The text below concludes our treatment of Mayo Fuster Morell‘s excellent paper on the Mission Enterprise Model of infrastructure provision to online communities, which represents a new breed of companies where profit is subsumed to the higher ethical goal of constructing autonomous communities.
For the original paper, go here.
Compare the Wikihow model below to the Flickr case study here.
Mayo Fuster Morell:
1. Community organizational form, culture and interaction dynamics
“Wikihow is based the openness to participation and a collage type of collaboration. Any visitor to Wikihow can create an article. Once an article is created, other participants can edit, improve, or change it. Participants interact in the collaborative development of the articles and in the social spaces (such as IRC and forums). In June 2008, the Wikihow community was composed of a total of 19 million unique readers, while the number of registered Wikihow participants stood at 175,373.31 According to a survey developed by the Wikihow enterprise in 2009, participants’ motivations to contribute are for fun, meaningful value and/or social recognition.
Wikihow is a special case in terms of gender balance. A total of 43% of registered participants are women. In comparison to other OCCs, this is a higher percentage of women participating.33 The reasons mentioned in the interviews for the gender balance within Wikihow are related to the culture of giving thanks, welcoming newbies, valuing nonviolence and communication, among others (J. Herrick, Interview, December 4, 2008; B. Megas, Interview, August 28, 2009; N. Wilson, Interview, August 28, 2009). The community places importance on the sense of sociability and looking after each other. Actually, participants generate strong emotional linkages with the community. “I have Wikihow in my head” said one of its administrators (N. Wilson, Interview, August 28, 2009).
There are several profiles of participation in the Wikihow community network. The Wikihow community is composed of networks of strong contributors (which are generally also administrators) that collaborate and interact on the basis of affinities. The main basis for affinities are age, approach to the platform and communication style. For example, there are personal preferences or generational habits linked to enjoying communication though IRC. Age is also a source of affinity. There is a network of old and young administrators. The founder and the staff is also a central node of the interactions. There are important nodes around single participants who make large contributions without major interaction with other participants. There are also occasional participants, an example of which would be a group of teenagers posting articles related to youth culture. Another important component of the community are the vandals and the ‘trolls’.35 Finally, there is a general audience that is generally mute unless there is a problem or dispute and then only occasionally intervene (B. Megas, Interview, August 28, 2009).
In terms of community governance, the community is in charge of policy making and regulate its own interaction. WikiHow has very few strict policies in order to facilitate inclusion. However, there are a few areas where specific policies are defined. Additionally, Wikihow is characterized by a bold innovation method. Most of the commonly practiced procedures on Wikihow arose from the ongoing organizational process: generally an editor has an idea for a new way of doing something and then just starts doing it. If other editors believe it is a good idea, they start copying it. Pretty soon it becomes the common way something is done.
Furthermore, “to be bold” is encouraged by the community (B. Megas, Interview, August 28, 2009; J. Herrick, Interview, December 4, 2008).
In terms of the formal method for policy decision making, the community comes together to approve a policy formally. A wide community consensus and good supporting documentation is expected for rules which affect the freedom or actions of all participants (B. Megas, Interview, August 28, 2009). There are some very specific steps for how community members can add, amend, or delete a policy formally. Even though, the Wikihow founder may make any policy changes at any time, he or she shall fully inform the community whenever this occurs.
There are some specific roles among the community members who govern the interaction. Apart from the participants (anonymous or registered), there are 68 administrators and two bureaucrats.36 Old administrators choose the new administrators. These roles have more power over the rest of the participants (such us blocking participants that are not respecting the policies). But there is also an incentive within the description of these roles to negate special value or the image that being an administrator is not a privileged role, but a service role responsible for completing specific tasks (N. Wilson, Interview, August 28, 2009).
Enterprise staff are also administrators or bureaucrats of the community. There is also a distinction between older community members and newbies; with channels for older or experienced members to train newbies.
Additionally, the founder is a central figure the community depends on. The founder’s role is dependent upon his personality and charisma.. Some authors point to the non-authoritarian leadership characteristics of OCCs leaders (Reagle, 2007). The founder is the reference point in the communications between Wikihow and the community. Furthermore, he is very social and gets to know all the top contributors personally (B. Megas, Interview, August 28, 2009; N. Wilson, Interview, August 28, 2009). The building of personal relationships and a visible friendly personality seems to be key in enterprises. However, it may also make scaling up these types of cases difficult.
The resulting how-to manual is built collaboratively and collectively licensed and owned by the community.
In conclusion, the Wikihow community collaborates for the development of a common goal, a howto manual, which is collectively owned. The Wikihow founder and enterprise staff collaborate with the community in the development of the content and intervene in community governance. However, the community is also in charge of its self-governance.” (http://wikis.fu-berlin.de/download/attachments/59080767/FusterMorell-Paper.pdf)
2 Wikihow closedness to community involvement in infrastructure governance
“As with Yahoo!, the Wikihow enterprise is a for-profit company. As a company, it is structurally close to community members. That is, community members cannot be part of the enterprise composition. However, importantly, in contrast to Yahoo!, the Wikihow enterprise does not only base its relationship to the community on offering a service. Wikihow also collaborates with the community in the development of the community mission. This is the major relationship of the Wikihow enterprise also participating in content creation.
In this regard, a “we” identity is formed around content creation by the participants and the staff of the enterprise working together to accomplish the mission. This “we” is defined as those fulfilling the common mission.
A way to be involved in the enterprise is to be an employee; however, there are different criteria regarding whether or not to contractually employ or not administrators or active members of the community. Wikihow decided not to give contracts to administrators because then they lose their volunteer status, which may create “tensions” or “jealousy” among other volunteers. But other enterprises, such as Wikitravel, do place their administrators under contract.
Because there is separation and autonomy/independence of the Wikihow enterprise from the community, there is no overlap between the community and the provider in fulfilling tasks outside of the content. In other words, there is no volunteering outside of the content. This makes it difficult, together with the dependency on the personal figure of the founder in the communication with the community, to internationalize and scale up Wikihow.
Communication with the community by the Wikihow enterprises takes place through a mix of formal and informal channels; through the platform in the community forums discussion, IRC Chat, and conference calls or sometimes via email to consult about decisions or occasional meetings with top contributors, as well as a regular community newspaper announcing the main news. There is also a community meetup everyyear. Facilitating community formation and sociability also seems to be an essential task of Wikihow enterprises, for example through organizing social events.
Linked to the fact that there is less participation by the community in the provider space, the Wikihow enterprise needs to make an extra effort to understand the community (such as developing surveys or getting involved in community activities) (J. Herrick, Interview, December 4, 2008).
Wikihow does not “report”, listen to or consult the community on legal and sustainability and profitability issues. But on other issues related to Wikihow enterprise functions, the Wikihow enterprise made an extra effort to coinvolve, listening and consulting the community. This is the case concerning interface design and technical maintenance, the license or the terms of service. This is intended to give the sense that the community’s concerns are considered.
Communication within the Wikihow community takes place mainly with strong contributors, who are consulted and asked for feedback; and then the general communication is though the platform with the rest of the community (B. Megas, Interview, August 28, 2009; N. Wilson, Interview, August 28, 2009). There is also an explicit effort from the Wikihow enterprise to stimulate participation through signs of recognition and material incentives, and more incentives for top contributors. Top contributors in for-profit companies seem less motivated by the mission, so there is an explicit effort to provide incentives for becoming a top contributor. Examples of material compensation are courtesies (i.e., paying for food for meetings), payment of travel expenses to events for active contributors, payment of training courses (such as on nonviolent communication), or showing that Wikihow cares about its administrators by giving Christmas or birthday presents. In order to increase the meaning of participating into Wikihow, its enterprise has a principle of “giving back to the community” (i.e., sending books to Africa) and “social-ecological responsibility” (i.e., being carbon neutral).” (http://wikis.fu-berlin.de/download/attachments/59080767/FusterMorell-Paper.pdf)
3. Netenabler: Freedom and autonomy of participants from the infrastructure provider
“The netenabler conditions of Wikihow are based on the use of FLOSS and a copyleft license. On the one hand, this favors freedom and autonomy from the infrastructure allowing for information flow and reuse. For example, the Wikihow content is used freely for educational purposes.
Importantly, due to the netenabler, the Wikihow community has the “right to fork”, meaning that content and software of Wikihow is reproducible. In the event that Wikihow’s enterprise steward fails to act in a manner consistent with the mission, the community can move everything to a new server run by a different provider. Thus, netenabler conditions provide a source of power to the community for guaranteeing that the Wikihow content will remain free and community controlled.
In contrast, in the Yahoo! corporate model the software and content are the property of the controlling corporation. Participants in those communities are locked into those corporations and have only the “right to leave”. On the other hand, the resulting outcome, a howto manual, is collective owned and freely accessible to third parties, which are characteristic of digital commons.” (http://wikis.fu-berlin.de/download/attachments/59080767/FusterMorell-Paper.pdf)
4. Power embedded in Wikihow infrastructure governance
“In Wikihow, function, authority and ownership tend to have the same distributions. Providers take care of certain functions and have authority and ownership over them, while the communities develop other functions and are self-governed in the sense that they have the authority over the interaction process between participants.
The Wikihow enterprise takes care of the technical infrastructure provision, legal framework and the logo and trademark, and has authority and ownership over them. The participants cannot become involved in decision-making regarding providers’ matters nor have representation within the provision body. Wikihow has autonomy and independence from the community in terms of its own function and authority. An enterprise is expected to be accountable and transparent, as regulated by the law, but it does not have to be transparent towards the community on certain matters (such as financial or legal issues). There is no delegation of power to the community at Wikihow on these matters as there is at Wikipedia. There is not even the expectation that Wikihow will inform the community about these issues.
The communities develop the works, own them and have authority over the works. However, the Wikihow enterprise has some involvement with the development of the content and over the authority on the content development process. The founder and the other workers in the enterprise are active editors of the platform and intervene in discussions and decision–making on policies or any other issues. Furthermore, they have administrative and bureaucrat roles, and the founder can change the policy at any time. In this regard, there is a less clear division between the provider and the community in terms of content creation and community governance.
In terms of distribution of ownership at Wikihow, the Wikihow enterprise owns the domain name and the trademark and technical infrastructure (servers) and some office supplies and furniture. The rest is collectively owned. Wikihow operates on FLOSS and a free content licensing model allowing free use and community collective ownership of the content.37 Importantly, the free content license is mandatory to the entire content created. Instead of being individually based.
Finally, in terms of power embedded in Wikihow’s infrastructure governance, in Wikihow, the community is more empowered from the provider in several aspects. On one hand, the commonsbase model is based on doography principles. The community develops and owns the content, as well as having authority over it. This infers that communities are self-governed, in the sense that communities define the rules and assign the roles of the interaction process. However, community is only selfgoverned with limitations. The Wikihow enterprise is also involved in community self-governance.
Additionally, as the Wikihow enterprise is closed, the community cannot intervene with and have authority over the provider’s functions. Secondly, netenabler conditions favor the freedom and autonomy of the community over the infrastructure as the infrastructure can be reproduced. The community collectively owns the content and the content can be reproduced; the platform software is also reproducible. This creates conditions for the community to “leave” and “fork” if the community, or part of it, does not agree with the provider’s behavior. Finally, as the content is owned collectively, the forking is carried out more easily.
The enterprise model represents that profitability is not against community autonomous empowerment.” (http://wikis.fu-berlin.de/download/attachments/59080767/FusterMorell-Paper.pdf)
5. How does Wikihow shape the community?
Mayo Fuster Morell:
“Wikihow is a medium sized online community. It is among the 1000 most visited sites on the web38 and involves the active action of at least 200,000 people. The interaction between the participants is very collaborative and involves complex combinations of activity in order to realize the mission.
The closed for profit character of Wikihow limits is capacity to raise volunteering resources to cover the infrastructure provision. This makes it particularly difficult for the internationalization of Wikihow experiences and as a consequence the up scaling of the community. Being forprofit the Wikihow enterprise creates more monetary resources to reinforce the infrastructure’s function, which facilitates the technical maintenance of the platform and increases participation. In terms of trust, Wikihow downplays the lack of control over infrastructure governance by publicizing netenabler conditions, which empower the community. The major control over the content and infrastructure seems to facilitate collaboration within the Wikihow community. In creating confidence Wikihow is also important for the role of the founder and its intermediation with the community. However, the dependency of the personal figure of the founder also seems to be a source of limitation to the Wikihow community scaling up.”