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"Get a room" - phrase commonly directed at young, amorous couples engaged in excessive public displays of affection.

In MeatSpace, there are some things that are best done without an audience. In addition to displays of affection, this includes:

Online communities and their enabling technologies vary in their degree of support for this sort of casual, private conversation:

Most wikis lack any kind of private communications mechanism, though many users share email addresses and IM handles, and many wikis have parallel IRC channels.

I believe this is a bad thing. The worst thing about it is that it prevents the classic meatspace reinforcement of social norms: Taking someone aside, and saying, "pardon me, but we don't do things that way here." On a Wiki, such a statement is visible to all, and depending on how KeptPages and robots.txt are set, may also be archived either for a short time or forever. The result is that such gentle reminders aren't given, because when they are, they are likely to escalate the conflict since the people usually respond defensively to most public criticism.

The other difficulty is that it prevents the formation of caucuses. Caucuses are an effective means of overcoming the ConflictParadox when seeking a CommunitySolution on simple, yet important issues. Smaller working groups can agree beforehand on fiddly details of a proposed solution (like what color the bikeshed should be), and stick together when presenting it to the community as a whole. Without private discussion areas or another means to LimitScope, good solutions get derailed when community members drop in and offer suggestions that don't add value, but that distract from the discussion. This human tendency can be tolerated in small groups but as groups become large, consensus becomes impossible even on the simplest questions.

Of course, caucuses or committees of any kind detract from transparency, and all the more so when proceedings are hidden through HardSecurity means. To some extent FishBowl discussion areas address this. Yet there is no good analogue for the MeatSpace compromise: most committee meetings in MeatSpace, whether of a governmental entity or a private group at a school or church, are nominally open to the public, or at least to members of the body to which the committee reports. However, a substantial investment of time and effort is required: the prospective observer must, in most cases, arrive in person at the meeting observe it firsthand, giving up time that could otherwise be spent in more pleasurable pursuits. In MeatSpace, there are practical, legal, and social limits that make it difficult to record and redistribute conversations. These do not exist online and by allowing any observers at all any sort of working group risks someone forcing ExpandScope.

Wikipedia case

Historically, Wikipedia opposed any sort of private side conversations, relying on the wiki itself and on the project's mailing list for discussion. There were two roots of this:

With time, IRC became a widely accepted means for caucusing. Regular IRC users have actively sought to keep IRC logs from being published. Ironically, some of these same users have opposed web-enabled means for private discussion.

To a lesser extent, IRC was (and is) used for reinforcement of social norms at Wikipedia. Since few users participate regularly in IRC, effectiveness for this purpose is limited.

Wikipedia at present is an excellent example of the ConflictParadox and the difficulty of reaching a CommunitySolution in large groups. Despite considerable discussion, the project has made few policy changes with the concurrence of the community as a whole since achieving considerable growth in 2002; instead, those few changes that have been made have been driven by leadership from the BenevolentDictator.


Discussion

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