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I've been scrawling theories about cooperative efforts for many years. Some are scattered around the wiki, of which I'll try to copy some here. Some are in my scratch.txt file that I ruminate in, some are in a collection of moleskine and composition books on a shelf behind me. Consider this a seed.

The Arlen Theory is restated (reinvented) here.

Someone who keeps aloof from suffering is not a lover. I choose your love above all else. As for wealth if that comes, or goes, so be it. Wealth and love inhabit separate worlds.

But as long as you live here inside me, I cannot say that I'm suffering.

    — Hakim Abul-Majd Majdūd ibn Ādam Sanā'ī, trans. Coleman Barks

Minor Points

  • It's hard to tell when people are watching when they don't weigh in, but that doesn't mean they aren't following along.
    • Technology issue: Would it benefit being able to see people who have read the most recent edits? See who is watching? Know when a message has been read?
      • It would be interesting to know how many people have seen the edits, but creepy to track who, to the point that it might prevent some people from watching. I admit, though, I am intrigued by lurkers as well. Regular editors lurk sometimes, but I think there are a lot of non-regular editor lurkers here, based on the occasional surfacing that we see. —CovertProfessor
        • I've always said there's a ton more lurkers than regulars, though maybe not so much RecentChanges junkies. I used to, and still do, dozens and dozens of people who use/reference/talk about the wiki, but don't even have accounts. Some of them do lurk RC even and keep up with the 'drama' for fun. -es

Drafts and concepts in progress

On minor but notable points and passionate causes

This is a good example of a question of what it means to be an ethical keeper of records, even when doing so is a hard and unpopular choice. Cleaning history in the name of compassion or righteousness seems to me to be a highly questionable act. This assumes the history is true and/or notable, which is not aways the case - factual does not equate to notable, and privacy and compassion do have precedent in certain cases. Of course, highlighting negative history beyond the actual importance within the context of the subject is also questionable. The primary characteristic of Thomas Jefferson is not that he had slaves (and indeed, within the context of the era it wasn't particularly notable). However either removing that fact or making it a dominant fact about Jefferson would be an incorrect choice. The problem is treading the waters that lie in between omission and emphasis and finding a reasonable presentation. It's often complicated by two factors: cause based editors (Prop 8 tagging), and the reality that a minor point worth noting becomes the dominant point by default when an entry simply doesn't have much other information in it.

The most positive method tends to be filling the entry with enough information on the subject that a minor point can be presented as what it is: a minor point. While time consuming and occasionally not an option due to lack of information, it tends to settle the matter in all but the most zealous cause based editors. Protests and social politics tend to spark the most righteous editing, where greater perspective can often be lost. On the other hand, cultivating a body of zealous writings can be the best way to take a snapshot of the zeitgeist regarding an issue. Managing an entry so it is accessible to a non-insider and then encapsulating the raw, passionate writings of the participants within that accessible structure can present the stance of the moment within context.

Certainly it is within the introduction that perspective and a community wide viewpoint must be managed. Otherwise, the entry becomes a rant accessible only to indoctrinated insiders. Presenting Prop 8 notices as a primary means of describing a business will mean nothing to young adults reading the entry five years from now without any initial context. Presenting arguments for or against University stances is pointless — even to the average student, let alone a casual reader who may be distanced by years from the event — unless there is accessibility and context presented as part of the fundamental presentation of the subject. After that structure has been build, the indignant screeds must stand with all their passion intact, as a snapshot of a mindset that existed within the community. Note that this assumes that the passion echos a segment of the community rather than an individual's soapbox rant.

The Importance of Being Earnest

There's a Canadian television show titled "Little Mosque on the Prairie". It's a cute sitcom where two of the characters serve as foils. When the show started, there was Amaar, the local imam, and Duncan, the local Anglican reverend. They were both earnest and generally sought the best solution regardless of their personal advantage. A later season replaced Duncan with Reverend Thorn, who seeks to appear earnest, but is actually trying to advance his own goals. The Amaar/Thorn approaches are fairly common on the wiki. Earnest concern for the best outcome for all involved versus cloaked self-serving motivation.

Over the years it has surprised me again and again how effective an earnest concern for all positions is in thwarting the minority of people who try to game the system to advance their own goals. Pseudo-legalistic tricks and arguments that employ tricks of logic are tools with no purchase on a group dynamic concerned with actual positive results. (This is ignoring the people who use one sided force and don't actually engage in any communication — spammers, some business accounts, etc).

There is a certain advantage in being honestly interested in finding the best solution for all involved. You won't get what you want, but you'll find yourself part of a community that seeks to make sure that everybody has what they need. Giving up the details and accepting that all involved are acting from either a place of goodwill or confusion provides a basic ground that everybody can stand on equally and share their argument when decisions need to be made collaboratively.

There is a Rotary Club tradition of using their "Four way test" to determine if something fits the spirit of Rotary International. I think it applies nicely to the wiki:

  • Is it the truth?
  • Is it fair to all concerned?
  • Will it build good will and better friendships?
  • Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Coming back to Little Mosque, they threw a really neat curve to the characters this season. Self serving Thorn has lost the respect of his congregation, and is slowly realizing he needs to actually change. Not just appear to change, but actually change. Forgiving somebody who has put their needs ahead of yours and other people who you respect is difficult. But it creates room to allow somebody to become an actual cooperating member of the community. Setting aside abject personal frustration — which is a real concern — the nifty thing is that there is no change in tone needed. The same basic grounding of earnest desire for a mutually positive outcome, which frustrated them before, suddenly becomes a framework they can work within.

Cases where this falls down are people who are simply so hostile, stubborn or bizarre that they generate enough frustration that people burn out trying to work with them. That damages the community itself, as that frustration results in positive contributors walking away from the wiki or editing in an angry, biting tone which tends to spread the anger and frustration out. Just watch the edit comments after a wiki blowup! Another issue are the silent editors who simply keep making changes without any kind of communication. I personally feel that not allowing role accounts would help a bit there — that would reinforce that they aren't editing as a business or organization, but rather as an individual member of the organization who is working with the community as a whole and they are personally responsible for their own edits. That's bound up in outreach issues however, and that requires somebody volunteering their time to accomplish that outreach (which is another subject entirely).

Finally, another case where this fails is among people who are genuinely trying to be earnest in their desire for a positive outcome, but their personal convictions outweigh their ability to judge a mutual outcome. They might feel that the input from another person is so radical it should be discounted, when the opinion presented is actually fairly common. Hot button political issues of all stripes tend to cause this, along with personal topics. It may simply be an issue of the intrinsic nature of the topics, and the conflict on the wiki is actually a very accurate representation of the conflict in the community. You shouldn't have to respect everybody in the community: there are some people who hold opinions I find genuinely distasteful or who have committed acts that are radically against my personal ethics (the animal torture videos in the dorms spring to mind). Trying to work with all members of the community can be difficult for anybody when it gets personal.

Striving to be honestly earnest in trying to find a positive outcome seems to be a method that creates a slew of side-effects that accidentally improve aspects of the wiki that aren't directly the subject of debate. It cuts through people playing games on the wiki and foils self-serving wiki-lawyers by keeping your eye on simple approaches. It also encourages positive behavior among each other when you recognize the clarity of vision of other editors and strive to gain that clarity yourself in the next situation. These all wind up creating a better community — and better content! — after the direct issue is resolved.

2011-08-18: I believe I have solved the second biggest issue for wikis. Or at least I have the key. Only I can't tell anyone. Yet. And I can't ever publicly announce it. Which is the key. I'm just dating this so that if you ever find out, I figured it out today.