ThoughtStorms Wiki

Context : SocialInterfaces

ClayShirky (In "A Group is its own worst enemy" (on Wayback Cached here AGroupIsItsOwnWorstEnemy) says the following :

Groups undermine their primary purpose with :

  • Sex talk : getting involved with each other emotionally, looking to flirt, find partners
  • Hating on enemies : identifying the enemy / outgroup, complaining about, attacking this group

You must accept

  • you can't separate technical from social issues. There's no technical fix for political problems
  • members are different from users. There's a core of people with a vested interest in the community, and they will demand (and if succesful get) the tools to maintain their own level of discussion
  • this core group of members has rights which trump the individual rights of "ordinary" users. (Presumably because their interests co-incide with the welfare of the community?) Shirky points that this is an anti-libertarian view.

You must design for

  • user handles (or "identity" but watch out for overhype of this term) so that people can be identified by others in the community
  • has to be a way for members to be in "good standing". In other words recognition (and may be reward) for members who contribute a lot to the community, members who are trusted by the comminity (See also AboutReputation)
  • must be barriers to the community. either fixed membership / non-membership or more graded, "anonymous cowards" can post but not rate, etc. It has to be hard to do at least some things on the system for some users, or the core group will not have the tools that they need to defend themselves.
  • deal with scale. a group can not get too big and the software should prevent it. Large groups lose density of communication. (Compare HighDensityLiving / SituatedSoftware)

Thoughts :

  • this all suggests some value to SlowNetworks, by not giving instant gratification, networks prevent fickle and non-engaged members from joining. Also a HandicapPrinciple, joining costs some effort so only those who really want to join, do. (Compare RyzeNetworking)
  • Shirky points that acceptance 3 is an anti-libertarian view. I could add it's a shockingly illiberal view. See how well it fits with the idea that the propertied upper class (who have the most stake in society and it's continued welfare) should have the most rights and protection. See also LibertarianismAndConservatism. This discussion is very much BecomingConservative.
  • To repeat. It all sounds reasonable, but it is illiberal. Once again, this suggests that we move towards NetoCracy rather than EmergentDemocracy. How soon before the draw-bridge is pulled up and the community starts to insulate itself from progressive change? Compare all discussions linked from NetocracyExclusivity
  • It's not that you can't see the point that Shirky is making. Just that he sees the only problem for a community as being the threat of destruction. What he doesn't acknowledge are equivalent dangers to the community, such as becoming ossified, becoming unjust, or dying because of intrinsic weaknesses and prejudices. There's no recognition of the lost opportunity for the community being adapted and improved. Essentially, his thinking is driven by fear, and desire for security. That's why it's so conservative.

Something else just struck me on Shirky's "conservatism" as I was writing the response to TeleDyn on GroupAsUser. What it sounds like Shirky is saying is that a social group needs some kind of structure. It can't be a creamed homogenous mass. In fact communities must be AutoPoieticSystems or simply fall apart. (Tautologies R Us, huh? :-) Actually who was it argued that any population of identical units must self-organize a higher-level structure because conditions for the edge units would be different from conditions in the centre? Anyway, the point is that inequality will (inevitably) emerge, and (Shirky's point) is a prerequisite for the community being able to preserve itself.

: Phil, are you aware of a difference of opinion between Varela and Maturana on whether the business/social group can be considered autopoietic? Maybe I read it wrong, can't remember where just now :( kk

: No. Actually, I've never read Varela and Maturana's book. It's one of those things I keep meaning to when I get a) the money to buy it, and b) the time to read it. Can you elaborate? Or (when you remember) point me at any online references? Cheers – PhilJones

: Phil - I wonder if you know TheTyrannyOfStructurelessness. It is a quite old essay on the inevitability of social structure in a group and the danger of letting the structure to stay informal, because an informal structure is much less accountable. – ZbigniewLukasiak

: Excellent point. I do have that essay linked here somewhere but I can't remember where. Doh! So much for my information architecture skills. :-( PhilJones


There's an excellent series of articles on AutoPoiesis at the ACM, a few years old, but good..

: Thanks, great link. My first response : isn't there a way to synthesize Varela's and Maturana's position if the "roles" are the components. This would lead to a sys-referential approach like Luhmann but not loosing the human element. Or at least not the role performed by the human within the social system. Yet clearly the organization does "produce" the roles. – PhilJones

The book TheTreeOfKnowledge sums it up nicely (without equations :), though it's still not an 'easy' read (as BrianGreene can write so eloquently about Quantum theory). Another book which recaps the social aspects of the theory and provides an excellent background to the other emerging (cough) new/recursive sciences is FritjofCapra's TheWebOfLife.

With special regard to communities I love the way there's much learning from other sciences (Biology, anthropoligy, psychology - WilfredBion as cited by Shirky) etc., though none of them come up against the lack of non-verbals present online. From the field of business LarryGreiner's FivePhasesOfGrowth model seems to link up nicely with DunbarsNumber, at least in terms of limiting factors - not so much that we need structure but that the needs change over time, plus the idea that crisis is par-for-the-course (we're far from equilibrium, healthy conflict etc.). It all links up so nice, at least in a wiki :) – kk

: Interesting. But what do you mean by the "lack of non-verbals present online"? What's the significance here? – PhilJones

Example : PaulGraham on HackerNews :

See also

  • Shirky links to Kuro5hin's strategy, and see the story on the Kuro5hin page as to problems there.
  • DisputationArena ... a DavidBrin piece with some parallels but greater emphasis on the necessity of reputation

: compare the arguments over at BurningMan/ArtVsCommunity as an example of the challanges facing communities as an example of the problems Shirky says all communities face

RoamResearch founder tries to manage the Reddit community :

CategorySocialSoftware, CategoryPolitics