Submissions/Big Brother Is Watching - Obsession of Control In a Seemingly Free Movement

From Wikimania 2013 • Hong Kong

This is an accepted submission for Wikimania 2013.

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Submission no.
Subject no.
Title of the submission
Big Brother Is Watching - Obsession of Control In a Seemingly Free Movement
Type of submission
Author of the submission
Dariusz Jemielniak (pundit)
Country of origin
Kozminski University
E-mail address
Personal homepage or blog

Wikipedia is proud to be an open, free, a-hierarchical, and generally slightly anarchistic community. Yet, the level of control of user behavior is much higher than in any other organization. Every word, every action, every single move is recorded, archived, and noted. The very way interactions are structured is oriented at controlling the user by the community. Also, the sheer amount of procedures and rules exceeds the typical amount of regulation. In my presentation I want to explain the reasons for high level of control and regulation on Wikipedia, and link it to the communal need for substituting for the missing hierarchy by tightening the iron cage of bureaucracy.

Detailed proposal

In spite of its egalitarian, freedom-oriented, and a-hierarchical approach, Wikipedia community does use extraordinarily tight bureaucratic control (by tracking everything anyone ever writes or does, as well as through insane amounts of constantly growing rules). In my presentation I'm going to describe why it is inevitable to some extent, what are the reasons for advancing bureaucracy, and what can be done about it.

Wikipedia community is characterized by what Ostrom refers to as “radical autonomy” (1990), as it operates with few external rules, and rigorous internal control of member behavior.

The areas of control fall into three main categories:

  • control through observation, that is recording every single action and word, and frowning upon attempts of retracting them (the only acceptable form of withdrawing a comment is crossing it out, but not deleting), which makes all members of the community participate in a modern form of Panopticon,
  • control through structured discourse, that is demanding that interactions are conducted in a way allowing for easy social control (especially on the English Wikipedia, where even the way users interact with each other is meant to serve organizational control rather than comfort of communication, as users are supposed to follow the talk page where the conversation started, rather than reply to each other on each other’s talk pages; not adhering to this rule is risky if you want to pass an RfA),
  • control through procedures, that is through creating policies, guidelines and essays.

The number of Wikipedia guidelines and essays just on the proper conduct on the English Wikipedia exceeds 450. Even just the 9 guidelines on working with others total to 14,000 words, and the additional 20 guidelines on proper behavior on Wikipedia total to 45,000 words. There are many other guidelines for notability of particular topics, rules, dispute resolution, mediation, requesting comments, blocking, or arbitration. The total number of essays containing comments on the policies and guidelines, pieces of advice, as well as analyses of the community exceeds 1200. It is quite difficult to estimate the total word count for all guidelines and essays, but it must be in the millions.

I believe that the reasons for advancing bureaucracy and tightening organizational control can be partially explained through the a-hierarchical structure of the community. Also, showing expertise in policies (and using their cryptic abbreviations) helps in gaining ad-hoc organizational advantage in disputes with newcomers. However, in the same time it results in discouraging them, and also in making some of the experienced editors wary of red tape.

In my presentation, basing on a longitudinal, qualitative, ethnographic, study of Wikipedia community (en-wiki and pl-wiki), conducted 2006-2012, relying on my experience of participating in the community in several different roles (admin, bureaucrat, steward, etc.), and forthcoming in a book later this year, I want to present an analysis for these and other reasons for bureaucratic control on Wikipedia, and help discuss the alternatives. Pundit (talk) 09:29, 7 February 2013 (UTC)[reply]

  • WikiCulture and Community

Length of presentation/talk
25 Minutes
Language of presentation/talk
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  1. ShenMi MeiRen (talk) 10:04, 13 February 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  2. MPelletier (WMF) (talk) 03:52, 20 February 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  3. BasilGeorge22 (talk) 04:23, 1 March 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  4. అమీర్ ఎ. అహరొని (talk) 20:15, 5 March 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  5. Blue Rasberry (talk) 20:07, 1 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  6. Risker (talk) 21:46, 3 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  7. JuhaV (talk) 11:44, 17 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  8. DerHexer (talk) 22:45, 26 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  9. Marcus Cyron (talk) 23:30, 26 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  10. CT Cooper · talk 23:17, 28 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  11. DarTar (talk) 22:05, 29 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  12. Aegis Maelstrom (talk) 07:39, 1 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  13. Tomasz Raburski (talk) 09:16, 1 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  14. Gyoung (talk) 09:35, 1 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  15. Bishdatta (talk) 17:28, 2 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  16. John Andersson (WMSE) (talk) 15:17, 3 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  17. LeslieCarr (talk) 18:32, 3 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  18. GastelEtzwane (talk) 14:30, 4 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  19. LVilla (WMF) (talk) 05:51, 5 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  20. Graham87 (talk) 10:22, 5 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  21. Very interesting. Seems nicely complementary to one piece of the Wiki Ecology proposal from Aaron Shaw and myself. If they are both accepted, it might be nice to schedule them together? —mako 22:20, 6 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
    Great idea, could be a nice session all together, and the Wiki Ecology presentation is something I very much am looking for! Pundit (talk) 06:18, 7 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  22. MetalBrasil (talk) 21:28, 7 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  23. Superbellymonster (talk) 03:39, 8 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  24. Amakuha (talk) 19:41, 13 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  25. Com-ed (talk) 06:33, 26 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  26. In light of my own submission, I will definitely attend this. --Sky Harbor (talk) 06:18, 27 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  27. Anthonyhcole (talk) 21:35, 30 July 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  28. BlaueWunder (talk) 21:56, 30 July 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  29. Nicole Ebber (WMDE) (talk) 00:08, 1 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  30. Kasia Odrozek (WMDE) (talk) 15:02, 3 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  31. Beko (talk) 19:41, 4 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  32. Adamw (talk) 23:44, 7 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  33. Emily Blanchard (talk) 9:53, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
  34. Jensbest (talk) 03:07, 9 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  35. Shangkuanlc (talk) 07:03, 9 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]