A RoleModel acts as a positive influence by example. An influence is considered positive when it causes CommunityExpectations to be met. As these expectations are picked up by observing community member interactions, the most active community members drive the expectations and therefore act as role models.
Sometimes though a role model doesn't need to be an active community member -- it suffices that their actions of the past are seen by others as exemplary, and these others bring attention to the role model. It's even possible that a person, during the time they were active, was not considered a role model (bucking the system etc), but are seen later as having done the right thing, and that right thing is a model to emulate, and thus they become role models.
The importance of a particular RoleModel is defined by reputation gained in the past. This can be abused; the role model may become a VestedContributor. See KarmaWhore for an example where an artificial tracking of reputation caused harm.
Other abuses to guard against include:
The GodKing is a special case. He contributes a lot, he edits a lot, and he has unpreventable power to abuse the community. If the GodKing fosters the community, he acts as a role model. If he does not foster the community, the community dies. Therefore, the GodKing either acts as a role model or the GodKing does not exist.
The importance of a RoleModel is defined by reputation gained in the past
This just doesn't sound right (maybe I'm thick). I've inserted [particular] below as a minor fix, but still something grates. It's possible for a role model with large reputation to no longer be relevant if current circumstances change, either due to technological changes or social requirements.
On one axis, currency, we can split role models into two camps. Historical role models don't exist, and they shouldn't be considered real. Whatever Thomas Jefferson did to achieve the acclaim and respect he has earned, that's all in the past. He is no longer a role model. On the other hand, he was a rich font of case history and thought. Following Thomas Jefferson as a "role model" really means following the selected editings of his work that historians have made. So, while I'll bet Thomas Jefferson was a role model, and while we continue to model our roles after him today, he is not a role model.
At the other end of the axis, we have active role models. People, potentially anonymous (see discussion below re: emoticons), continuously act in ways that inspire others to follow suit. This is one of the purposes behind OpenProcess (and LurkBeforeYouLeap?), to show others the CommunityExpectations. It is also very closely related to the FollowYourNeighbour? tendency, possibly stemming from it, although I think we can all recognize higher standards in others that we'd like to emulate.
Active role models are the best we can be, although we can point to historical role models for advice.
There's also the Wiki:HaloEffect that occurs with RoleModels -- once attaining that stature due to specific and obvious behaviour, other lesser known behaviour by that RoleModel are lauded with more authority or relevance. The logic is that the RoleModel's observable behaviour is due to unobservable internal values/philosophies/etc, and other behaviour by that RoleModel may well be similarly well intentioned. Ad hominem, though not in a negative sense. The danger of course is dogmatic acceptance.
The presence of role models is useful to a community. What are the pressures or tensions that limit the rise of role models?
Are role models appointed, or do they aspire to the stature? Both I suspect. Appointed by who? The masses, or other RoleModels? I suspect the latter is more likely, with the reputation of the appointees rubbing off on the appointed. (anointed ;-)
Are there communities that desire or reject the role of RoleModels more than others? Why?
The GodKing is a special case.
The "GodKing" is a perversion of a role.
[undeleted, refactored to clarify relevance of the generic over the specific]
What if an individual (you, me, anyone) were to perform a particular behaviour in a manner that (1) does not draw attention to itself, (2) does not draw attention to that individual, but (3) nonetheless encourages/discourages specific behaviour. For example, on another wiki someone routinely deletes smiley emoticons, to the effect that such are rarely seen there. Consequently contributors (1) don't insert emoticons, and (2) remove other emoticons when found.
How does this fit into the RoleModel model, especially since the action is mostly anonymous but the effect is not anonymous.
I'm exploring the boundaries of the definition here. Related question: could a DramaticIdentity be considered a RoleModel? Hmm, not DramaticIdentity, as the page for that is rather negative on the concept ... I mean identities like GentleRefactorer? --EricScheid
Maybe - they would be idealised RoleModels. Sort of like Nietze's superman.
I doubt a DramaticIdentity can be a role model, but maybe a model for a role. A role model seems to mean someone specific. But dramatic identities are so often not good role models because they are awash in theoretic arrogant claptrap.
Indeed. The negative connotations explained at DramaticIdentity is hefty baggage. What about dramatic personae though, such as Zorro? Sure, his identity was secret, but he wasn't anonymous. Assuming the value of what he stood for has utility to the community, would he be a role model? Johnny, eat your grits so you can grow up and be strong like that nice Mr. Zorro
anti-patterns: Could there be such a thing as an antipattern role-model. I don't mean like a villain as juxtaposed to the hero, but some other sense. A solution that might look good, but is in fact bad?
The GodKing ... contributes a lot, he edits a lot, and he has unpreventable power to abuse the community. If the GodKing fosters the community, he acts as a role model. If he does not foster the community, the community dies. Therefore, the GodKing either acts as a role model or the GodKing does not exist.
They have an AbsentLeader, which is normally a problem.