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Being egoful is not the same has having an ego. When creating knowledge, a statement will be attributed to the current largest group of people who will defend it. Until a conclusion has been met by TheCollective, the largest group is TheIndividual. Once TheCollective (e.g. Meatball) as an entity comes to a conclusion, we might say that a statement is by that collective. And once a larger group of people accept the idea, e.g. the BarnStar or ModWiki, then we say the idea is by the larger community, e.g. the Greater Wiki Community.

Egofulness is the inability to let an idea belong to a larger community. Rather, you hold the idea to your name. If you are attached the idea, you will ensure the idea is attached to you, and so it can never spread. This creates conflict in collective, collaborative environments as it disrupts the belief of ideas as common goods. The most minimal process to alleviate this tension is to GiveCredit on one hand, and on the other--if you ControlYourself--is to become non-attached to your ideas.

This is not the same as being egoless. Egolessness is never defending an idea once stated simply because you are the one who stated it and are advocating it. An egoless contributor will defend all ideas, even ones he or she may disagree with; conversely, he or she may be content to let their idea be attacked without response. Signatures or the lack thereof are a symptom of these mindsets, not a cause. Many people PostAnonymously but get into EditWars.

Egolessness and anonymity is not necessarily an ideal, as without stake in what's said, TheCollective cannot apply PeerPressure or other means to EnforceResponsibility in what's said. Statements may be false, unsound, or invective. What is an ideal is the integrity and respect to step back from an idea.

Posting anonymously is one way to step back from an idea as it is a signal that the author is open to constructive criticism in the form of changes and additions. PeerPressure is applied via RecentChanges. Yet, people often post anonymously because AnonymityIsPower. Rules like UseRealNames or other forms of SerialIdentity, such as logins, provide counter-balances against these abuses.

Often, people will claim that signing your words is egoful. In a sense, it is hampering the process of constructing knowledge, as people may not be sure if TheIndividual is saying they own their words. However, in a 'EgolessWiki?', we encourage the practice of summarizing signed contributions with integrity, with helpful and constructive PeerReview to catch mistakes (but not punish mistakes). The best way to demonstrate this CommunityExpectation is simply by being a RoleModel and frequently refactoring ThreadMode in a helpful, constructive way.


First of all, I disagree with usage of words like egoless and egoful. They're apparently not yet accepted English words in mainstream dictionaries, and they sound to me like avoidable wiki jargon.

What is the idea that we are trying to convey here ? That ideally a wiki participant should put aside the needs of one's ego (or the not so nice stuff more associated with the English words egotism, egocentric) and subordinate those to the overriding goal(s) of that wiki. Taking C2 Wiki as example that would be sharing, exchanging, building knowledge about programming. Now that is the ideal, in reality some (maybe the most part) participants in online communities are in the business of what I call TitillatingEgo?. Even the best intentioned participants are not imune from the pleasurable activity of titillating ego -- and the most obvious analogy would not be out of place if you know what I mean.

On the other hand, somebody, sometimes ago, put in circulation a heresy that caught on to some degree which equates signatures with ego. I think it originated on WikiWikiWeb, conform Wiki:EgolessWiki -- and obviously nobody signed that. As far as I could observe signatures are very much orthogonal to the business of ego titillating. People do it with and without signatures, or reffrain from it with and without signatures attached.

The argument in favor of equating signatures with ego claims that by signing the contributor affirms his/her ego and discourages refactoring. In contrast, it is claimed, when nobody signs you have the mythical Wiki:EgolessWiki, where arguments stand completely on their own, all text is comunally owned, refactored, and all is milk and honey in wikiland.

The way I see it, the argument against wiki signatures has some merits, especially for projects like WikiPedia. On C2 wiki, I've seen it too often, egos are attached to unsigned text, except where signatures would have made the process transparent, the individual agenda is now hidden. If nothing else signatures make the process of contributing more transparent. As a reader, I often find that folks who contribute without signing do me a great disservice. From my point of view, with signatures comes responsibility for what is written. If I know that nobody takes responsibility for some piece of text, then I as a reader am condemned to spend an order of magnitude more effort, which most of the time I don't and consequently the page loses value big time. Not signing is more often than not a form of running away from responsibility.

On wikis like WikiPedia, you can trust that implicitly the page is signed by TheCollective. However, TheCollective is something that is, as a rule, less trustworthy than TheIndividual, unless that particular collective builds an enormous amount of trust with its readers. One thing is the collective that stands behind EncyclopaediaBritannica?, another thing is the collective that stands behind TheEconomist? (they publish all their articles unsigned), yet another thing is the collective that stands behind WikiPedia, and there's no collective that stands behind WikiWikiWeb. So people who argue against signatures on the grounds that they are carrier of ego, completely missed this part of the picture.

A practical example is the introduction to this page which was written by SunirShah. This creates a relative impasse, as some of the things he wrote are common sense, others may be very much in dispute. The best pattern that I've seen at work is the following:

Multiple signatures is often better than implying that some piece of text is owned by TheCollective, for the same reasons for which individual signatures are considered good. --CostinCozianu (signing very egotistically, of course)


First, to future readers, please note it's impolite to sign an anonymous contribution for another author. Piercing the veil may have been topical, here, but not usually.

On a tangent, your claim that TheCollective is less trustworthy than TheIndividual is not well supported. In crowds where individuals are mutually exclusive (not communicating with each other), the book TheWisdomOfCrowds? describes quite clearly that the average conclusion of TheCollective is more accurate more often than even the best individual guess. In the case of communicating crowds, it depends on the structure of the communication in one sense. For instance, in the SocialConstructionOfScience, disciplines succeed at knowledge creation more efficiently than individuals. However, it's simpler to simply analyze TheCollective as a single voice as seen from the outside perspective, which means it is at least no more or less trustworthy than AnIndividual voice. From another frame, it would be a major stretch to claim that social groups are less efficient than individuals at being trustworthy, as that would call into question our evolutionary social instincts as being survival advantages.

Speaking of the SocialConstructionOfScience, I don't believe that much is really often gained by listing contributors as a show of support. I know this what Latour claims on the SocialConstructionOfScience, but I think it's a failure of science that the shear number of supports can win an argument. He'd probably agree to some degree, as he also explains the power of science is that no matter how many people hold to another view, a single person can out-power the whole crowd with one convincing experiment. The difficulty with expensive science is gaining the social support to get funding first before overturning that very same social support with the results. -- SunirShah

So, my claim that the collective is less trustworthy than the individual, is not well supported. Well, I did my best to search for instances where I trust TheCollective, and I had to scratch myself really hard. In comparison I can enumerate all the individuals that signed the books that formed my education as a software engineer, I'm sure you can as well. I have seen encyclopedias (which require little creativity) constructed collectively, I am subscribed to a pretty good magazine (The Economist) that is published without signatures (though some article do bear a distinct signature in the style and the argumentation), but other than that, I am at a loss thinking of anything else that can compare with TheIndividual. Collective (at least on a non-trivial scale) effort can hardly create new content. Not to mention that given my cultrual background, I think collectivism is more often than not a disease and individualism a virtue.

I'm sorry, but the rest of your argument is too esoteric for me to resond to. If you want to say that there's strength in (approval) numbers, you're right to some degree. If some science gets funded and other does not, and certainly TheCollective has a say in this matter, then yes, an argument can be made that it's the right science to get funded, and the evolutionary pressures at work in the marketplace of ideas work well more often than not (although counter-examples can certainly be found). Still there are individuals who create the new science, the new ideas, who sign their articles, take responsibility for what is written, etc. I don't see, however the connection between these processes and egos/wikis/signatures, so maybe I'm not understanding your argument.

Coming back to the practical matters, I as a reader am greatly helped by seeing a name on the cover of a book. If it's Donald Knuth, and if it's on a topic that concerns me, I know it's worth my investment (in time and opportunity more than money). If it's TheCollective (be that even the WikiWikiWeb collective in its glory days, or even summing up the best names that contributed at one time or another), it'd be a safe bet to throw it a way. Getting in the business of creating knowledge by TheCollective may be an interesting experiment for the future, but as far as I can tell, it hasn't succeeded yet. --CostinCozianu

I've the book "ACM Touring Award Lectures 1966-1985" and it's worth the trust I've put into ACM when I bought it. You read newspapers or journals you like, because you trust the collective to produce the quality you expect. -- HelmutLeitner
Look inside that book, and you'll see all the articles are signed. So is the case for Communications of ACM and most journals published by scientific bodies. Like I said, a notable exception is The Economist.

This is page is about how an AttachedEgo prevents wider collaboration directly on a text. Why are you talking about how you buy books?

Why is this page "...about how an AttachedEgo prevents wider collaboration directly on a text..."? This meaning doesn't seem to be in the pattern. -- HelmutLeitner

The question is what we can teach each other about facilitating collaboration with the goal to co-create knowledge. If you do not trust collaboration, then that subverts the entire purpose of the discussion, and thus that discussion is out of scope. If you do not trust wikis, then obviously you do not trust this space either. If your counterexample is your own belief system rather than leading research, I don't know exactly how to build on what you've written here to learn new knowledge. -- SunirShah

Wiki as a MultiPattern is very similar to a book. Why should there be a general trust in wikis? Is there a general trust in books? Isn't that only possible on an individual basis and judgement? People like or dislike reading, biking or wikiing. Costin clearly likes wikiing in general. -- HelmutLeitner

The collective in each case of traditional media is much better defined than in a wiki. First you know that everyone in the team had a chance to discuss the issues before it was printed, he could post a polemic or pressure the author to change something - in a wiki you never know who has read what, who accepted it and so on, in fact you don't even know who really belongs to The Wiki Collective. Beside that I really think synchronous communication is sometimes better than asynchronous communication - the printed media obviously use synchronous communication (in the form of editorial meetings) and that consolidates the team much more than asynchronous wiki editing ever can. There are experiments with WikiTing? at Community wiki. They use a concurrent editor (Moon Edit) for that, but I believe the tool chosen is really an accident, it can be done with IRC as well (or even better I believe) the only important point is to choose a time for the meeting, currently there is a open #wiki IRC channel, but to have some conversation we need to be there at the same time. -- ZbigniewLukasiak


To respond to Sunir, my belief is that wiki participants should seek first to serve their customers. It's not TheIndividual, TheCollective, but TheCustomer? [maybe TheAudience ?]. Aka the Wiki:WikiReader. As such the analogy with books is both obvious and obviously useful. You want to put yourself in the shoes of your customer. When is a book worth reading ? When is a wiki worth reading ? Both are content respositories transmitting knowledge that is produced, selected, refined and edited and offered to the reader. Wikis come with the added thrill that the readers can watch the production process, which can be useful or can be a waste. Wikis come with some extra features, bot also LessIsMore? and to this day no wiki that I know has produced content even within an order of magnitude of the best books. Maybe WikiPedia, but I am not positively sure about that.

I don't believe in wiki as a first class entity, whose sole mission is to give birth to TheCollective whose mission is to "co-create". Wikis in my view are best as collaboration tools, empowering individuals to share, exchange, and to a lesser degree create knowledge. To begin with, you cannot "co-create" knowledge on a wiki alone, there's no magic between the individual and the stupid Text Box that creates knowledge. In my domain which is programming there are IDEs, compilers, theorem provers, -- much more important tools in the process of creating knowledge. Wikis are cool to edit and give a nice presentation to the created knowledge, to get feedbakc and exchange ideas with others, but I can hardly see them taking a central role in the process. I also believe wikis have a great potential to function as agora. But this potential has not been realized yet.

There's also the danger in overblowing the role and importance of wikis and the expectations of wikis. In this case, wikis can degrade into talkatoriums. I cannot escape from making the obvious association, between wikis dedicated to christianity and religion in general and the following passage:

"Both Utopia and Escape are rooted in one unique religious experience, which we can call Judeo-Christian. Unfortunately, having agreed with the world on this duality of Utopia and Escapism, the Christian people ? those who call themselves believers ? have finally surrendered to either Utopia or to Escape. And this is where we come to the real tragedy, as I see it. I often think of that seminary in New England in which, in the glory of the utopianism of the Sixties, the faculty and students met and confessed to God the sin that they had spent too much time in chapels, in praising God, and in refining their hearts, thus neglecting that, which at that time was preached by men like Harvey Cox, ? that we have to build cities and liberate the world and so on. And the faculty and those students unanimously decided to close the chapel. And the seminary became a kind of talkatorium, seminars, similar to what Paris experienced in May of 1968. I went to Paris shortly after that, and saw everywhere groups of people who discussed. Maybe it is a caricature of the great belief of the 20th century that discussion always leads somewhere... I think that it always leads nowhere - I mean this is my very personal view. Not only that, but also all those discussions create realities, which otherwise would have never existed. As a result, half of Christendom confessed the "sin" of having produced Saint Francis or the Mass of Bach, or the Messiah of Handel, or a symbolic system, in which one minute of time can be pregnant with the whole of eternity, where not happiness, not equality, but ? joy, spiritual joy, the joy of seeing the light of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor is the real human vocation. And instead half of Christendom went into what I call the "Me-Too" utopianism." -- Alexander Schmemann, from http://www.schmemann.org/byhim/betweenutopiaandescape.html

So an important question for participants in the wiki world is whether or not we are also mired into the "great belief of the 20th century that discussion always leads somewhere ... ".

Wikis are many things to many people. To my surprise, yet other wiki participants believe strongly that wikis should function strictly as a social club, and nothing more. I cannot agree with them, but I cannot impose my wiki ideology on them, either. So it's safe to adapt a minimalist approach in the assumptions we operate with about wikis in general. Look at what we have or have had in the world of wikis, and draw conclusions from there much more than from what we'd like the wiki world to be. First of all, we need to make sure that wikis are useful, at least to some people. --CostinCozianu

Again, that you don't agree that a wiki that is used for group facilitation to co-create knowledge or as a social club does not mean it is not possible nor valuable to other people. In the context of this page, the question is how to best achieve a particular goal. The question is not whether or not that goal is valid. I am not saying what you believe is invalid either. Just that going meta makes the discussion too confusing.

What you have said that does bear further consideration is the necessity to attach ego when publishing to an audience outside TheCollective. -- SunirShah

I completely agree with you that I screwed up the framing on this page, and that I need to fix it ASAP (right now I'm in a hostel in San Francisco). I'm going to give fair warning now that in order to put this discussion back on track, I'm doing to do some Ginsu (tm) editing, and probably create a couple other pages for tangents that have erupted. As for the ideological differences on the site, that's the fun part. That's why it's an open site. Since we understand that we are just talking about ideas rather than our, um, AttachedEgos, then it's a HealthyConflict. ;) -- SunirShah


I think it will take a long time to get clearness about that, so I feel that this is very much in a kind of brainstorming state. We have again the contradiction of content versus community. We are talking about different effects of ego, but I - at least - don't even know what ego really is. I doubt that there is an accepted definition. We might talk about positive ego and negative ego (from the perspective of the community, or from the perspective of the individual). There is the gross simplification that signature means negative ego. But we can observe that negative effects come from content not from the signature. So what does the content express? What does the signature (or lack of it) express? A weak ego seeking support, help or shelter? A strong ego willing to participate or challenge the community? A sick ego (weak and strong at the same time) seeking to paint a place with his problem color? What is in the content socially? Is it a gift? Is it agreement or disagreement in an acceptable or inacceptable way? Is it an interaction or fighting for social status? What kind of role is assumed? Does it build or reject relationships? Is it relaxed or tense? Is it in a positive or negative feedback cycle? What kind of awareness does it express? Does it open doors and offer options for communication or does it try to force interaction into a certain direction?


Goodness gracious, the participation is lively these days. I'm going to have to admit that I skimmed most of this page (I read mb at work), so keep that in mind... I'm fairly sure I didn't coin the term "Egoful", but I seems to have given it currency here. I'm puzzled at the negative connotations most people are attaching to the term. Egoful to me is nothing but placing one's identity into one's writing, or at least attaching it onto it. To me, this has largely positive connotations, but I suppose has, as most things do, a double edge, a flip side, a dark side, a sticky side ... er, you get the idea. Count the number of first-person pronouns in this paragraph and tell me it isn't egoful.

My grammar school English teacher would fail me for all the "I think that ..." phrases, as stylistically speaking, one is supposed to simply insert opinions into opinion papers without qualifications, and state them as if they were fact. Thankfully, I'm not writing school papers, nor for the New York Times. I have a style that can range from detached and analytical to personal and egoful (and yes I'm playing it up here). I can only kindly ask those who demand I style myself otherwise to buzz off and find more constructive pursuits.

I'm a rather egotistical person (to a fault), and tend to write from my own point of view, except for times when I decide to be didactic. I certainly don't write for TheCollective (and as an aside, I'm really quite astonished by how often the term is used here without irony). So yes, I do assert my ego, I do tend to rebel against egolessness. My own egotistical failings aside, I don't see anything wrong with egoful writing (except perhaps on WikiPedia, where it certainly doesnt belong). No, I don't take it to a point where I can't have my words moved around and my typos and grammos corrected -- I wouldn't be posting to a Wiki if it were otherwise -- but I do believe that many wikis could do better to support some of the egoful constructs. Signature tokens (like wikipedias), threadmode management, and so forth. The medium is there to serve the message, we all have different styles of getting our message across, and unifying everyone into One Big Egoless Collective is, in my egoful opinion, not a productive approach.

Too much of a good thing is bad, but ego is still a good thing. mmkay? -- ChuckAdams

Good to get like minded spirits on my side. But ego still sounds bad. Let's make for a better buzzword: personality. As a customer of wikis, I always liked better the texts that are colored by the distinctive marks of an interesting personality.

Collaboration (the hallmark of wikis) can happen either between a handful of personalities, or at a greater scale: TheCollective (the scary, faceless monster). One difference is that it's an order of magnitude harder o get TheCollective to say something interesting. The analogy that comes to mind is between a jazz trio and a symphonic orchestra. A top level orchestra takes many years to build and to aquire a personality of its own, whereas jazz trios sometimes just happen on the spot. Orchestra speaks with the voice of TheCollective, while a jazz trio empowers the individuals. The analogy goes even further, the names in the orchestra are rarely known (they don't sign their contribution), while the names in a small jazz group are well known. And speaking of orchestras, they need a good conductor to be able to perform well :) --CostinCozianu


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