This page is an offshoot of CommunityWikiGovernment. Its function is to explain the motivation behind it, and to provide a place for proponents and detractors to argue about whether it’s a good idea at all.


An efficient procedure to determine which guidelines, and people, are to be considered "authoritative"

A situation we ran into recently was:

The net effect is that it looks like Sigi is basically right, and that Lion is just making up rules: that nobody cares about how many pages you make, and that what Sigi has to say about how things work here is okay, and that everyone is an equal with respect to CommunityWiki.

Under the status quo, the only way for Lion to argue this would be to go door-to-door, getting people to attest that, “Yes, this network of relationships exist, and, yes, we would all be upset if Lion left, and no, Sigi isn’t really a major contributor to this wiki, and yes, these things Lion is saying are more or less true, except that it does bring up interesting philosophical points P1, P2, P3, and I would disagree with X, Y, and Z, …”

Lion would put on his suit, pull out his vcards, and manually start making phone calls. “Bayle! Good to talk with you! But, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. Yes, yes.. I know; But I’m in a bit of a hurry. Yes, see: There’s trouble on CommunityWiki. Yes, yes, … I need you come and attest what, to us, is the blatantly obvious. No, it’s not much fun, …”

Basically, this is too time consuming a venture to do over and over every time such a situation arises.

The CommunityWikiGovernment proposal is essentially a formal procedure that allows the creation of (1) an explicit list of rules, (2) an explicit list of voting members who are the ones who make the rules. Hopefully, this will do the same thing that the above “door-to-door attestation” process does, but more efficiently.

Notice that one of the reasons this problem occurs at all is that people drift in and out of participation on the wiki. Therefore, there are times when not many people are around (AbsentCommunity). In such times, should a “core contributor” claim to be such, there are not enough people around to confirm this.

Therefore, the CommunityWikiGovernment proposal provides a mechanism for voting members who are “on vacation” to still have some say in things even while they are gone. Notice that this is different from a system in which only currently active participants have power.

Why have authority at all?

CommunityWiki has accumulated many treasures:

We would like to:

In more detail: imagine what would happen to MeatballWiki if all the present residents left, and some brand new crop of people suddenly appeared in it, who were not experienced with wiki: It would be a horrible thing. “Oh, what’s this page: UseRealNames? Oh, screw that, what moron thought up that idea? Delete.” It would be a wreck. It would arguably set back the progress of wiki and online communities in general by several years. Such a thing cannot be allowed to happen.

It is similar, but not quite as severe, here.

There are indeed other communities outside of here that have been influenced by what is here. For example, the Interra project, the PlaNetWork?, the EvolutionarySalon, and TomAtlee?’s democracy projects. Some of them reference our PageDatabase.

Some of us who invest time here see ourselves partially as building an artifact (the PageDatabase). Therefore, we would like some of the pages and ArgumentPyramids that we create here to remain relatively stable.

So, in summary:


Discussion that started with a comment from DavidCary and which quickly moved into in-depth analysis of "The Inner Ring"

(second half of comment from DavidCary, moved from CommunityWikiGovernmentNames?)

There certainly is a group of people who have been here for awhile, and who have a better sense of How Things Are Done than people who visit for the first time. That’s entirely normal any time you have a bunch of people in the same room.

And I think it is a good thing to spell out how things are, who are the best people to go to for advice, etc. for the benefit of the newer people.

But when we make a list of people, and start making Official-Sounding Procedures for getting on and off the list – I am uncomfortably reminded of the speech "The Inner Ring". Building an inner ring with “special privileges”, and then adding unnecessary barriers to make it difficult for others to enter the ring, is no good.

But at least it’s not a BackRoomDecision.

I’m a lifelong lover of CS Lewis, even though I am only a Christian by upbringing and culture, but not by faith.

Yes, not only have we all read The Inner Ring in CliquesAndCommunities, but I’ve personally sent it to my girlfriend, (who found it intensely relevant,) and we’ve talked about it many times since.

CS Lewis states that if people work together in earnest, that they naturally find them in what looks exactly like an inner ring from the outside.

And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the center of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that its secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship.

CS Lewis explicitly says that rings themselves are not bad.

I must now make a distinction. I am not going to say that the existence of Inner Rings is an evil. It is certainly unavoidable. There must be confidential discussions: and it is not only not a bad thing, it is (in itself) a good thing, that personal friendship should grow up between those who work together.

Rather, it states that trying to pry our way into them causes a lot of trouble.

All this is rather obvious. I wonder whether you will say the same of my next step, which is this. I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.

Incidentally, I think we are moving away from an Inner Ring system, as described be:

There are what correspond to passwords, but they too are spontaneous and informal. A particular slang, the use of particular nicknames, an allusive manner of conversation, are the marks. But it is not constant. It is not easy, even at a given moment, to say who is inside and who is outside. (emphasis mine)

This is true in that we are now in the paradoxical process of DevolvePower: We are extending votes out to a number of people, who may or may not be in the Inner Ring, whoever may actually be in it.

And it is perhaps impossible that the official hierarchy of any organization should quite coincide with its actual workings.

If AlexSchroeder, myself, and MattisManzel left, who else would leave? Perhaps people would not leave, but I think it’s very likely that the place would not be the same, at all. I am not saying that Alex, myself, and Mattis form the inner ring. I am saying that there is a web of internal relationships that, if cut somewhere, could basically end CommunityWiki as we know it, and very plausibly the CommunityWiki itself.

The shape of the EcosystemOfNetworks is basically clear: People can only evenly share attention with a finite number of people.

(And this is what The Inner Ring says.)

In any wholesome group of people which holds together for a good purpose, the exclusions are in a sense accidental. Three or four people who are together for the sake of some piece of work exclude others because there is work only for so many or because the others can’t in fact do it. Your little musical group limits its numbers because the rooms they meet in are only so big.

I think CS Lewis’ basic idea is right, but I think the analogy breaks down when he talks about “your little musical group limits its numbers because the rooms they meet in are only so big.”

There are many other reasons to limit the size of a musical group, than just the size of the room it happens to meet in.

We can only extend our attention to so many.

Perhaps we should help people find related communities, that are looking for people to work together with? I think this would be a good thing, and I know that there are lots of people floating around out there, looking for people to collaborate with. I wouldn’t mind keeping a list of people who were looking for collaboration partners, and helping them to find others.

Sometimes, I want to see what other groups are doing. I exhaust MeatballWiki:RecentChanges, Planet RDF, Planet GNOME, Boing Boing, Slashdot, and so on. Wouldn’t it be great if there were more groups like CommunityWiki, and MeatballWiki? I would love to see what they were thinking, and what they were doing.

It is a relief to be in the VisitorRole, or SilentMajority, rather than the MemberRole, some times.

I would be willing to labor, to see a larger group of sympathetic groups, if it turned out that I found that the additional groups were interesting to me. (If they end up discussing knitting, I probably wouldn’t be interested, though, unless Heather were there.)

Another thing I have been asking myself is: “What process, followed in an OddMuse setup similar to CommunityWiki, could make a working space for 150 people, maintained by SoftSecurity, and basically centered around CommunityWiki-MeatballWiki like themes?” I have some ideas, but I want to finish the CommunityWikiGovernment discussion first, before diverging outwards.

I am glad we have this page.

It helps clear up my confusion: One day we’re sitting in AlexSchroeder’s virtual living room discussing Big Ideas I find fascinating (PlainTalk, AlternativesToHierarchy, SuperFreudianism, HiveMindTheory, etc.). Then I go away for a couple of weeks, and when I come back, I find (exaggerating) King Arthur hand-selecting his Knights of the Round Table. Why are we doing this? What benefit is this supposed to have?

How do I know someone isn’t just over-reacting? After all, from a certain point of view, Sigi is right – the Wiki software will allow anyone to do anything. The software does not distinguish one person from another. (Except for AlexSchroeder, and I’ve never seen him abuse his super-powers).

I wonder what EmileKroeger thinks about my reference to C.S.Lewis?

trying to pry our way into them causes a lot of trouble.

Yes, that causes most of the problems.

There are many other reasons to limit the size of a … group

Yes, that’s true, but when I wonder “How do I keep this group at this optimum size?”, | my first thought is to add a bunch of hurdles, to make people prove that they are really serious about joining, before I let them join. But didn’t C.S.Lewis say something about “Once I am in, I make it hard for the next entrant, just as those who are already in made it hard for me.” also causing problems?

I hope there are other ways to limit the size of a group that are not, you know, evil.

I don’t want to waste people’s time going through some unnecessarily complicated protocol, before they can fix a simple typo. If a million people swoop down on CommunityWiki and correct every typo they saw, I don’t think that would be a problem.

If a million people swoop down on CommunityWiki next week and each post an incredibly smart, witty, intelligent, inspiring page, and carefully cross-link it to other relevant pages – that would be more than I could keep up with, which would be a problem. But is there anything I could do about it that wouldn’t cause even worse problems?

I think you and I have very different views as to what the role of the non-voting membership is intended to be under the proposed system. People who don’t have a vote would be encouraged to contribute, to edit other’s contributions, to rework clusters of pages, and to initiate and discuss policy changes, just like today (i.e. without getting any special permissions or engaging in complicated protocols).

I personally expect that most CommunityWiki policies would still be discussed and decided upon informally on ordinary wiki pages by everyone, not just by the voting members.

The only differences between voting and non-voting members, in my opinion, would be that:

  • The voting members would have a little more “interpretive” authority than the non-voting members in case of a disagreement. That is, if there is a difference of opinions on what the current CommunityWiki policy actually is, a voting member’s opinion is more authoritative than a non-voting member.
  • As a group, the voting members would have the last word on contentious policy issues.

In short, the difference between voting members and non-voting members is that voting members would have a little more authority when it comes to meta-issues. When it comes to ordinary discussions or to decisions on what particular pages should say (assuming that “CommunityWiki policy” does not take a position on the decision), there would be no different between voting an non-voting members.

(btw “CommunityWiki policy” could be replaced by the phrase “the way we do things around here”).

Perhaps something to this effect should be put into the Bylaws.

I still think Kimbro is totally over-reacting to a relatively minor mis-communication. But I’ve seen older wiki eventually run into bigger problems. Perhaps it is a good thing to set up some sort of process now, ahead of time, for deciding major issues . If we wait until a more serious problem occurs, we risk endlessly quibbling over how to take a vote, each side accusing the side of trying to structure the vote-taking process in such a way that it biases the outcome.

I certainly don’t want people to confuse “voting members” with the much larger group of “people allowed to edit pages”. Even if HelmutLeitner or HansWobbe or AndrewHoerner are not “voting members”, I want them to write more pages.

And I would be happy to find a new, though-provoking, on-topic page here, even if it is written by someone none of us have ever heard of before. (I would even be happy to see people write witty nearly-on-topic pages here, even if I end up moving them to some other more relevant wiki).

In an ideal world, we would write a page like TurnBasedVsInterruptedThreadMode. That page would be very understandable. Everyone who reads it would have the little light bulb turn on, and would avoid Interrupted Thread Mode from then on. In that ideal world, there would be no need to create a law saying “Everyone will refrain from using Interrupted Thread Mode.” So there would be no need to vote on such a law.

I’m hoping that most situations will be like that. If someone does something annoying, rather than write up some new rule (a rule banning Annoying Thing #37), I prefer pointing people to a document that not only explains that people find that annoying, but also explains Preferred Thing #37.

I think LionKimbro suggested the same thing, “explaining how things are on CommunityWiki.” … and perhaps the “Endorsements” idea is closely related.

There seems to be a little bit of an inconsistency between:

I think we have room for several more people to jam along with us before we need a formal organization. I don’t want to scare off someone who would fit in nicely, or force them to jump through a bunch of unnecessary, arbitrary hoops. Because forcing people to jump through unnecessary hoops is, you know, evil.

I also don’t mind having well-intentioned people pop in occasionally, if they aren’t offended when we point out that their topics-of-interest don’t really fit in over here. (Ideally we would open their eyes to other, more relevant wiki. And encourage them to contribute there, move their pages from here to there – and to send back people who would fit in here).

(But I want to scare scammers and spammers completely off the internet).

So, I’m assuming the voting process described in the CommunityWikiBylaws is not expected to be active for normal day-to-day stuff (adding comments, reworking thread-mode to document-mode, correcting spelling and grammar and other errors, etc).

So what sorts of situations would we use that voting process for?

  • If someone wants to publish a book, “Best Of Community Wiki”, and the editor/publisher suspects that the vast majority of people here would all be happy with that, but wants some sort of official vote to confirm his suspicions.
  • If AlexSchroeder becomes obsessed with something/someone other than Community Wiki, while the rest of us want to continue the conversation with this interesting group of people, but we need to pick some other place to meet. (This seems to be a problem at the original wiki – many people agree that the software there has many problems, but no one has been able to persuade everyone to start meeting at any other particular wiki).
  • If some other wiki goes off-line, and the ex-maintainer of that wiki feels that dumping that entire page database here is better than permanently erasing it, or turning it into a read-only “fishbowl”. But that maintainer wants some sort of re-assurance that we won’t immediately permanently erase it.

So I’m going to support setting up the CommunityWikiBylaws, even though I think bylaws are unnecessary today (2007-01). Because I can imagine some (unlikely) situations in the future where bylaws might possibly useful. Also because I hope saying “OK” to this will help LionKimbro get it out of his system, so he can forget about it and return to obsessing about something I find more interesting – PlainTalk, building an improved Visual Wiki Engine (ChannelWhiteboard ? SvgWiki? ? OddmuseToInkscape ?), the HiveMind, Awareness, etc.

Well, it answers, once and for all, “Who’s wiki is it, anyways?” (That is, “Who calls the shots, here?”)

As long as we don’t have something somewhat resembling this, people feel entitled, “while the masters are away,” to say: “C’mon. This is wiki we’re talking about. And the law of the land is the law of wiki is the law of whoever is present, is the wiki.

Well, I don’t agree with that, and I want an answer. These situations are remarkably common, though they rarely extend as far as Sigi took it (offering brand-spanking-new Friedemar and Andrew the opportunity to serve as judges, determining policy on the wiki!)

It may be overreaction, but I think about the wiki in terms of years now, and want to secure the investment I’m putting into it now.

So, in short: Thank you for your support!

Specific points:

  • Don’t want to confuse voting member w/ page author – quite right. We intend to “hide” the membership pages, and not mention this much. We don’t want to advertise membership. We want to point to it only to legitimize specific claims of preference or priority.
  • Yes, it’s not about day-to-day stuff. Comments, new pages, and so on, which are the same policy they’ve always been.
  • If AboutVoting says it’s useful for large groups, but not small groups, then AboutVoting should be amended to account for small investor circles..!

Thanks for replying, David. OK, I guess that we should then consider the CommunityWikiBylaws ratified on Jan 18th unless there are any further objections.

In response to your points here:

I certainly don’t want people to confuse “voting members” with the much larger group of “people allowed to edit pages”.

I totally agree, and I think everyone else does too.

In an ideal world, we would write a page like TurnBasedVsInterruptedThreadMode. That page would be very understandable. Everyone who reads it would have the little light bulb turn on, and would avoid Interrupted Thread Mode from then on. In that ideal world, there would be no need to create a law saying “Everyone will refrain from using Interrupted Thread Mode.” So there would be no need to vote on such a law.

I’m hoping that most situations will be like that. If someone does something annoying, rather than write up some new rule (a rule banning Annoying Thing #37), I prefer pointing people to a document that not only explains that people find that annoying, but also explains Preferred Thing #37.

Yeah, I agree.

There seems to be a little bit of an inconsistency between:

Yes, there is. I’ve been strongly pushing voting and CommunityWikiBylaws, but I wasn’t much involved in the AboutVoting discussion here. So of course I think AboutVoting should be amended :).
What are my reasons for thinking that a formal process, including voting, could be helpful even for a small group?
  1. Membership. If you want there to be some people who have more say than others (for instance, that LionKimbro has more say than a newcomer), this either takes an explicit list of members, or it takes a lot of time in discussion (since some newcomers will insistently challenge any sort of authority and force a long discussion to be had in which everyone explicitly confirms “Yes, LionKimbro has more authority than you”). And if you have an explicit list of members, then you want to have a voting system for adding new members.
  2. Knowing when something has been decided. My point of reference here is the interminable UseRealNames arguments when I was active on MeatballWiki. Every couple of months, some person would come along and refuse to UseRealNames and insist that we change the policy. And we’d say, no dude, we’ve discussed this before and we’re not changing the policy. And they’d say, well, you as an individual (Sunir or Bayle or whoever had told them to UseRealNames) CLAIMS this is what “the community” thinks, but how do I know you are really representing everyone else’s opinions? Tedium ensues. The problem is that, except when there is unanimity, what “the community” thinks is undefined; unless you choose to define it. In my opinion it would have been better if for the really contentious issues, like UseRealNames, we would have defined “what the community thinks” by a formal voting system; then we wouldn’t have had to debate what “the community” really means each time someone wanted to use a pseudonym.
  3. Knowing when something is BEING decided. Up until now, any old random page could contain a crucial “policy” proposal. It is unclear how long policy proposals have to sit around to give everyone a chance to visit the wiki and comment on them. In a formal voting system, this stuff becomes more predictable; proposals which will be voted upon will all be aired on the page FormalLegislativeProposals? for at least two weeks. So people visiting after an absence know where to look to quickly see if there are any new proposals.

David asks: “How do I know someone isn’t just over-reacting?” It’s a good question. Not everybody feels like digging through logs, and on community wiki, old revisions self-destruct anyway, so if it’s not in the summary, there will be no way to retrieve all the details from the past. I certainly did not sift through the evidence, trying to impartially weigh it. No, instead Lion was having a discussison with Sigi about the limits of this site. As far as the topic goes, I don't believe in “everything goes” because I find the WikiWikiWeb to be a stark reminder of what happens in such a case. I wouldn’t be interested in maintaining and hosting such a site, and eventually I’d no longer be interested in reading it, either. So, for some discussions, I’d welcome some authority without having to invoke the wrath of the GodKing. It’s a sad world where there are no other options than saying “no!” and banning somebody. As for as the people involved go, I have personally and harshly told Sigi to leave on a German page quite some time ago. And I value Lion’s contributions. So even if Lion was overreacting emotionally (which I am not convinced of), the situation was resolved in a way I approve of. And the development of a more explicit “inner circle” went in the directions I wanted them to go. I had long ago started thinking about CorporateMembership, because I wanted to make sure some kind of institution was there to feel responsible for CommunityWiki, even if I suddenly just dropped off the net. The IRC network Freenode is an example in case. The founder nick-named lilo was overrun by a car and died last year. In the months before that, he had founded a non-profit and the IRC network is still up and running even though the founder has died. We’re not going for the legal infrastructure this time, but we’re taking steps in the right direction. Works for me!


Define external redirect: FormalLegislativeProposals SvgWiki PlaNetWork CommunityWikiGovernmentNames TomAtlee

EditNearLinks: MeatballWiki SilentMajority MemberRole OddMuse WikiWikiWeb DevolvePower OccasionalContributor PageDatabase GodKing AbsentCommunity VisitorRole