How Wiki Works

How does wiki work? We're not talking about low-level technical details here. Whoever gets to this page is surely acquainted with them. We're concerned with how order is created. So let's examine the two most important technical facts of the wiki:

What are the consequences of these facts?

So we see that the essential wiki nature is its being a giant consensus-making machine. What are the consequences of this?

Let's disillusion ourselves here. Consensus has nothing to do with politeness, freedom or anything like that. The idea is so blatantly stupid as to be reprehensible. Wiki is not free just because it works by consensus. Far from it, Wiki is lacking in every legitimate freedom one can imagine, be it intellectual, economic, political or even psychological! (See WikiAsAnarchy?)

Rather, wiki works as a clique. On this particular wiki, the clique is extremely amorphous and diffuse (WikiPedia has numerous sharply differentiated cliques), but it is there. This clique determines everything from what kind of content will stay up, to what kinds of behaviour is permitted, what punishments and tortures one will suffer, and of course, who belongs in the clique.

So what is the wiki Consensus?

It can only be found spread across dozens of pages, not least in WikiSocialNorms. Not all of the rules are written down. For example, it is an unwritten rule that any violation of good behaviour is punished less severely if the content it occurred in relates directly to programming.

What are the consequences of violating the wiki Consensus?

When a person new to Wiki consistently contravenes those rules, they gradually invoke the general disapproval of those who were here before them. The manifestations of this disapproval cause some grief in both the object of the disapproval, and in the disapprovers as well, however, since the object is "ganged up on" they generally get the worst of it. One of two things then (eventually) has happened (and note that this is historical observation only): Either the new person discovers what the rules are and mostly abides by them, in which case the disapproval gradually goes away as the new person becomes absorbed into being "part of the community", or the new person continues to fight, which escalates the disapproval (sometimes dramatically) until the person in question gives up (either from despair or from simple boredom or a combination of these) and moves on. It's kind of a TaiChi thing; the harder the push, the stronger the response. The more you care, the more you can get hurt. I'm not sure if there is a third possibility, but if there is, I haven't seen it yet. -- RK mostly

Some observations: -- AndyPierce

How do you challenge the Wiki Consensus?

There is no community here. They're a bunch of people, of individuals who do their thing. There is no solidarity, no group cohesion, no collective will. Everything is lost and there are a bunch of naive people marvelling at how things work so well!

I beg to differ. Since coming here some years ago I have found a very strong sense of community. When talking about ideas, opinions, difficulties and triumphs there is support, encouragement, assistance and good wishes. When going against the WikiSocialNorms there is admonishment and advice. Your experiences may be otherwise, but my experiences here are positive. Of course, I am a programmer, and that was the original target audience. People who try to make the wiki something else may find it a less welcoming environment.

Perhaps Wiki strength is its erasability.

Bingo. -- TimLesher

Anarchy is not an EvolutionarilyStableStrategy. Whenever people form groups they form power hierarchies. Billions of years of evolution have wired us to do that. Any group that avoids power hierarchies is vulnerable to exploitation by opportunistic individuals. This wiki is no different. The mechanics of it give power to the most stubborn and attentive. -- EricHodges

We are fortunate that the most stubborn and attentive are generally the ones that also care the most about Wiki. The general rule to extract is then: A group should select or create power hierarchies that are attractive to individuals who strongly share the group's basic values.

See also WhatWikiWorksFor, WikiAsAnarchy?, WikiConsciousness


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