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What is an online community member? Wikis like MeatBall have a lot of users. What makes the difference between a visitor, a guest and a member? What special rights does a member have? What obligations come with membership? What is general and may hold in all online communities that develop that far socially? What is special to MeatBall? How does one become a member? Can one lose membership? What options do communities have? Do we want members? Does it matter?

It is hard to define a MemberRole, any online community will have to decide on its own what a member is. Many wiki communities don't make a difference between different types or roles of contributors. This makes it more difficult for people that enter a community to adapt to a community socially. Its a bit absurd, but many wikis strive for clearness in content, often explicitly by refactoring, but are socially completely unclear.

What about members of meatball? See MeatballMember

The Member Role

Qualities of a member:

Primary interests:


Occasional duties:


Informal "rights" of a member:

Must refrain from breaking taboos. In full generality, this is really something vague like "refrain from breaking the rules, written or unwritten", but most communities share at least some standard taboos:

Becoming a member:

Losing membership:


I wonder if the psychologists or sociologists have a measure of affiliation? From all the papers I've read on whether the Internet impacts social relationships, I doubt it. -- SunirShah

I'd be shocked if they don't. But maybe the conventional measures don't apply to internet communities (or give a "0"). I would think JudithDonath from MIT would be involved, or involved with people who are involved, in the type of research that would study stuff like that. -- BayleShanks

Well, Barry Wellman from University of Toronto has done a lot of research into this, but it is a highly political issue. The definition of community or relationship is a political choice. -- SunirShah

I bet [Paul Resnick] and his student [Cliff Lampe] would be close to this stuff, too. -- BayleShanks

On obligations

a member in a way represents the community and its values


a member is expected to work for the advantage of the community, as much as for his own

To the extent that this is true, in a wiki this is usually required of guests, also. So, in wikis, I don't think this is related to membership.

a member will be expected to fill certain roles, if there is a need

True in some communities, but I don't want it to be true in MeatballWiki. -- BayleShanks

There are duties people are expected to perform. Fix vandalism. Welcome newcomers. Add value (increase clarity). Isn't that what participation is all about? -- SunirShah

Yes, it is what participation is all about, but if you didn't welcome any guests for 2 years, I wouldn't think you were derelict in your "guest-welcoming duty as a member of MeatballWiki". There is no such duty. This makes each act of participation a gift. Each time you welcome a guest, it is an altruistic, unforced action. -- BayleShanks

Actually, it is a duty. Don't forget the purpose of CategoryHomePage. Duty may also be an unforced action; it could be merely an expected action. The definitions of honour, duty, and altruism aren't well separated. After all, you are altruistic towards a specific aim which is based on your values which you inherit from society. Altruism means doing this action despite the consequences, but there are always consequences, so we might say despite significant negative consequences, for some value of significant. Honour is top-down, duty is bottom-up, but once again your values as an individual come from society, and the values of a society come from its individuals. -- SunirShah

I use the word "duty" differently, perhaps. It is possible to have a duty which is not imposed by an external force; maybe there is no power being exerted on you to fulfill your duty. But a duty is more than an expected action. The hallmark of a duty is that it is morally wrong for you NOT to do it (or at least, treated similarly by an organization). I don't think there's anything wrong with a member who doesn't welcome newcomers, fix vandalism, etc. I'd get annoyed if no one did, I guess, but I wouldn't consider any individuals derelict in their duty. -- BayleShanks

It would be wrong if no one did it. Just because we cannot specifically identify or assign work to someone, that doesn't mean it is not a duty. In fact, by your definition, if you had to assign the work, it is not a duty. Since someone has to do it, even if that responsibility is diffused throughout the community, as a member of the community, you in part are responsible for it. More to your definition, since that desire has to come from within each member, it is a duty.

Think of the community as a single entity. The community has a duty to welcome newcomers. As a CommunityMember, you have a duty to the community. The community may organize its responsibilities anyway it chooses. One option is to expect that someone takes responsibility in an opportunistic way. As long as there is someone else doing this, you may shirk responsibility, but eventually you may have to jump in or else the community may have to reevaluate how it covers its responsibilities, or what responsibilities it is capable of doing. For an example of the latter, I wonder if the TourBusChanges? are dutifully covered as they haven't been maintained in months. -- SunirShah

Interesting idea. By the way, I didn't mean to say that externally imposed duties can't exist; I modified my wording above. I guess I'd agree that in a sense the community has a duty even if no single specific individual has it. -- BayleShanks

"...one might state it perhaps thus: free and responsible development of the individual, so that he may place his powers freely and gladly in the service of all mankind." -- AlbertEinstein?

Trust, Roles and Democracy

It seems that the fundamental term behind such roles and expectations is "trust". When we observe that a person plays to the rules, that he acts according to his role, then it becomes natural to trust him that he will do so in situations where the community has to rely on him. Trust from continuous observation and comparison with expectations.

Also the larger the investment of a contributor is, the more other members will be convinced that he won't risk his investment. Trust from logic.

On the other hand, when investments become high, people will want to take part in decision processes, they will expect some kind of democratic participation. Wiki is a system where participation is easy, but we are not yet prepared to "turn on" democracy. Explicit roles could be the way to build the necessary trust.

Maybe wikis prepare an evolutionary step towards transcending democracy. It's about the question "who is to decide". Maybe the answer must change from "everybody" (which is clearly impossible in online communities - and often seems to produce inferior results in democracy) to something like "those who participate, care and have trust" combined with something like a "guarantee of openness to those affected".

Existing democracies don't answer "everybody." And even if it is difficult, why should it be impossible? And how do you determine whether results are "inferior"? We should avoid careless extrapolations of whatever we are doing to national levels. I am specially concerned about careless anti-democratic attitudes. (See OpenSociety.)

See PrincipleOfSubsidiarity?

Contrast CoreGroup?

I'm not sure how productive it is to talk about the MemberRole, because this (to me) places too much emphasis on TheIndividual. This gets you into definition difficulties - exactly when does one become a member - where do you draw the line? Also, it can cause VestedContributor problems - "I am a member, so I have certain rights". I would prefer to discuss the CoreGroup? of a community, which I think is a healthier perspective. --MartinHarper

Martin, so why don't you write about this CoreGroup? idea? We may explore different models and theories and look at their chances or problems. What you or me "prefer to discuss" is pretty uninteresting. Your statement of "healthier" is weird, it's bad enough when people start to talk about "better". I hope you don't enter this with a political bias. -- HelmutLeitner

Actually, last night I was thinking that maybe the two perspectives are complementary, so it will be good to have both. I'm not sure, though. --MartinHarper

I do not like formalizing the concept of a member. Membership is a social construction, and it is fluid. A formal description of membership is always going to be inaccurate. For the same reason I recommended a DynamicValue for a TrustMetric, I recommend maintaining a completely informal Wiki:CryptoCracy, as that is the most reflective of the actual feelings of the community. Anything else creates tension between perception, desire, and ability (power). SoftSecurity requires freeing yourself from these kinds of tensions and giving yourself fully over to social construction.

That way, no one is obligated to anyone else except in precisely the way we want it to be. And it's not that members have power over non-members; non-members have power over members. Consider why we do not recommend becoming a GodKing: that is too much responsibility for one person as he or she is beholden to the rest of the community in order to maintain a community (cf. RightToLeave). Further, formal members have more demands (rights) of the community than informal members, which is an obligation the non-members may not feel comfortable granting (e.g. feudal lords). The absolutely most liberalist thing is to let the people be the people. -- SunirShah

I was trying to think of a less UgLy title for CryptoCracy, and decided that it was just CommunityLore about power and power relationships. In other words, it's PowerLore?. Ho ho ho. --MartinHarper



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