The Open Source model is not a democratic model – Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky, in a reaction to a earlier and rather inane piece by Nicholas Carr, has some very interesting remarks on the balance between hierarchy and community, as it operates in open source models:

The open source model is not a democratic model. It is the combination of community and hierarchy that makes it work. Community without hierarchy means mediocrity.� (N. Carr)

Carr was right earlier, and he is wrong now. Carr would like Wikipedia to have committed itself to openess at all costs, so that changes in the model are failure conditions. That isn’t the case however; Wikipedia is committed to effectiveness, and one of the things it has found to be effective is openess, but where openess fails to provide the necessary defenses on it’s own, they’ll make changes to remain effective. The changes in Wikipedia do not represent the death of Wikipedia but adaptation, and more importantly, adaptation in exactly the direction Carr suggests will work.

We’ve said it here before: Openness allows for innovation. Innovation creates value. Value creates incentive. If that were all there was, it would be a virtuous circle, because the incentive would be to create more value. But incentive is value-neutral, so it also creates distortions — free riders, attempts to protect value by stifling competition, and so on. And distortions threaten openess.

As a result, successful open systems create the very conditions that require a threaten openess. Systems that handle this pressure effectively continue (Slashdot comments.) Systems that can’t or don’t find ways to balance openess and closedness — to become semi-protected — fail (Usenet.)

A huge number of our current systems are hanging in the balance, because the more valuable a system, the greater the incentive for free-riding. Our largest and most spontaneous sources of conversation and collaboration are busily being retrofit with filters and logins and distributed ID systems, in an attempt to save some of what is good about openess while defending against Wiki spam, email spam, comment spam, splogs, and other attempts at free-riding. Wikipedia falls into that category.”

For more background, see the following entries in the P2P Encyclopedia:

Authority structures in peer production

Peer Governance, general introduction

– Peer Governance: free-form vs. owner-centric

Voluntary Hierarchies vs. Leaderless organizations
I will deal with this topic in issue 130 of P2P News, that will have some items on the ‘dark side of Wikipedia’, in particular references to the ultimate personal power of Jimmy Wales.

See as an example, the arbibration page at Wikipedia.

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