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In any community, but particularly so in communities that utilize a good deal of volunteer labor or donations, there can arise VestedContributors and ensuing conflicts. In MeatSpace, they are particularly a problem in faith communities.

The vested contributor is someone who believes they are entitled to a degree of indulgence or bending of the rules because of the duration and extent of their past contributions. In some cases, this view may be shared by other community members. The indulgence of vested contributors undermines FairProcess and the WikiNow. It is demoralizing to those who have made less widely recognized contributions, and to recent arrivals. An inside club or "cabal" can arise where there are a number of vested contributors who mutually reinforce.

Something similar occurs with "vested troublemakers" - for someone who's been bending some rule for a long time, after a certain length of time the PeerPressure to conform tends to recede somewhat, if the community can route round the damage. So we have "Just because X gets away with it, doesn't mean everyone's allowed to do it". The difference is that vested troublemakers are not part of any cabal - they don't benefit from DefendEachOther, can't influence the HiveMind, and so forth. Compare OutcastNewcomer.

Alternatively, this mantle may be cast upon them. They may be unwilling to rise on top of the pedestal of ReveredLeader, or at least uncomfortable with it. Most people enjoy being acknowledged for their efforts, and may even play along for awhile, but as the shift in attitude one receives when acting becomes obvious they may not like all the attention. After all, it undermines the very reason they are part of the community: peer interaction. So, it becomes claustrophobic.

FairProcess is undermined by the perception of a quid pro quo, and by the view that some "volunteers" are getting compensated for their efforts while others are not.

It can also lead to selective application of CommunityExpectations.

Dealing with VestedContributors

Prevention is the best way to address the problem. Make it clear up front that volunteering to work on behalf of the community is just that - volunteering. Reward volunteers through recognition alone, e.g. BarnStars. Watch out for double standards, and don't allow unplanned hierarchies to develop within the community. Make equality among participants and members a core value. If there are administrative roles that incorporate special privileges, e.g. BuildingJanitor, set term limits and rotate the roles among members.


This sort of thing is a major source of conflict in faith communities. Someone volunteers time and money with selfless devotion for years and years, and then asks for an exception to be made to one rule or another on their behalf, citing the long-standing relationship and history of contributions. The community is then in a bind: if the request is granted, it sets bad precedent and may offend others who have observed the rule. If it is denied, the vested contributor is alienated and may leave.

Online communities are often asked by VestedContributors to bend content standards, by allowing an advertisement or off-topic discussion brought by a VestedContributor.

A related case is FlameWarriors description of an [Ent].

Since reading FlameWarriors, I've noticed a similarity between Ent and the role Wiki:WardCunningham plays at WardsWiki, though not in the sense of VestedContributor abuse.

Commentary from elsewhere

Triangulating our own reflection against those of others can only strengthen our case. ["Psychology of Cyberspace"] gives us the following:

In rare cases, people who are well known in the community - even wizards and others of high status - may become the trouble-makers. Social psychology has demonstrated that people with power and status often have "idiosyncrasy credit" - they are given a bit more leeway in violating some of the less critical rules of the community. But they are not permitted to break the major rules - especially the rules that protect the integrity of the higher status group. For example, wizards may get away with wearing avatars that are not entirely appropriate, but giving the wizard password to an non-wizard cannot be forgiven. People are ousted from the wizard group for such offenses.

See also WikiPedia:Wikipedia:No_vested_contributors.

CategoryConflict CategoryManagement CategoryWikiConventions CategoryRole


Wishful thinking vs. Membership System

It's wishful thinking that some form of hierarchies can be avoided when communities grow. They will grow either in an formal or in an informal way. You can ignore them and lose control, or design them into your social system. The simplest solution that I see is to build a simple VisitorRole (a small but important transition state), GuestRole, CommunityMember system, where the members actively establish a "peer culture" that gives a VestedContributor no headroom for privileges. Double standards must not exist, but it's not the same when two people (for example a visitor and the founder) do the same thing. The best you can do is to accept these two classes as a minimum and build a democratic, open member system around it. -- HelmutLeitner

I agree with your points. When I have seen this anti-pattern manifest itself there are clear steps:

  1. A member contributes a more-than-average amount over the course of a fairly long time (months or years)
  2. A sense of entitlement develops, that is, a feeling by the member that the community is indebted to him unusually so, and more so than to other members
  3. A request for a special favor is made that is a violation of community norms. In MeatSpace, this may mean preferential scheduling treatment for a shared facility, or extended "borrowing" of some item belonging to the community, waiving of deadlines, or preferential membership consideration for a friend.
  4. In online communities the request is most often content-based, such as having a preferred text stand in an edit war, or posting an advertisement which would not ordinarily be permitted, or posting material not within the topical scope of the community.
  5. More rarely the vested contributor may expect the community to side with them in disputes with other members regardless of the merits of the dispute.


Thinking about ManipulativePower brings me to the idea of AccumulatedPower?. The person that has been around the longest. They are competent and deferred to like a GodKing. The last job I had, we built in a time schedule for me to leave the job, as all the volunteers will have come and gone, leaving me with a bunch of AccumulatedPower?. tired, MarkDilley -- note: I was still involved in some of the efforts of the job, and still am, just in a different role, one of camaraderie.


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