Chapter 6
§1 The Benevolent Dictator

¶1 When a building is on fire, a leader will not survey everyone to see what the consensus is about a response. It is time for action. — Bhadani’s Second Law

¶2 Open, civil, egalitarian, deliberative: these are some of the concepts encountered in the pursuit of a universal encyclopedia. While they might seem simple enough in the abstract, they become much less so when used in the practice and discourse of a community. For instance, a perfectly “open” community will likely be chaotic, rendering it inhospitable to many. Or, if consensus doesn’t require unanimity, agreement — unanimous or otherwise — on what it does require can be elusive. Some of the sources and ironies of the English Wikipedia’s collaborative culture are further highlighted when one considers the role and status of leadership. Wikipedia, like other open content communities, is predominately a voluntary effort — aside from a few Wikimedia Foundation staff — and there’s little room for coercion or utilitarian rewards. 1 Amitai Etzioni, Comparative Analysis of Complex Organizations (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1975). Yet, there is often a seemingly paradoxical use of informal tyrant-like titles (i.e., “benevolent dictator”) for the community leader. What, then, can we make of this latest puzzle?

¶3 In this chapter I show how this juxtaposition can be understood as an “authorial” form of leadership whereby exceptional autocratic power is exercised by a respected “author” within an open content community. I then return to the story of Wales and Sanger, for their conceptions of leadership and expectations for the community profoundly shaped its direction and culture. Finally, I consider how the community discusses this type of leadership and the values with which it seems at odds.

§2 Authorial leadership

¶4 During one of the discussions about a feared “neo-Nazi” attack with which I began this book, Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales responded, “If 300 NeoNazis show up and start doing serious damage to a bunch of articles, we don’t need to have 300 separate ArbCom cases and a nightmare that drags on for weeks. I’ll just do something to lock those articles down somehow, ban a bunch of people, and protect our reputation and integrity.” 2 Jimmy Wales, “Re: Neo-Nazis to Attack Wikipedia,” wikien-l, February 7, 2005, (visited on February 7, 2005). How can such an autocratic statement be made within a supposedly open and consensus-based community? (I continue to use the term autocratic to describe, nondisparagingly, leadership actions that do not derive their authority from group decision-making processes.) Actually, such an exercise of power by a community founder is not unique to Wikipedia. Such “authorial” leadership is common to many open content communities and prompts three questions that merit attention: What is the environment from which such leadership emerges? How is it enacted? And, most interesting, how is it discussed and understood by the community? 3 Joseph Reagle, “Do as I Do: Authorial Leadership in Wikipedia,” in WikiSym ’07: Proceedings of the 2007 International Symposium on Wikis (New York: ACM Press, 2007), (visited on Dec ...

¶5 With respect to the environment, such leaders often found a project (often by authoring the initial content) around which a community develops, or otherwise emerge from a leaderless context by way of merit; subsequently they influence the direction of a community’s culture. 4 For emergent leadership, see Bernard M. Bass, Bass & Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications, 3rd edition (New York: Free Press, 1990), 126-127. For characteristics of emergent leadership in the online contex ... Furthermore, this type of leadership often operates within a mix of governance models: meritocratic (setting the direction by leading the way), autocratic (acting as an arbiter or defender of last resort), anarchic (consensus); and occasionally democratic (voting). 5 For the mixing of governance models in software development, see O’Neil, Cyberchiefs; Coleman, “Three Ethical Moments in Debian”; Siobhan O’Mahony and Fabrizio Ferraro, “Governance in Production Communities,” April 2007, ... Wales himself has noted that:

¶6 Wikipedia is not an anarchy, though it has anarchistic features. Wikipedia is not a democracy, though it has democratic features. Wikipedia is not an aristocracy, though it has aristocratic features. Wikipedia is not a monarchy, though it has monarchical features. 6 Jimmy Wales, "From Jimbo Wales’ user talk page," quoted in Wikimedia, “Meta:Talk:Benevolent Dictator,” Wikimedia, March 16, 2007, (visited on May 21, 2008).

¶7 With respect to conduct, leaders often convince by persuasion and example though they also retain charismatic authority accumulated from their merit. 7 "Charismatic authority" is seminally discussed by Weber, Economy and Society, 215; in the online context, see Giampaolo Garzarelli and Roberto Galoppini, “Capability Coordination in Modular Organization: Voluntary FS/OSS Production and the Case of D ... This authority is frequently employed to act, as a last resort, as an arbiter between those of good faith or as an (autocratic) defender against those of bad faith. As Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) luminary Eric Raymond notes, leaders must be capable of operating with a “soft touch,” to “speak softly,” consult with peers, and “not lightly interfere with or reverse decisions” made by other prominent members. 8 Eric Raymond, “Homesteading the Noosphere,” First Monday 3, number 10 (1998): 15, (visited on December 13, 2004). Additionally, humor and civility facilitate camaraderie between all participants and ease the exercise of authority and related anxiety.

¶8 Finally, such leadership is rarely enacted or understood as a formal office, though prominent leaders might be endowed with the informal moniker of “benevolent dictator” and occasionally act autocratically, 9 Raymond, “Homesteading the Noosphere”; Wikipedia, “Benevolent Dictator for Life (oldid=289287807)”. as Wales threatened in the neo-Nazi case. However, leaders whose autocratic actions exceed their accumulated merit or charisma, sometimes referred to “idiosyncrasy credits” or “reputation shares,” risk their status and a forking of the community. 10 Edwin P. Hollander, “Competence and Conformity in the Acceptance of Influence,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 61, number 3 (1960): 365–369,; Yukl, Leadership in Organizations, 29; Raymond, ... For example, while a “benevolent dictator” might be tolerated as a necessity, a “God King” is a “site owner or administrator who uses their special authority more than absolutely necessary.” This is a leader so “arrogant that they suppose they are ‘god’ ”; this type of leadership is an “abuse,” “a bad thing,” and an “anti-pattern” of good wiki community. 11 Meatball, “GodKing,” Meatball Wiki, November 2, 2007, (visited on November 2, 2007). Also, the possibility of forking — even if unlikely — is central to voluntary community dynamics and discourse, as David Wheeler notes with respect to FOSS communities:

¶9 Fundamentally, the ability to create a fork forces project leaders to pay attention to their constituencies. Even if an OSS/FS project completely dominates its market niche, there is always a potential competitor to that project: a fork of the project. Often, the threat of a fork is enough to cause project leaders to pay attention to some issues they had ignored before, should those issues actually be important. In the end, forking is an escape valve that allows those who are dissatisfied with the project’s current leadership to show whether or not their alternative is better. 12 Wheeler, “Why Open Source Software/Free Software (OSS/FS)? Look at the Numbers!”

¶10 In short, only those leaders that tread carefully and continue to make important contributions (including, now, the judicious exercise of autocratic authority) are granted the “dictator” title. Whereas this term might not be the most appropriate in capturing the genuine character of this role, it serves as a warning: a good-natured joke balanced on the edge of becoming a feared reality. 13 For examples of similar anxiety and humor about leadership, see Pfaffenberger, “If I Want It, It’s Okay”; Wikipedia, “Wikipedia:Mediation Cabal,” Wikipedia, February 16, 2009, (visited on May 29, 2009), 379. ... It serves as a caution to such leaders, as well as a metaphoric yardstick for discussing any participant’s action.

¶11 Because of the voluntary and meritocratic character of open content communities it is not surprising that leaders are expected to lead by example as their very leadership is founded upon exemplary behavior; leadership emerges through action rather than appointment. And while a founding leadership role has some semblance of authoritarianism to it, at least in title, it is eternally contingent: a dissatisfied community, or some constituency thereof, can always leave and start again under new leadership.

§3 Wales and Sanger

¶12 Two of the most influential people in the history of Wikipedia are cofounders Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales. In Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar Schein identifies ways in which such leaders embed and transmit culture including “how leaders react to critical incidents and organizational crises.” 14 Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 2nd edition (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1992), 231. The following brief account of the crisis of Nupedia’s demise, Wikipedia’s rise, and Sanger’s departure provides a revealing introduction to leadership in the Wikipedia context.

¶13 Wales, a co-owner of the Internet content and search company Bomis, hired Sanger in February 2000 to launch and act as the editor in chief of the Nupedia project. Until he resigned, Sanger was the most prominent leader of Nupedia (the original peer-review project) and Wikipedia (its wiki complement and eventual successor). As Sanger writes in his April 2005 memoir:

¶14 The idea of adapting wiki technology to the task of building an encyclopedia was mine, and my main job in 2001 was managing and developing the community and the rules according to which Wikipedia was run. Jimmy’s role, at first, was one of broad vision and oversight; this was the management style he preferred, at least as long as I was involved. But, again, credit goes to Jimmy alone for getting Bomis to invest in the project, and for providing broad oversight of the fantastic and world-changing project of an open content, collaboratively-built encyclopedia. Credit also of course goes to him for overseeing its development after I left, and guiding it to the success that it is today.

¶15 What precipitated Sanger’s resignation? As discussed in chapter 2, Sanger was caught between continuing frustration with Nupedia’s slow progress on one hand and problems with unruly Wikipedians on the other. Furthermore, Sanger alienated some Wikipedians who saw his actions as unjustifiably autocratic and he eventually broke with the project altogether. In late 2006 Sanger launched the more expert-friendly collaborative encyclopedia Citizendium. In any case, Sanger’s account recognizes the uneasy tension between title and authority and cultural momentum at the founding of this community:

¶16 My early rejection of any enforcement authority, my attempt to portray myself and behave as just another user who happened to have some special moral authority in the project, and my rejection of rules — these were all clearly mistakes on my part. They did, I think, help the project get off the ground; but I really needed a more subtle and forward-looking understanding of how an extremely open, decentralized project might work.

¶17 Such an understanding might have been like that of Theodore Roosevelt’s recommended leadership style: speak softly and carry a big stick. Whereas Sanger did have special authority at Nupedia as “editor in chief,” such was not the case at Wikipedia, and Sanger’s corresponding “loudness” was a later cause of regret:

¶18 As it turns out, it was Jimmy who spoke softly and carried the big stick; he first exercised “enforcement authority.” Since he was relatively silent throughout these controversies, he was the “good cop,” and I was the “bad cop”: that, in fact, is precisely how he (privately) described our relationship. Eventually, I became sick of this arrangement. Because Jimmy had remained relatively toward the background in the early days of the project, and showed that he was willing to exercise enforcement authority upon occasion, he was never so ripe for attack as I was. 15 Sanger, “The Early History of Nupedia and Wikipedia”.

¶19 Perhaps unrealized by Sanger, Wales exhibited this pattern of leadership even on an earlier philosophical email list for which he wrote that he would “frown *very much* on any flaming of any kind whatsoever” and choose “a ‘middle-ground’ method of moderation, a sort of behind-the-scenes prodding.” 16 Jimmy Wales as quoted in Marshall Poe, “The Hive: Can Thousands of Wikipedians Be Wrong? How an Attempt to Build an Online Encyclopedia Touched off History’s Biggest Experiment in Collaborative Knowledge,” The Atlantic Monthly ... And most interestingly, Sanger attributes a root of the problem to his failure to recognize the importance of community and culture:

¶20 For months I denied that Wikipedia was a community, claiming that it was, instead, only an encyclopedia project, and that there should not be any serious governance problems if people would simply stick to the task of making an encyclopedia. This was strictly wishful thinking. In fact, Wikipedia was from the beginning and is both a community and an encyclopedia project. 17 Sanger, “The Early History of Nupedia and Wikipedia”.

¶21 As noted earlier, upon publication of Sanger’s memoirs a controversy arose over whether Sanger even deserved credit as a cofounder of Wikipedia. In a sense, in playing the bad cop one is depleting one’s own reputation or leadership credits in favor of the good cop; Sanger, in shifting from bad-cop to apostate, prompted some to question whether such credit was merited at any time. A more productive discussion at the time characterized the change in leadership style as a necessary one:

¶22 Now, I must say… I think a project of such a type can only work *without* a strong authority. It is important to let people built their own organisation. Jimbo has this very powerful strength, in this that he lets most of the organisation be a self-organisation. For those who know a bit about leadership, it is a rather rare occurrence. For the sake of wikipedia, and to let all the international projects grow up (without a strong hand to lead them), it was important that the role of the editor in chief disappear. 18 Anthere, “Re: Sanger’s Memoirs,” wikipedia-l, April 23, 2005, (visited on April 23, 2005).

¶23 Sanger actually concedes as much in the development of editorial policies but is still concerned about controlling abusive editors and attacks, particularly when they alienate high-quality expert contributors. And so he now leads the Citizendium project.

§4 Wales’ influence

¶24 Authorial leaders are frequently the initial author of the community’s content. This is the case, for example, with Linus Torvalds and the Linux kernel or Guido van Rossum and the Python programming language. In this respect, Wikipedia is a bit different, as was pointed out to me by Evan Prodromou, Wikipedian and a founder of Wikitravel. 19 Evan Prodromou, “Your Paper and Presentation at WikiSym,” email message to author, October 23, 2007, doi:1193147885.6121.35.camel@bear. Prodromou argued that unlike FOSS communities, Wikipedia has many more contributors, many of whom, even at the administrator level, contribute at a low skill and intensity level compared to FOSS contributors. Furthermore, unlike other wiki communities or even other leaders within Wikipedia, Wales has never been a significant “author” in terms of creating content. Indeed, because of Wikipedia’s history the community regards an editor in chief as undesirable, and even Wales’s relatively modest editorial contributions are apt to cause concern. (In fact, in The New Yorker he admitted he abandoned his efforts to write a scholarly Nupedia article on Robert Merton and options-pricing theory because it was too intimidating and reminiscent of graduate school. 20 Schiff, “Know It All,” 3; Jimmy Wales, “Citing Material from the Web?,” nupedia-l, October 10, 2000, (visited on June 7, 2006). Sometimes his Wikipedia edits are challenged, as we will see, and statistics on his contributions and “edit count” have been a topic of discussion. 21 Steve Bennett, “[OT] Jimbo Wales’ Edit Count (Was: Re: Here’s an,” wikien-l, February 1, 2006, (visited on February 1, 2006). ) Plus, much of his purview has been understandably limited to English projects. And even though Wales’s public presence in the daily life of Wikipedia has receded, 22 For example, between June and September 2008 Wales did not post to wikiEN-l MARC, “Viewing Messages Posted by ‘Jimmy Wales’,” MARC, May 23, 2008, (visited on October 3, 2008); his edits can be seen at Wik ... I consider his leadership to be central because of his founding vision, early activity, contributions to collaborative norms, relationships with other Wikipedians, and latent power.

¶25 In addition to reacting to crises, Schein argues that community culture is affected by what leaders “pay attention to.” 23 Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 231. In this way, leadership can be exerted by highlighting rather than coercing. For example, in any early discussion about neutral point of view, Wales identifies an important issue and highlights a sentiment he agrees with: “We should all pay close attention to Larry’s wording here, which I think is excellent. Nupedia should ‘include articles *on* all points of view’ (note the emphasis added), not necessarily ‘include articles *from* all points of view.’” 24 Jimmy Wales, “Re: Do We NEED an Article on Feminism for the One on Masculism?”, nupedia-l, September 15, 2000, (visited on June 7, 2006) ... Or, as seen in the discussion about the blocking of a white supremacist, Wales went out of his way to commend the participants for having “a disagreement with a positive exploration of the deeper issues.” 25 Wales, “Re: A Neo-Nazi Wikipedia”. Highlighting others’ arguments to make his own has even led Wales to apologize for contravening Netiquette; in a thread about the balance between high-quality content and “cruft,” Wales commented: “I know it is bad form to quote an entire post just to say ‘me too’ but I wanted to say that Daniel is right on the money here, and displays what I think of as true Wikipedia spirit. We have to have a passion to *get it right* or we’ll be full of rampant nonsense.” 26 Jimmy Wales, “Re: Cruft,” wikien-l, September 11, 2005, ... He also can be found highlighting what he thinks to be central Wikipedia values: “Wikipedia is built on (among other things) twin pillars of trust and tolerance…. The harmony of our work depends on human understanding and forgiveness of errors.” 27 Jimbo Wales, “User Talk:Jimbo Wales,” March 3, 2007, (visited on March 3, 2007).

¶26 Furthermore, after immersing oneself in Wikipedia practice it is not difficult to see that many of its good faith norms are strongly exercised by Wales himself. In a 2007 discussion about his role at Wikipedia he described his approach as diplomatic and reflects elements of both good faith and neutrality:

¶27 I have many faults, but refusal to listen is not really among them. I make mistakes, but I am calm and educable. I try to land in the center on most issues, rather than staking out any sort of extreme positions. And I try to represent all parts of the community’s interest in the broad building of consensus as being better than gang warfare. 28 Jimmy Wales, “Re: Just What *Is* Jimbo’s Role Anyway?,” wikien-l, March 21, 2007, (visited on March 21, 2007).

¶28 Wales once described his approach to me as “I like to think I’m not stupid, but I’m not in my present position because I’m smart but because I’m friendly.” 29 Jimmy Wales, “Wikimania 2007 Interview with Joseph Reagle” (August 3, 2007). This attitude can be seen in the following interactions in which Wales frequently writes with:

¶33 Additionally, humor serves to further camaraderie and diffuse anxiety about leadership. In response to a message about an April Fool’s Day joke about Wales as dictator, someone responded that many prominent Wikipedians make jokes:

¶34 These jokes don’t have a “point.” If you scour the list for all messages, you will find that I am not the only one who has a sense of humour and knows how to make jokes. In fact, this extends to Ant, Mav, Jimbo, etc. who can occasionally be found to be making a joke on this list.

¶35 I don’t know how it is with you, but as far as I know the point of humour is to lighten up a situation, and only occasionally to make a point. 34 Mark Williamson, “Re: Wikimedia Foundation Internal Radio System”, wikipedia-l, April 12, 2005, (visited on April 12, 2005).

¶36 However, as Wikipedia has grown, attempts at humor by those in positions of authority seemingly become rarer because a bad or misunderstood joke can have deleterious consequences exceeding the value of a few chuckles. And, of course, just as Wikipedia sometimes fall short of its ideals, Wales — and other leaders — make their fair share of mistakes, some of which are widely publicized because of Wikipedia’s prominence and a counter-culture of message boards that thrive on complaint and conspiracy. 35 Some of the more extreme message boards have come to popular attention through media coverage of "cyberbullying," see Mattathias Schwartz, “Malwebolence - The World of Web Trolling,”, August 3, 2008, ... Even within the community, his attempts to steer Wikipedia are sometimes challenged. For example, during the 2006 Wikimedia board of trustee elections, Wales’ message encouraging people to vote — and for specific candidates — was thought inappropriate by some because he might have access to the intermediate results; subsequent elections were hosted and overseen by an external organization. 36 Jimmy Wales, “Wikimedia Board Elections,” wikipedia-l, September 16, 2006, (visited on September 16, 2006); Wikimedia Foundation, “Wikimedia Foundation Announces Board Elections”, Wikimedia, Ju ... Or, in response to an embarrassing instance of vandalism in 2009, Wales called upon the Foundation to enable the experimental “Flagged Revisions” feature at the English Wikipedia based on his “personal recommendation” and community consensus (roughly 60 percent of those polled supported the idea). This prompted a maelstrom of discussion, and mainstream press attention, about openness, the meaning of consensus, and his role. However, despite initially overreaching, he and the community continued substantive discussion and Wales challenged those who objected for a specific counter-proposal within a limited time frame. 37 Wartenberg and Ragesoss, “Flagged Revisions (oldid=266468243)”; Cohen, “Wikipedia May Restrict Public’s Ability to Change Entries”; Jimmy Wales, “User Talk:Jimbo Wales,” Wikipedia, January 22, 2009, (visited ... (I expect using this feature as a way to protect specific pages eventually will be implemented.)

¶37 In any case, Wikipedia’s good faith culture undeniably has been shaped by Wales’s own values and actions; while he did not write many articles, he did help establish many of Wikipedia’s essential values and norms. Additionally, after Sanger’s departure he once again attempted to move to the “background” in encouraging other forms of governance to emerge and by supporting like-minded persons with a similar temperament.

§5 Beyond the Founders: Admins, ArbCom, and the Board

¶38 Whereas cofounder Larry Sanger was editor in chief of Nupedia and he was informally known as the chief organizer of Wikipedia, neither role was ever claimed again after he resigned. Instead, the “Administrators” page stresses that everyone is an equal editor. Those who demonstrate themselves to be good editors may request extra responsibilities but “are not imbued with special authority.” 38 Wikipedia, “Wikipedia:Administrators,” March 23, 2005, (visited on May 4, 2007). Yet, while Wikipedia culture values editorial egalitarianism over administrative responsibilities, this does not mean there are no leaders. Consequently, before turning to how the community speaks about leadership, I first present a brief description of the leadership and governance structure of Wikipedia itself.

¶39 A novel characteristic of Wikipedia is that most anyone who browses Wikipedia may edit it — though a tiny fraction of pages are “protected” if they are subject to persistent or severe policy violations, such as edit warring, vandalism, defamation, or copyright violations. 39 Wikipedia, “Wikipedia:Practical Process (oldid=221497230)”; Wikipedia, “Wikipedia:Lists of Protected Pages,” Wikipedia, June 30, 2008, (visited on October 2, 2008). Wikipedia pages claim that contributors who sign up for an account and log in — no longer “anonymous” — do not gain additional powers; instead, they have access to useful features such as a user page and the ability to track the pages one cares about. (Of course, a logged-in user who builds a good reputation can garner informal authority among other contributors.) Additional features are made accessible to experienced users in the role of a system administrator , or sysop. These features permit such an administrator to enact Wikipedia policy and group consensus, particularly with respect to the management of protected pages, the deletion of pages, or temporarily blocking sources of vandalism. Yet, the English Wikipedia’s “Administrators” page quotes Jimmy Wales as saying, “This should not be a big deal.” Indeed, in a 2005 version of this page an association with editorial authority is purposely disavowed:

¶40 Administrators are not imbued with any special authority, and are equal to everybody else in terms of editorial responsibility. Some Wikipedians consider the terms “Sysop” and “Administrator” to be misnomers, as they just indicate Wikipedia users who have had performance-and security-based restrictions on several features lifted because they seemed like trustworthy folks and asked nicely. However, administrators do not have any special power over other users other than applying decisions made by all users.

¶41 In the early days of Wikipedia all users acted as administrators and in principle they still should. Any user can behave as if they are an administrator, provided that they do not falsely claim to be one, even if they have not been given the extra administrative functions. Users doing so are more likely to be nominated as full administrators by members of the community and more likely to be chosen when they are finally nominated. 40 Wikipedia, “Wikipedia:Administrators (oldid=11508036)”.

¶42 Essentially, administrators are able to quickly prevent and intervene in destructive edits. (Textual vandalism isn’t truly destructive as the previous versions are available; one administrative feature is the rollback that permits the quick reversion of such edits.) However, in an ironic testament that administrators are much like ordinary users, they do sometimes become involved in wheel wars, a term going back to the 1970s to describe conflicts among those who gained “big wheel” privileges on a computer system. 41 Wikipedia, “Wheel (Unix Term),” Wikipedia, September 13, 2008, (visited on September 30, 2008). And, given there are now thousands of contributors, administrators, and administrative actions it is no longer possible to claim that administrators are “applying decisions made by all users” as was claimed in 2005. A clarification in 2008 states: “There is very little extra decision-making ability that goes along with adminship, and it does not add any extra voice in consensus decisions. In that sense, whether a person is an administrator is not, in and of itself, important.” 42 Wikipedia, “Wikipedia:Administrators,” Wikipedia, October 2, 2008, (visited on October 2, 2008).

¶43 In the time since its founding, additional levels of authority have appeared as Wikipedia evolved from a small English-only encyclopedia to a massive project among many at a nonprofit foundation. At the English Wikipedia there are now 900-plus active administrators and about a dozen active bureaucrats who appoint administrators and other bureaucrats. 43 Wikipedia, “Wikipedia:List of Administrators (oldid=307325114)”; Wikipedia, “Wikipedia:Bureaucrats,” Wikipedia, July 16, 2009, (visited on July 17, 2009). Elected stewards can, respectively, change any such role across all Wikimedia wikis and act as bureaucrats for smaller projects. 44 Wikimedia, “Stewards,” Wikimedia, July 9, 2009, (visited on July 17, 2009). Orthogonal to administrative and governance roles there are also developers , those who actually write the software and administer the servers. 45 The structure and character of Wikipedia governance is further explored by Forte and Bruckman ... Volunteers continue to act in all of these capacities: the Wikimedia Foundation has only a handful of employees who administer the foundation, solicit funding, or perform essential hardware/software maintenance and development. 46 Wikipedia, “Wikimedia Foundation,” Wikipedia, July 14, 2009, (visited on July 17, 2009).

¶44 In Wikipedia culture, and in keeping with the larger wiki culture, delineations of authority are suspect, as is seen in the previous excerpt regarding the role of administrators. Yet, even if these other levels of authority entail responsibilities rather than rights — which is the orthodox line — they could nonetheless be seen as something to achieve or envy if only for symbolic status. This leads to the occasional call for the label associated with this role to be deprecated, as discussed in the thread “Rename Admins to Janitors”:

¶45 I’m sick and tired of people misunderstanding what an “administrator” of Wikipedia is. It was a misnomer to begin with, and we’ve had nothing but trouble with this name ever since. Users misunderstand it (and ask admins to make editorial decisions). Media misunderstand it (and either do not explain it, or connect it to power and influence). And it’s no wonder. “Administrator” could refer to a manager, or someone appointed by a court; it typically describes someone in an important official position.

¶46 When the role of “bureaucrat” was created, the name was chosen specifically so that people would not treat it as a status symbol. It should be something nobody really wants — something people do because it needs doing, not because it gains them credibility and influence. This seems to have worked reasonably well for the most part. 47 Erik Moeller, “Rename Admins to Janitors,” wikien-l, March 6, 2007, (visited on March 6, 2007).

¶47 Also, it is worthwhile to note that as one ascends the hierarchy of roles, and the power of implementation increases, policy discretion often decreases. Just as administrators ought not to have extra authority in making editorial decisions, stewards should not make policy decisions. Stewards can “remove arbitrary user access levels” on any Wikimedia wiki. They can toggle whether one has the ability of an administrator (to block users or protect pages), a bot (run automatic tools), or a bureaucrat (set access levels within a single wiki), and whether one has the ability of oversight (suppressing revisions), or checkuser (to determine the Internet address of users). Because of this power, stewards are governed by their own policies: don’t decide, don’t promote users on projects with existing bureaucrats, don’t change rights on your own project, act with transparency, and check local policies. 48 Wikimedia, “Stewards,” Wikimedia, November 2, 2007, (visited on November 2, 2007). The “don’t decide” policy further states:

¶48 Stewards are not allowed to make decisions, such as “this user should (or should not) be promoted.” Their task is to implement valid community decisions…. Stewards should always be neutral. They can vote in elections, but when executing the result of the election the steward has to act according to the result, even if they disagree. 49 Wikimedia, “Steward Policies (oldid=724037)”.

¶49 At the time of incorporation in 2003, Wales delegated some of his authority to an initial five directors of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, in which he serves as chairman emeritus. (The board has since been expanded; elections in July 2009 resulted in a total of ten trustees. 50 Wikimedia Foundation, “Board of Trustees/Restructure Announcement”, Wikimedia Foundation, April 26, 2008, (visited on June 11, 2009). ) The Board “has the power to direct the activities of the foundation. It also has the authority to set membership dues, discipline and suspend members (article III), and to amend the corporate bylaws (article VI).” 51 Wikimedia Foundation, “Board of Trustees,” October 13, 2005, (visited on August 26, 2008). In the realm of editorial disputes between users (including administrators) dispute resolution can be facilitated by mediation or arbitration, and the Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) can issue a binding decision. The ArbCom, discussed in chapter 5, was first proposed as a “Wikiquette committee” in 2003 and was formally established the following year. 52 Erik Moeller, “RK Temp-Banned,” wikien-l, October 2, 2003, (visited on April 16, 2009); Jimmy Wales, “Wikiquette ‘Committee’,” wikien-l, October 2, 2003, ... However, it is recommended that disputes be worked out civilly between the participants as mediation and arbitration can be tedious. Or, as Skomorokh’s Law notes, “There are no winners at Arbitration, only losers.” 53 Wikipedia, “User:Raul654/Raul’s Laws (oldid=301373968)”. The ArbCom, the Board, and Jimmy Wales himself, ultimately, have the authority to penalize or remove abusive users.

¶50 Finally, while consensus is preferred for most decisions, voting has had a place in Wikipedia, such as in some elections (e.g., for stewards and board members) and on pages like “VfD” (Votes for Deletion) where allegedly unworthy articles are nominated for removal. Nonetheless voting is widely recognized as difficult and often contentious: “Don’t vote on everything, and if you can help it, don’t vote on anything.” 54 Wikimedia, “Polls Are Evil (oldid=656194)”. In fact the VfD process was renamed to AfD (Articles for Deletion) and now speaks of consensus rather than voting. 55 Wikipedia, “Wikipedia:Deletion Guidelines for Administrators,” Wikipedia, July 4, 2008, (visited on October 3, 2008). In any case, and as noted earlier, multiple models of governance coexist within Wikipedia, and democratic voting is widely recognized as problematic.

¶51 However, despite an early lack of concern with community structure and culture (e.g., “Ignore All Rules”), protestations that administrators are nothing but janitors, and that the ArbCom was but an experimental delegation of authority from Wales, Wikipedia’s conceptualization of governance and leadership is maturing and stabilizing. Wikipedia has long since recognized itself as a community, people strive to become administrators despite disclaimers, and the ArbCom is unlikely to go away. The cultural significance of administrators was acknowledged in January 2007 by the creation of the page “Advice for New Administrators,” which became part of the “New Admin School,” which even includes the “coaching” (mentoring) of editors who want to become an administrator. 56 Wikipedia, “Wikipedia:New Admin School,” Wikipedia, June 20, 2008, (visited on July 31, 2008); Wikipedia, ... Yet, the orthodox caveats about responsibility rather than power persist, as the “Advice” page cautions:

¶52 Remember that administrator status is not a trophy. Generally, therefore, do not act any differently now than you did six months or a year ago. It is true that you may be able to help mediate a dispute effectively, or resolve one, or guide the improvement of an article. But in virtually all of these cases your ability has nothing to do with your being an administrator, just with your experience, knowledge of the policies, and good sense — i.e. virtues you had long before you became an administrator, and virtues shared by many non-administrators…. Wikipedia administrators do have certain powers, and you need good judgment to use them. Nevertheless, this does not mean that administrators should act like police or judges. Consider thinking of your new status more like a custodian. 57 Wikipedia, “Wikipedia:Advice for New Administrators,” Wikipedia, June 10, 2008, (visited on August 8, 2008).

¶53 Furthermore, the role of socializing others into the collaborative norms of Wikipedia are represented as a central function of being an administrator, who should be willing to talk and be patient; respond with “gentle” encouragement and discouragement; pay “careful attention to our core policies”; “assume people act on good faith”; and “give people the benefit of the doubt.” They should not “get sucked in” to the disputes in which they intervene.

§6 Discussing Leadership

¶54 The prominent leader of an open content community is sometimes characterized as a benevolent dictator. This is a variation on a tradition in online communities, particularly Usenet, of referring to a minority with disproportionate influence as a “cabal.” 58 Pfaffenberger, “If I Want It, It’s Okay”; Coleman, “Three Ethical Moments in Debian”. While a cabal can still be spoken of in earnest (with a negative connotation), in time it and the acronym TINC (“There Is No Cabal”) became shorthand for referring to the difficulties of community governance and the propensity for some to see conspiracies. The role of the “benevolent dictator” completes this ironic turn while also indicating genuine respect. Jimmy Wales is referred to as a benevolent dictator, though it is not a title he accepts. Indeed, it behooves any such leader to disclaim such a title because, as Eric Raymond notes, hacker culture “consciously distrusts and despises egotism and ego-based motivations; self-promotion tends to be mercilessly criticized, even when the community might appear to have something to gain from it. So much so, in fact, that the culture’s ‘big men’ and tribal elders are required to talk softly and humorously deprecate themselves at every turn in order to maintain their status.” 59 Raymond, “Homesteading the Noosphere,” 11. (Although Raymond is seminal for theorizing aspects of open source leadership and popularizing the term “benevolent dictator,” its usage appears to precede Raymond’s use in computer communities and even its application to Linus Torvalds. 60 For the earliest instance I could find in computer communities see Steve Dyer, “Re on the Direction of Net.Motss,” net.motss, October 2, 1984, (visited on May 2, 2007); for application t ... )

¶55 Nonetheless, the need for “dictatorship” arises from the difficulty inherent to decision making in large, voluntary, and consensus-oriented communities. While a cabal or dictator might be complained about, so might their absence. In a discussion about whether a redesign of Wikipedia’s portal should use icons of national flags to represent different languages — many nations share a language or use more than one — Wikipedian NSK wrote that continued arguments “do nothing to improve the present ugly portal.” Unfortunately, “Wikipedia suffers from many voices, often contradictory. I think you need an influential leader to take final decisions (after community input of course).” 61 NSK, “Re: Flags,” wikipedia-l, January 10, 2005, (visited on January 10, 2005). This sentiment is shared in many open content communities. FOSS practitioner Karl Fogel writes: “Only when it is clear that no consensus can be reached, and that most of the group wants someone to guide the decision so that development can move on, do they put their foot down and say ‘This is the way it’s going to be.”’ 62 Fogel, “Producing Open Source Software,” 48. Clay Shirky also makes this point in his essay “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy” by way of Geoff Cohen’s observation that “the likelihood that any unmoderated group will eventually get into a flame-war about whether or not to have a moderator approaches one as time increases.” 63 Geoff Cohen, quoted in Shirky, “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy,” 5. (Again, Cohen’s observation takes the form of the ever popular Godwin’s Law.)

¶56 In the Wikipedia context, in addition to differing opinions among those of good faith, an informal and consensus-based approach does not seemingly deal well with those who act in bad faith, such as the feared neo-Nazi attack:

¶57 What is needed in obvious cases like this is a “benevolent dictator,” whether it’s Jimbo Wales or the arbcom, to examine the editors’ contributions then ban them, because these are not bona fide Wikipedians who happen to have a strong POV. They are fanatics acting to promote the views of a political cult, and they’re here for no other reason. Yet here they remain, making a mockery of everything Wikipedia stands for. 64 SlimVirgin, “Re: Original Research versus Point of View,” wikien-l, January 18, 2005, (visited on January 18, 2005).

¶58 Where possible, Wales has delegated authority, particularly to the Board of Trustees and Arbitration Committee, but much authority remains with Wales as noted in a 2005 comment:

¶59 Wikipedia is “at the mercy of” Jimbo. Jimbo has delegated his “mercy,” to use your term, to the Arbitration Committee that he convened over 15 months ago, and which he periodically refreshes the membership thereof as guided by the wishes of the community. Significant disciplinary matters in Wikipedia are thus guided by a number of editors who are held in high esteem by the community at large (or, at least, so one hopes). 65 James D. Forrester, “Re: Your Golorous [Sic] Leader.,” wikien-l, April 8, 2005, ...

¶60 Anthere, a former chairperson of the board of trustees, described this balance of reserved authority and delegation as one of facilitating or hindering a direction, reminiscent of the goal theory of leadership 66 Yukl, Leadership in Organizations, 144. whereby a leader makes the subordinate’s path more satisfying and easier to travel by clarifying goals and reducing obstructions:

¶61 I think that what is especially empowering is the leadership type of Jimbo. Jimbo is not coaching at all, and rather little directing (though hints are sometimes quite clear), as well as rather little delegating (I think the foundation would sometimes benefit from more delegation from Jimbo). His type is essentially supportive. Very low direction but very high support. This leaves basically as much opportunity to work in certain directions as one would dream of. However, one moves in a direction supported by Jimbo much more quickly than in a direction not supported by Jimbo. I[t] can take a long time to find a satisfactory decision, but prevents from travelling in an unsafe direction. 67 Anthere, “Re: NYTimes.Com: Google May Host Encyclopedia Project”, wikipedia-l, February 14, 2005, (visited on February 14, 2005).

¶62 However, this balance can lead to ambiguities that prompt discussion, such as that about editorial authority. In February of 2005 an enormous debate erupted over the illustration included in the encyclopedic article on autofellatio. Images tend to prompt many debates and raise questions of censorship, free speech, cultural differences, and of the age appropriateness and quality of Wikipedia. A similar debate arose for the image in the clitoris article, as well as a cinematic still of Kate Winslet wearing nothing but a diamond necklace in the “Titanic (1997 film)” article. The latter debate was resolved when her breasts were cropped from the image; 68 Wikipedia, “Talk:Titanic (1997 Film)/Archive 1,” Wikipedia, December 13, 2007, (visited on September 30, 2008). it was eventually removed altogether because of copyright concerns. When Wales deleted the photographic image of autofellatio, which had replaced the less-contentious illustration, Erik Moeller challenged this action as it raised the old issue of to what extent Wikipedia has an “editor in chief”:

¶63 Perhaps you could clarify that this was not done in your role as trustee. I don’t believe it was, as you did not consult with Angela and Anthere [two other trustees], so I consider it just like an edit by any other Wikipedia editor, only that, of course, you hope that people will take it more seriously because of the reputation that comes with your role in the project, past and present. That’s completely reasonable, if done rarely and in cases you consider important.

¶64 The page is currently being edit warred over, and one editor uses the comment “rv [revert] to Jimbo’s approved version.” It would be helpful if you could state here that you are not in the business of approving articles. I believe your edit summary “This image is completely unacceptable for Wikipedia” could be misconstrued to be an official statement, when it is your personal opinion. Some people still see Wikimedia as being governed by a benevolent dictator, and any explanation would help to eliminate that misconception.

¶65 I still remember how the Spanish Wikipedia forked over some discussion on advertising. I’m somewhat worried that people might misunderstand your comments, and assume that you are acting as “Chief Editor.” On the other side, those who do support the removal of the image might deliberately seek to create that impression in order to further their agenda. 69 Erik Moeller, “Re: [[Talk:Autofellatio]] - Poll,” wikien-l, February 13, 2005, (visited on February 13, 2005).

¶66 Wales did not respond to this particular email message, but continued discussion with respect to how this image would affect educational use of Wikipedia. However, Wales’s role was further discussed during discussion of the possible neo-Nazi attack. This led Wales to clarify that he would prevent such an attack though he also recognizes the dangers inherent to such action:

¶67 The danger of course is that the benign dictator may turn out to be biased or wrong himself. So I hesitate to do this except in cases where speed is of essence, or where it’s just very clearcut and easy. What I prefer is that I can act as a temporary bridge and “person to blame” while we work on community solutions. 70 Wales, “Re: Neo-Nazis to Attack Wikipedia”.

¶68 Seven months later, on the same thread, Wales further defined his role as a “constitutional monarch”:

¶69 I do not believe in the “benevolent dictator” model for Wikipedia. Our project is of major historical significance, and it is not appropriate for any one person to be the benevolent dictator of all human knowledge. Obviously.

¶70 But we have retained a “constitutional monarchy” in our system and the main reason for it is to support and make possible a very open system in which policy is set organically by the community and democratic processes and institutions emerge over a long period of experimentation and consensus-building…. It is not possible for 10,000 NeoNazis (if such numbers exist) to storm into Wikipedia and take it over by subverting our organic democratic processes because I will not allow it. Period. So we don’t have to overdesign those processes out of a paranoia of a hostile takeover. But this also means that we don’t need to over-react right now. We can wait and see. They’ll talk a big game but just review those message boards and then look around here. A battle of wits between Wikipedians and Nazis? I know who I’m betting on. 71 Jimmy Wales, “Re: Re: A Neo-Nazi Wikipedia,” wikien-l, August 27, 2005, (visited on August 27, 2005).

¶71 Wales’ conception of his role was further developed and articulated on the “Benevolent Dictator” discussion page:

¶72 I am more comfortable with the analogy to the British monarch, i.e. my power should be (and is) limited, and should fade over time….

¶73 The situation in is probably a good example of how I can play a productive role through the judicious exercise of power. My role there is mostly just as advisor to people in terms of just trying to help people think about the bigger picture and how we can find the best ways to interact and get along to get our incredibly important work done.

¶74 But it is also a role of “constitutional” importance, in the sense that everyone who is party to the discussion can feel comfortable that whatever agreements are reached will be *binding*, that there is a higher enforcement mechanism. It’s not up to me to *impose* a solution, nor is it up to me directly to *enforce* a solution chosen by the community, but I do play a role in guaranteeing with my personal promise that valid solutions decided by the community in a reasonable fashion will be enforced by someone….

¶75 And notice, too, that I believe such authority should be replaced as time goes along by institutions within the community, such as for example the ArbCom in, or by community votes in, etc.

¶76 We have very few problems, other than isolated things, with sysop abuse or cabals, even in smaller languages, and in part because everyone is quite aware that I would take whatever actions necessary to ensure due process in all parts of wikipedia, to the best of my ability. 72 Jimmy Wales as quoted in Wikimedia, “Meta:Talk:Benevolent Dictator (oldid=544462)”.

¶77 It is worthwhile noting that Wales is articulating a hybrid of leadership types including autocratic (decision made by the leader alone), consultative (the problem is shared with and information collected from the group, before the leader decides alone), and delegated leadership (the problem is shared, ideas are accepted, and the leader accepts the solution supported by the group). 73 As such, Wales’s hybrid leadership style might fit within the "situational school" which advocates different leadership performances as merited by the particular context, see Victor H. Vroom and Philip W. Yetton, Leadership and Decision-Making (Pit ... Also, Wales’ concern with not over-designing the “organic democratic processes” echoes findings in the study of FOSS community that the judicious use of charismatic authority can be preferable to a “complex system of rules.” 74 Garzarelli and Galoppini, “Capability Coordination in Modular Organization,” 36; also see Ostrom, “Collective Action and the Evolution of Social Norms,” 149. Similarly, in a discussion about the openness of foundation-related committees Wales felt that “it seems to me that the best way to approach this is not with a formalistic board resolution (this is not our traditional way), but through ongoing dialog and discussion, rather than rules-based demands from the board.” 75 Jimmy Wales, “Where We Are Headed,” Foundation-l, June 4, 2006, (visited on August 6, 2008). And even though Wales is seemingly conscientious about the use of his authority, others note that the “charismatic” character of his leadership can be unsavory. If others appropriate what Wales has said or done as the justification for their own position, some will object:

¶78 This kind of hero-worship begins with Christians who find it more chic to parrot Christ’s words than to live them. In our context this translates into using “Jimbo said …” as an argument that would stop all debate. 76 Ray Saintonge, “Re: Wikimedia Foundation Internal Radio,” wikipedia-l, April 12, 2005, (visited on April 12, 2005).

¶79 Wales himself is now sensitive to this concern as seen in his qualification of an email about how to distinguish between sites that criticize Wikipedia and those that harass Wikipedians:

¶80 I have this funny feeling, after writing this email, that it is the sort of email likely to be misused in some fashion as a WP:JIMBOSAYS fallacy. This note at the top serves as notice that anyone citing this email as setting down policy on Wikipedia is being a goof. I am just discussing and thinking here and trying to be helpful. 77 Jimmy Wales, “Re: Harassment Sites,” wikien-l, October 24, 2007, (visited on October 24, 2007); Another instance in which Wales is forced to disclaim authority in a message is Jimmy Wales, “Re: Fancruf ...

¶81 Elsewhere he notes that “unless I am very very very careful, it ends up getting used as a stick to beat innocents to death with. :)” 78 Jimmy Wales, “Re: Process Wonkery,” wikien-l, September 28, 2006, (visited on September 28, 2006).

¶82 Concern about this role and title led to a consideration of alternatives for “benevolent dictator” including constitutional monarch, the most trusted party (TMTP, Linus Torvalds’s preferred moniker), eminence grise, and deus ex machina. 79 Wikimedia, “Benevolent Dictator,” Wikimedia, February 2, 2009, (visited on May 29, 2009). And while the notion of constitutional monarch has achieved some stabilization and acceptance within the community, “benevolent dictator” won’t disappear from the conversation given its long history within online communities. Indeed, the notion not only serves as a measure of the leader’s actions, but also those other participants. In one of the many threads about sexual content on Wikipedia, one participant wrote to another: “So your opinion is now law? Wonderful. We don’t need all of those nasty little polls or votes…. All we have to do is have you make the decision for us. I thought Jimbo was the benevolent dictator. You seem just to want to be dictator, period.” 80 Rick, “Re: Re: Writing about Sexual Topics Responsibly Is Not,” wikien-l, February 14, 2005, (visited on February 14, 2005).

§7 Conclusion

¶83 To whatever extent Wikipedia has been successful in the pursuit of a universal encyclopedia — a question for the next chapter — I argue an appreciation of the community and its collaborative culture is key to understanding Wikipedia. However, unlike the purity of a utopian dream, Wikipedians must reconcile their vision with the inescapable social reality of irritating personalities, philosophical differences, and external threats. Despite its good-faith collaborative culture, its egalitarian ethos, and its openness — or because of it — Wikipedia has been shaped by authorial leadership. An informal benevolent dictator serves to gently guide the community, to mediate internal disputes between those of good faith, and to defend against those acting in bad faith. At this point, he or she may achieve a significant amount of symbolic status within the community or even outside attention. However, when a person comes to be responsible for more than he or she can do by dint of will alone, new responsibilities and authority pull taut a tightrope that must be carefully walked before the eyes of one’s peers. Sanger’s reflections about his exit from the community and continued discussion about Wales’s role are testaments to how delicately the tin crown of such leadership must be balanced.