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Access levels are a fairly common form of HardSecurity with online communities. Access levels provide a hierarchy of privileges to members of the community; the higher your level, the more privileges and control you have. The hierarchy is usually some subset of (from weakest members to strongest):

Contrast PeerPrivilege, FunctionalAccess.

Access levels usually have the advantage of being explicit and requiring explicit action to alter one's level. This can be useful as a means of settling disagreements. For example, one might argue whether a visitor with two weeks of community experience is really a "peer" of someone who has been a community leader for years. An explicit level can decide the issue rather than prolonging disagreement.

Explicit levels with an OpenProcess for gaining higher levels can allow less-popular or controversial people to gain access that might be denied in SoftSecurity systems. Consider a person who presents well-written but unpopular views (like essays on the advantages of HardSecurity ;-). Such a person might not be informally accepted as a peer, but a formal rule like "level 2 requires five substantial contributions" may allow them access. (This presumes that at least one authority is able to impartially judge the formal rules.)

No, there will always be the CryptoCracy underlying everything. A new member will know that she is not of the same importance as an older member for those are the rules of normal society. After all, she has no reputation. But, over time, her reputation grows placing her amongst the peers.

Moreover, people with opposing viewpoints will never be accepted in a closed-minded community. People need positive social feedback. Maslow would call it their need to belong. Here, an access level is not adequate as it is separate from the true structure of the community (the CryptoCracy). Consequently, they will naturally leave. You can see this in action on EverythingTwo, which has an almost absurdly elaborate system of AccessLevels and an OpenProcess for achieving them, but seems to drive away four out of five significantly-contributing users, for social and political reasons.

Normal people will hesitate to claim access (until their reputation is secured), and they will also be sensitive to negative social feedback. Normal people aren't the focus of most security systems, however. Security is often designed to protect a "normal" community from those who hold their personal desires far above the welfare of the community. An explicit set of access rules will not save a close-minded community (not much can save such "communities"), but it can help protect people against unjust attacks, or at least force those attacks to be explicit (like revoking access) rather than semi-hidden campaigns of pressure and harassment.

More on twits. In the good ol' days, most BBSes had this concept of AccessLevels. Some sysops enjoyed tormenting their members or had the illusion of being fair by providing a level of access called Twit. Twit was even below the new member probation. Often all a twit could do is beg the sysop for his or her privilege back, not even check his or her mail! Twit access is correlated strongly with GodKings. (Especially when such levels are given derogatory names rather than more neutral ones like "suspended".)

On the other hand, twits in normal society are usually called criminals and are imprisoned. This is almost the exact same thing: the citizen's rights are restricted to an extremely small subset, similarly excluding the freedom to travel about the community.

Some Internet equivalents might be IP-based blocking (CommunityExile) and email "blackhole" lists for spam (can be exile or other special treatment). Most Internet providers don't provide much of a "community" (AOL is a notable exception), and simply provide services for a fee. Restricting access is generally not worth the effort--one either provides full services or no service at all.

"twit" or (better) "suspended" access is bad HardSecurity, of course, but it is at least closer to FairProcess than an enforced CommunityExile. On a wiki you might allow a user access only to their FrontLawn and MessageBox. That gives them a chance to protest, but more importantly it gives them a chance to say goodbye, and for others in the community to say goodbye to them. It also provides an additional "escape hatch" to TrialByExile, which may make a difference. --MartinHarper

I wonder if access levels feel so natural to geeks because of role playing games?

How do AccessLevels differ from the hierarchy in most companies? Or the differing rights of students and teachers in a class? I think they are a fundamental form of social organization - though usually correlated with a role, as opposed to existing as a separate concept. --ErikDeBill

Some differences are the explicit and sometimes arbitrary nature of an access level. For instance, an executive assistant might have access to a high-level corporate system (in order to compile reports for their boss), but might have no authority in the corporate hierarchy. In many places the top people will have full authority over corporate systems, but not immediate access to all functions of those systems. (The CEO of a large company usually won't want to know the system-maintenance passwords.)

Perhaps I wasn't quite explicit enough - I was thinking more the privileges that come with role ("teacher", "boss", "policeman", "grunt") within physical world societies. It seems to me that those are essentially the same as the AccessLevels we assign people in computer based communities. It is natural to give people different levels of freedom and authority based on what they are expected to do within a community. It only gets noticed more in virtual communities because they are rather new, and frequently require explicit coding of different roles/AccessLevels to overcome a lack of accountability and established CommunityExpectations.

Everyone understands that the teacher can open up the grade book and change a '0' to an '85'. We'd be quite upset if another student could do the same. The grade book doesn't have a lock, the only thing keeping students from doing that is fear of punishment and SocietalExpectations? (the fact that they are just pencil marks, easily changed won't even occur to most students). Since there are no easy ways to enact significant punishment online, and computer based communities are too new to have generated strong CommunityExpectations, online communities must have AccessLevels to systematically enforce structures which are perpetuated by other means in traditional society. --ErikDeBill

I'd go further, personally. I don't think AccessLevels are necessary online in many cases. Punishment exists in all societies. It's called "shunning". ...Discussion moved to PeerPressure... -- SunirShah

I'm also interested in any comments on WikiAccessLevels. -- CliffordAdams

I have an idea that would combine TrustMetrics with FunctionalAccess. I'll talk about it on FunctionalAccessTrustMetric. -- SunirShah

The more we talk about AccessLevels, FunctionalAccess and so on, the more I keep seeing OperatingSystemSecurityForCommunitySecurity. -- ErikDeBill

I wonder if AccessLevels is an artificial form of ClassStriation. On BulletinBoardSystems they were. The upper echelons often formed cliques.


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