People talk a lot about Communities on wiki, but rarely about Cliques. Cliques tend to be seen in a negative light. (CliqueHasNegativeAssociations). However, they serve many important and essential purposes.

Characteristics of Cliques

What are the characteristics of cliques? Think about cliques that you belong to.

Think of people who:

If you hang out with enough people who fit the above description, and by transitivity, hang out with each other, you probably belong to a clique.

Characteristics of Community

Now what are some of the characteristics of an entire community? Think about some of the communities you belong to. They tend to have:

…but do members of a community generally agree with and support each other? Does the entire community "hang out together?"

Generally, no.

Is a Wiki a Clique?

Are the participants of one wiki a clique? Or a community?

These questions are very difficult to answer. Not for just political reasons, but also because the boundaries of cliques and communities are frequently very hard to define, and then align to wiki boundaries.

Wiki Cliques and RecentChanges

Cliques hang out together. In Wiki, "hang out with you" tends to mean "See the same RecentChanges list as you."

There are many interesting implications of this:

Case Study of Cliques and Communities: The Wiki Scene

Think about the greater "wiki community." For example, CliffAdams? and WardCunningham are clearly members of this wiki community. But it's not necessarily composed solely of popular names. Wiki:OrdinaryPeople are just as much participants of the greater "wiki community." If you participate in wiki, if you explore it, if you think about it, if you talk about it, you're probably in this community. There's no membership card. But people know people, and those people know people, and we exchange and communicate. We're a vast community.

Now think about an individual wiki, at a given point in time. Let's ignore the history and lore of a wiki for the moment. At any given time, there's a number of active participants. There's probably 1-3 cliques, on some of the larger wiki perhaps 3-6 cliques, that are active at a given point in time. (The BiggestWiki hold vastly more, but they are not solely based on unfiltered RecentChanges.)

What happens if there's a conflict on a wiki, between two cliques? Likely, the cliques will part. In this present era of OneWikiIsm?, that means that a clique will move elsewhere. There's no point in large groups of people continuously fighting over the same PageDatabase.

There is a lot to wonder about here, though. Can we say that a wiki is a community? Some feel that the answer is no- a RecentChanges based wiki is too small, too crowded, to support a "community." Some feel the answer is yes- including all the cliques present, and the history of the PageDatabase, and the people in that history. The word "Community" has no clear boundary.

Because CliqueHasNegativeAssociations, cliques have a tendency to call themselves "communities."

Good Things about Cliques

Cliques allow you to get work done. Before you can get work done with other people, you need a fair amount of trust. You need to trust that the other person will consider your ideas fairly, and not publicly punish you if you make a mistake. Such trust is found in positive emotional bonding. Such bonding is most likely when goals and values are shared.

When people are working in a well-formed clique, you have several freedoms that you do not otherwise have:

When you work with total strangers, it is much more difficult. You are still going to need some minimal trust. What happens is we place our trust into a ritual or protocol or process. It takes a long time then, to express ideas.

Bad Things about Cliques

The key words are exclusion and power. A clique is a group of people unfriendly to newcomers and outsiders. The goal of the clique is to gain power over those not part of the clique. A benefit is to take responsability away from those not part of the clique itself. A clique may form from rather unsecure people, who dare act only when they feel highly supported by the clique members. Others will belong to it to benefit of the group, to orient decisions the way they want, by insuring support for their actions.

Toward newcomers or neutral outsiders, it will appear that the community is full of conspiracies, decisions are taken behind closed doors. They will feel unconfortable, worried to step on a hidden trap, wondering if and when they will be stabbed in the back as they saw this happening with others. Even if not frankly rejected, they will feel unloved and unappreciated, neglected.

In wiki communities with a closed clique newcomers or neutral outsiders may become shadowy participants, little involved in community building, as they feel their opinions won't be listen to. They may quietly go on their own business. They may also leave silently one day. Or they may react to the clicky environnement, and become enemies. Those "ennemies" might be only people with strong will and true desire to restore a more friendly environment, but others specifically aim at destroying the clique.

Cliques may be bad when they team up against someone. It will look like a pack of wolves barking at the outsider, and soon excluding him. Often, the crisis escalate quite quickly, each member of the team supporting the other members, even blindly, in an attempt of self protection of the group. On a wiki, it results in unjustified group agressivity (free insults and humiliation given to the outsider without community reaction, even though civility is supposingly a rule), censorship of content (reversions of editions based on author rather than content), blantant humiliations (such as rejection when a higher status is requested, or refusal of a code patch for a developer), pseudo unilateral banning (where one person seemingly ban the outsider without discussion, but is in reality supported silently by the group). Any attempt of resistance from the outsider will only result in more pressure on him, misinterpretation of his defense, rejection of apologies.

Once the clique is solidly in power, an outsider can not have his voice heard at all. Ultimately, if a clique is very closed, no new blood and no original idea can get in. It becomes impossible to join. In such case, the community may degenerate. Either a flow of outsiders maintains a fertile ground to secure the clique closeness by focusing the agressivity against the foreigner, or the clique may choose a black sheep amongst itself. Cliques are self sustaining : they need to blow up excessive energy, and may do it by negative action, such as sacrifice of an internal member.

Cliques may communicate by secret means, such as private irc channels. These becomes corridors for gossip, slander and backstabbing. The attack comes unexpectedly for the outsider. Consequently, it is very difficult to resist it and restore a true discussion. Cliques often launch rumors as well, thus maintaining a rotten climate where people do not feel free to hang out. Even a neutral person, not part of the clique but not rejected either, will become aware of the smell of conspiracies and feel sick. Those will often leave the community in silence. A solution might be to try to discuss with each member separately. Public attempts will usually lead nowhere.

In short, cliques are bad for community health because they prevent people from joining the community, and prevent power to be hold in turns by different currents of ideas. However, there is another danger to clique, the danger for the member itself.

Once someone is part of a clique, he is potentially tied up. Once a couple of proeminent members have expressed their opinion, there will be strong expectations that he agrees with this opinion. He may be allowed a light difference of opinion, but certainly not frank opposition. When that happen, the opponent will be usually showered by comments such as "we are very disappointed in you", "we thought better of you", "how could you even think of this !", implying the other one is sick in his mind. At this point, most members will back up, and decide to adopt the group opinion (in the process, they will appear like weak opinion people, so likely will loose respect of some of the members). In case they do not, they will transform quite quickly in an opponent. Escalation can result in exclusion in a very short time.

This type of behavior has two consequences. First, it empoverishes the diversity of the group, plagued by groupthink, usually governed by a few strong spirited people. Soon enough, the clique transforms itself in a tyranny of the mind. Second, if some members appreciate being lead, others gets unhappy with this. They may not leave because of the security provided by the group, but may psychologically suffer from such a situation which prevents true development of self. Benefiting of the warmth of a clique, while preserving independance of the mind is a true difficulty, as the one disagreeing must succeed to make his opinion not be seen as an attack on the person.

There is no worse ennemy than a previous "friend" because he knows where the weaknesses stand. The feeling of revenge of the one excluded (by others or by personal choice) may greatly damage the quality of the environnement.

Finally, one danger of the clique… is when there is more than one clique, resulting in a total war between the two groups for power.

The main option to limit clique impact is to belong to several cliques at the same time, and stay on the verge of each, thus preventing complete groupthink to ruin the creativity of it. It requires a couple of sacrifices sometimes to convince the group you are a true member to it… as long as you agree… and courage to take very controversial positions sometimes.


See Also:

To place:


Gary Stock, chief technology officer for Nexcerpt, Inc., commenting on blogs' influence on Google rankings in a quote from the Register [1], defines a clique this way, "a small group of people writing about each other constantly."

This is sort of similar to the graph theory definition of a clique, which is a set of nodes each of which is connected to every other node in the clique. – BayleShanks

If "community" is everybody, "cliques" will be far, far, far, more dynamical than "Europe", "America", "Asia", … MattisManzel

If a "clique" is a name for a closed, excusive group of about five people, what would you call an open, inclusive group of the same size? And there is a difference - having infiltrated plenty of small groups, there's a real difference between the sort that let you flit on the outskirts for a little while, and the sort who immediately turn their backs on you. --MartinHarper

It's still a clique. They immediately turn their backs on you because you don't share goals and values.

Say you're Good. But you've met the Evil Brother's Society. You aren't evil. They seem cliquish, though, because whenever you go near, they snear and laugh at you. But the Good Brothers Society seems so nice, and inclusive. They'd just Love it if everyone joined in with their group. You Love these guys!

But now let's say- You're genuinely Evil to the core. You go to the Evil Brother's Society. You know their Evil Ways, and you hear their Evil Call in their Evil Code. Which to you, is just "good common sense." But the Goody-Goody's club, with their fake "good intentions" and their strict moral codes are just totally repulsive. Why, I'd better shove a spike into them for their own good, those hypocritical bastards!

I imagine that Lord Voldemort was inclusive. The more Evil present, the merrier!

When I was in college, there was this group of people that I thought was really interesting. I just never could figure out how to join them. After about a year, I asked one of the guys, "How do I interact with y'all?" He asked, "What do you mean?" And I said, "Well, you all do things together, and I wish I were included." He said, "Really? Hm. Well, I'll keep that in mind." Next time that they went out, I was invited, despite not really knowing those folks so well.

Before I thought they were a closed group. They literally had their own secret codes, identity, and society. But I realized that was just a play, and that they were actually really inclusive.

They were still a clique, though. Through and through, no two ways about it.

And later, I realized that they had a greater inclination towards many things I wasn't interested in, such as hiking and skiing and Engineering. My area of overlap with them was Urban Spellunking. But the overlap wasn't enough to provide for the clique-bond to occur.

(No. They weren't 3vil.)


I've been thinking about this more, and it seems like there are two variants of clique. I think they are discrete concepts, but that they are easily confused with one another.

Let's make one word clique mean "tightly interconnected."

Let's make the other word clique mean "unfriendly to newcomers and outsiders," drawing from DarkSideOfCommunity.

You can have an interconnected clique, which is friendly to newcomers, and outsiders. It may be still hard to join the clique.

You can have an interconnected clique, which is unfriendly to newcomers and outsiders.

It may be the case that there are so many people that a clique can support. Maybe cliques are like what Bayle was saying about mathematics- that it's a sub-graph where every element connects to all the others. If that's the case, then you have the ConnectedGraphSquaringProblem. Even the most inclusive clique in the world cannot conquer mathematics.

It could form a society, and scale the society, but probably not the clique itself.

We may want to name these two forms of "clique." What do you think?


Perhaps "open group" vs "closed membership" ? perhaps the idea of "high turn over" needs to go in there somewhere …

Some people believe that there is some particular "best size" for the group (doesn't matter if that really is the best size); they're very open trying to grow the group to that size, but then try to stop growth beyond that point (either rejecting all potential members, or kicking out one person each time they get a "better" replacement). For example, exactly 4 people is best to play bridge. If the best size is a range, and the max of the range is at least twice the min of the range, then the group can grow and divide, grow and divide, accepting an indefinite number of people. See GroupSize?.

Some of the discussion at seems relevant.

One thing I find interesting about LionKimbro's comments about "cliques" is that it doesn't rate people on a single "Trustworthy … Untrustworthy" scale, but it instead clusters people who have common interests and common perspectives.

Finding a clique of people as similar to myself as possible may be interesting.

I think I would also be interested in ways of finding people who:

  • we share enough context to make communication possible / easy, yet
  • we have differences in experiences and perspectives that are as large as possible, so that I learn more from him.

( I learn less from talking to someone in the next town over about his town, than from talking to someone from a different country about his town, than from talking to someone from a different continent about his town. ).

I'm not sure I agree that cliques and communities even exist, at least in my model of the world. There's only individual humans, each one trying to keep track of what sorts of things the people they know are interested in and what they already know (so I can tell them about stuff they are interested in, but don't know about yet) … yet there does seem to be a difference when I'm with Mr. B and Mr. F rolling the dice in a late-night war game, as opposed to when I run into exactly the same people in a church parking lot on a bright sunny day and we chat for a few minutes.

Would you say that a basketball team is a clique ? What about the part of the team that happens to be on the court at some instant, not counting the ones sitting on the bench – are those players a clique ?


Well, I don't think you can over-analyze it this way- you can't take a single frame of life, and say, "Where are the cliques?"

My experience with cliques is that they are organic. There is no single criteria- whether trust, or shared interest, or whatever, that forms the bonding mechanism. It's a very pragmatic thing.

What the group is doing (if anything at all,) what shared values it has, the pragmatics of who is where, who knew who before, who likes who, stylistic decisions, how people talk, the forces of history, all sorts of things- go into determining what gives the clique it's cohesiveness.

That said, you're right: Certain factors are generally "good" for clique forming: Shared values, shared context, yadda yadda yadda.

(I wanted to say more, but, am fearful of DivergingArguments. :) )



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