The phrase “joining script” is used in the sociology literature to name the process by which individuals become members of a community. See for example this paper on joining scripts around open source projects.

Joining scripts can run the spectrum from implicit to explicit. The communities where this process is explicit are easier to think about. For example you have to apprentice to become a plumber. Take a course of study to become a doctor. Pass a test to become a lawyer. Be elected to become a school board member.

In other communities, the joining script is left quite ambiguous and fuzzy. Is moving into town enough to make you a townie?

There are presumably complementary processes around communities; for example ones for retiring from the community or for maintaining one’s membership.

When the community has made CommonCause around some artifacts they will have CommunityRituals? for managing additions, subtractions, and modifications of those artifacts. Are these rituals are analogous to the member JoiningScript; probably not very.

The JoiningScript is about how a person changes as he becomes a member of a community. (Well, some of it is about how that person “changes in the eyes of other people”, a change which really occurs in the minds of those other people).

The joining script changes over time, reflecting changes in the community (WikiLifeCycle). At the beginning, it’s fairly easy to join – but you may be asked to do a lot of stuff.

When the community reaches 10 or so people, the members often start to worry about hitting the SmallGroupDiscussionSizeLimit – the CommunityMayNotScale. Sometimes people feel there are “too many” people in the group, so they change the joining script to make it difficult for people to join the group.

See also: WikiJoiningScript


Becoming a member

Today I’m thinking about a different kind of problem associated with change. ChangeFailure

Things start out nicely, with lots of promise and potential: some people get together, and start doing good things that no one of them could have done alone. Yay! The group accumulates many “treasures” (as we say on CommunityWikiGovernmentMotivation).

New people show up, and join the group. The group starts doing even more good things that are bigger and more numerous than what the original small group was capable of doing. Yay!

Then, inevitably, people make mistakes, and conflict arises. Also, valued people leave – perhaps directly because of some particular conflict; perhaps indirectly because “there is too much conflict here”; perhaps for entirely unrelated reasons related to the “not enough time in the day, and not enough days in a lifetime” problem (”Ars longa, vita brevis”).

Generally the actions of the group next year will inevitably fall into one of 4 categories:

  • The group is doing even better things than last year. Big yay!
  • The group is still doing about the same amount of good things. (Status quo). small Yay!
  • The group has stopped doing anything, perhaps because of bureaucratic stagnation, the group has disbanded, etc.
  • The group has fallen into doing bad things. Boo!

What actions can one person do, and what kind of GuidePosts can one person leave behind to inspire the actions of others, so that the group as a whole does better (higher on the above chart)?

New people inevitably don’t remember the entire history of the group, don’t have years of practice dealing with the other people of the group, of doing the sorts of things this group often does, etc. We have CliquesAndCommunities and the ConnectedGraphSquaringProblem.

There seem to be 3 main techniques for making sure a group of people work together:

  • Train new candidates in the techniques they need to know to work with others in the group doing the sorts of things this group does.
  • only allow new people into the group after they pass some sort of test that shows that already are prepared to work with the group. Periodically re-test and kick out people who don’t pass.
  • third technique?

Some people worry that people are joining a group “too rapidly” – the well-trained people already in the group don’t have enough time to devote to training the new people. And so hard-earned lessons are being learned over and over the hard way.

In some cases, the “test” is really trying to discover if that person is, in general, willing to do something a little bit silly in order to get along with the other people in the group. Some people think the ImportanceOfRealNames and wearing neckties is not so much in the names and neckties themselves, but a test to see if people are willing to do something apparently unnecessary in order get along with the rest of the group – some completely different test would work just as well. A PricklyHedge.

Real groups invariably have some combination of these techniques. To become a new member, you must have at least some previous training (for online communities, at least learning to read and something about how to work a computer) and put some effort into finding that community. Also, no matter how many tests you pass before getting into a group, it’s always possible to mess up so badly (violate the CommunityExpectation) that either the group insists you are no longer part of the group, or else the group’s reputation becomes so damaged that no one wants to be a part of the group any more.

People who have been a part of a group for a long time notice that newcomers to a group often make the same sorts of “newbie mistakes” that the last batch of newcomers made. But when the new people interact with the people who have been here for a while, eventually they learn not to make those mistakes – "Preparing for the July Effect: Five Strategies for Integrating New Residents" and ExperiencedInteractionWithInexperience and TheSeptemberThatNeverEnded.


The joining script for CW is quite implicit. For example today I learned a 48x48 rule, who knew :-).

grin. it’s implicit, i think, because it’s not really a requirement for being a member. it’s also relatively new – but i notice that there is more of a push for it now, than when i joined. i am not sure whether i consider that to be a good thing. the push, i mean. i like the little photos. i just don’t want people to feel forced into using them.

moving into town is definitely not enough to make you a “townie”, though it depends on the community. i recall a few of them from europe where the immigrants from 40 years ago were still considered “newcomers”.

:Hell, sometimes the third generation are still considered “Blow ins” in country places in Ireland. And the Berliners have a fine distinction between “Geborner Berliner” and “Gebuertiger Berliner”. The latter demands three (I think) generations of ancestors!

Sounds overcome to me. It’s due to the fact that Berlin “exploded” with the industrial revolution. In 1850 it had 500.000 inhabitants. In 1910 it had over 3 Millions. The major growth happened in the 1880ies and -90ies. People massively came to town to work for AEG, Siemens, Borsig, huge suburbian worker-towns were built rapidly like “Siemensstadt”. Suddently only one of six people in town had their roots in Berlin too. The two terms might have been in use, my granny when she was young might have known about them, but they aren’t anymore.

overcome != ueberholt! Ich habs in Gebrauch gehoert, aber eher scherzhaft. War ja schliesslich zehn jahre da (bei Ach Ah Je). Meine Kinder sind geborne Berliner! (Aber keine Gebuertige - meine Frau wurde zu Leipzig geboren).

The new commer is always afraid he will apear to be a jelly donut.

Once driving in a neighborhood in a neglected neighborhood in Boston we drove down a dead end street were some young gentlemen were playing stickball. They stared at us as we slowly worked the car around into the other direction. As we drove away one of them loudly told his collegues: “Ah! He’s wearing a seat belt!”

This is an interesting page. I also wonder about its relationship to WelcomeRitual?.

Evan! Thanks for the edits!

I think it’s part of the WikiJoiningScript to do some editing. B-)

I have a question about the idea of a joining script, which is coming up because of WikiJoiningScript. The question: is a JoiningScript about when you believe you’re part of the community, or when others believe you’re part of the community?

It seems like the example in the above-linked paper (in which I believe I’m quoted! Wow! I participated in this study, as one of the Freenet developers at the time), the concentration is on at what point others consider you part of the community.

It’s probably also worth noting that the term “joining script” is used in typography for script-style fonts where the end of one letter “joins” the beginning of the next letter, as in cursive handwriting.


Define external redirect: WelcomeRitual CommunityRituals

EditNearLinks: CommunityExpectation PricklyHedge GuidePosts WikiLifeCycle TheSeptemberThatNeverEnded