Durova: openness and enclaves

Previously, I’ve explained what openness means relative to a community rather than the license governing its content. In short an open content community, as I specify it, has five normative features: open products, transparency, integrity, nondiscrimination, and noninterference. It also has an important descriptive feature: some level of structure/closure (which I believe is unavoidable, see “The Tyranny of Structurelessness”) and consequent discussion about how this can be reconciled with the larger egalitarian ethos. In the dissertation I pose Wikipedia in light of this criteria and explore three challenging cases: can anyone really edit?, office actions and oversight, and the female only WikiChix list.

The latest Wikipedia controversy (Mestel 2007) would also be a good case given references to a secret cabal-like email list, as summarized in The Signpost:

A case involving the actions of Durova and Jehochman, and in particular a controversial block by Durova of !! as a sockpuppet, based on evidence she refused to reveal on-wiki, saying that she was concerned that to do so could give puppetmasters too much information on her investigative techniques. This evidence was provided to some administrators, and was later leaked, with some users, including the Arbitration Committee, arguing that the evidence was insufficient for blocking !!. Durova has resigned her adminship, and, in what appears to be an exceptionally quick resolution of the case, remedies have been proposed, admonishing Durova to exercise greater care when issuing blocks, admonishing all participants to act with proper decorum, and noting that Durova must go through normal channels to regain adminship.

The very fact that there may be ancillary structure and closure (what Sunstein calls “enclaves”) is alarming to some, particularly when Wales (2007moh) wrote: “***I* am involved in multiple ongoing private discussions with dozens of people. The list in question is being badly misrepresented as some kind of problem. It is a good list, and the purpose of the list is good, and not everyone on the list is perfect (as is always true).” However, with respect to the criteria, I believe it is appropriate – even unavoidable – for enclaves to form. If they aren’t handled well – as in this case – they can come off as rather unseemly. And they can never be relied upon as a source of authority and discussion in the larger community: Arguments and their evidence must be ported into the larger open context or the criteria of transparency and integrity are at risk. Durova’s mistake was not only in incorrectly banning someone, but in referring to that list and her secret methods of “sleuthing” sock-puppets as an authority within the larger open discourse. (Silence also had an interesting role to play, as it often does: it appears that while some people on that list did not object, this does not mean they assented.)

However, Durova has apologized for the mistaken administrative action and I presume she now appreciates the illegitimacy (and sensitivity) associated with recourse to closed authority. What I also find interesting in this discourse is the recognition of the dangers of administration – I saw it referred to as something like “adminitus” but can’t find it now. Furthermore, I am intrigued by the common Wikipedia sentiment that administration is comprising, but that encyclopedic work has restorative powers for one’s own wiki-soul and relation to the community.

Ported/Archived Responses

David Gerard on 2007-11-29

The working definition of “cabal” is “group of people talking that I’m not in.”

Structures will form out of sight if you try to suppress them in clear sight, c.f. The Tyranny of Structurelessness, my favourite essay on the topic. I’m not enamoured with the solutions suggested - I’ve yet to see a voting structure on Wikipedia that isn’t a moron or witch-hunt magnet - but the fundamental notion is good: if you try to stop or ignore social structures, they’ll form anyway and bite you in the ass.

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