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In general, the term "fishbowl" is used for any sort of discussion where part of the community (possibly TheAudience) can observe the conversation but may not participate. In some cases, the presence of an active conversation and the identities of the participants is all that is known, while in others, the words being exchanged are also revealed. In MeatSpace the limited form is implemented most readily with a room with a window. Online, both the identities-only and hear-but-not-speak forms are used, the latter being more prevalent; IRC, wiki, nntp, and various other implementation technologies are available.

The traditional wiki model demands immediate UniversalAccess; it's endemic to the culture to the degree that it's considered rude to require even a login (LoginsAreEvil). However, universal access brings with it the problems of life. While most people are good, and we can rely on SoftSecurity because there are more good people than bad (ViceAndVirtue), this tends to give the site a WabiSabi? nature. It also demands a lot of energy be put into the site by those who care for it just to keep it maintained; and this is often a waste of energy.

Even amongst nice people who behave themselves, relative quality of contributors varies. Some people are simply more expert than others. A completely open site would require the experts to spend time explaining themselves to the less experienced. While perhaps this is a good thing to do in society (TheCollective), from the point of view of TheIndividuals you want to volunteer, this may not be worthwile.

Amongst even relatively equal participants, people may just want to work with those they already know or are comfortable with. A wiki for an arts collective may want to stick with the arts collective. A wiki for friends may want to limit participation to only themselves. There are good reasons for this, such as making the SuperordinateGoal clear Wiki:OnceAndOnlyOnce, rather than having to reexplain yourself every time. Alternatively, the group may be working on a short term project together for publication to the rest of the world.

However, writing amongst yourselves seems like a waste. If you are producing good work, then you want the whole world to be TheAudience.

Alternatively, a UniversalAccess community may have realized TargetReached. As TheCollective withers away in boredom, or people flail wildly trying to find a new WikiMission (or act as if there is none), the SignalToNoiseRatio of the PageDatabase begins to dwindle. Rather than waste all that work, it may be easier to just renege the public's ability to edit the site although allow TheAuthors and TheAudience to get to the text just the same.

Essentially, you want to limit writing but allow universal reading.

Therefore, FishBowl your wiki. Close write access to all but a trusted set of members. If you want, make it InviteOnly?. Allow complete read access, however. Thus the OnlineCommunity appears as if in a fish bowl, with the CommunityMembers being the fish--you can look, but you can't touch.

It's important to distinguish this from a static website and a personal homepage. A static website never changes. A personal homepage can only be editted by its local GodKing. A FishBowl does have an OnlineCommunity, even though eventually it may socially evaporate to only its GodKing, technically it is open to some wider set of peers.

The term FishBowl was first used for the OrgPatterns? website. In stark contrast to the PortlandPatternRepository, they elected to restrict edit access to the site to only a few people within a GatedCommunity. They wanted to keep out the unwashed masses that were starting to find the PortlandPatternRepository because they would disrupt their efforts to write a book together. As experts and academics, they required academic credibility, which meant a strong showing of authorship with the widest audience possible. For them, the FishBowl worked well. It ensured a high quality of PeerReview through the Guild Model (Kling, Spector, and McKim, 2004) without succombing to the DarkSideOfCommunity. Further more, the BehaviouralNorms? necessary to keep people in line were a lot easier to enforce through PeerPressure since everyone knew each other personally; i.e. the VulnerabilityToCommunity was much greater, since being a jerk might cost you a friend.

On the DarkSideOfCommunity, although originally granting UniversalAccess, WhyClublet also became a FishBowl. Feeling he had no other choice after a particularly nasty conflict, the local GodKing, RichardDrake, unilaterally decided FishBowl WhyClublet to only himself. For a few months, people watched on as Richard edited their words by himself without PeerReview or FairProcess from those affected. After he felt satisfied WhyClublet was clean, he slowly started accepting petitions from the public for write access, carefully controlling WhyClublet as a GatedCommunity.

But, FishBowls create AdoringFans who want to join your community but can't. Of course, their inability to interact with you may DissuadeInteraction completely. On the other hand, if your community is very personal, you may gain a stalker (cf. WhatIsaStalker), but we DefendAgainstParanoia--this doesn't happen that frequently. The real problem is that while the fish inside the bowl may die off (i.e. exercise their RightToLeave), there are no new fish entering the community to replenish it.

Thus, a FishBowl only works for a short term. Either the SuperordinateGoal is finite (e.g. write a book), or the terms of the FishBowl are eventually weakened (e.g. WhyClublet).

One thing is for sure, encountering a FishBowl is really frustrating for those who are used to wikis. It looks like a wiki, it smells like a wiki, but it doesn't act like a wiki. Without FairProcess to decide to do this, it is an incredible abuse of GodKing power to FishBowl an active OnlineCommunity. If you are only seeking to defend yourself temporarily, see ShieldsUp instead.

Compare KeepOnTheGrass, ShieldsUp.

CategoryHardSecurity CategoryCase

See Wiki:FishBowl


Kling, R., Spector, L., and McKim, G. (2002). Locally controlled scholarly publishing via the Internet: The guild model. The Journal of Electronic Publishing, 8(1). Available from http://www.press.umich.edu/jep/08-01/kling.html


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