wikipedia in
their image.  Every one of these does immense damage.

We also also have a very large number of editors who aren't kooky but
overestimate their skills and knowledge.  These are usually not that
bad, as they usually can be reasoned with and pointed to better
sources.

We can't "just trust the experts" - for the reasons above - and
managing them is already part of the community and process.  That this
drives some away is a problem - but letting them run wild without
sufficient gatekeeping and QA checks would be worse.

If this was an easy problem, we'd all be basking in our easy retirements now...


--
-george william herbert
[hidden email]

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Re: Evaporative cooling in online communities

Carcharoth
In reply to this post by Ian Woollard
On Tue, Oct 12, 2010 at 7:20 PM, Ian Woollard <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Long term I see issues though. The expertise needed to improve the Wikipedia
> is ratcheting ever upwards, but I doubt that the admins are; if they see a
> person 'causing trouble' they tend to attack the minority as being 'not
> consensus', but people with genuine expertise are always in the minority.

In some areas, yes. But Wikipedia can't really get away from its
"anyone can edit" roots. You need to retain both ways to welcome new
editors without putting them off, while also welcoming experts without
putting them off. And the right sort of experts as well. It is clear
that some experts fail to get how WIkipedia works, which puts them
more in the class of people that need guidance when they first try
editing Wikipedia.

> The Wikipedia should be and needs to be becoming more expert friendly, not
> as a matter of policy, but due to some of the subject matter being more
> fine-grained and precise.

The operative word there being "some". Not all the subject matter has
reached that level yet.

Carcharoth

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Re: Evaporative cooling in online communities

Sarah-128
In reply to this post by Ian Woollard
On Tue, Oct 12, 2010 at 12:20, Ian Woollard <[hidden email]> wrote:
> The expert can try to explain the problem, they can revert it back to the
> objective truth of the literature, but in the end they will be the ones seen
> as problematic, rather than the majority of people that are repeatedly
> putting the wrong information into the wiki.
>
> The more careful experts are, the more likely that they are to get banned or
> otherwise censured for 'causing trouble'.
>
> The classic example of this is William Connolley.

That's not even close to what happened in that case, Ian.

Speaking generally (not about WTC), just because someone has a higher
degree in a topic doesn't mean they can write, or that they're good at
the kind of research that Wikipedia needs. It doesn't mean they're
good at collaborating with others, or that they're knowledgeable about
the topic in general (only in the narrow area they specialized in).
And we don't know whether they're highly regarded by their peers.

It's important for Wikipedians to recognize that there is expertise
out there, and we need to be very careful not to assume we know
everything. But it's also important not to be dazzled by people who
claim expertise.

Sarah

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Re: Evaporative cooling in online communities

Ian Woollard
In reply to this post by George William Herbert
On 12 October 2010 19:33, George Herbert <[hidden email]> wrote:

> We have a danger here though; peoples bona fides are hard to verify
> online in general, and on Wikipedia with its culture of pseudonymity
> particularly.
>
> An "expert" may not be who they say they are, and we may have no way
> to tell either way even if they are.  A large part of the system we
> have is designed to mitigate not knowing the quality of the people we
> have editing.
>

You're talking about qualifications; I'm talking about expertISE. They're
not the same thing.

It's the difference between making reasonable edits, and having a piece of
people that says you ought to understand something. We don't care about the
latter.

I'm saying that the wikipedia is set up as a plaza at the admin level.  This
means that, in many cases, admins don't have much clue as to whether they
know enough about a dispute to intervene. In some cases (most) it's very
clear and they'll keep away from things they don't understand, but in some
cases they may make the determination incorrectly... and bad things will
tend to happen, *particularly* where there is an obvious, but wrong point of
view (wrong with respect to the available sources), then the person with
expertise will be labelled as a trouble maker.

--
> -george william herbert
> [hidden email]
>

--
-Ian Woollard
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Re: Evaporative cooling in online communities

Ian Woollard
On 12 October 2010 20:11, Ian Woollard <[hidden email]> wrote:

> ... and having a piece of people that says you ought to understand
> something
>
>
...having a piece of paper that says you ought to understand something(!)...

(it previously read something like 'having people that ought to understand
something"! )

/Hannibal Lector

--
> -Ian Woollard
>
>


--
-Ian Woollard
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