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The many stages of growth, discussing themes of balancing forces (soft vs hard security, readers vs writers, familiarity vs anonymity, ...) of an OnlineCommunity within a wiki, with enough pragmatic specifics to guide a budding wiki builder, and collating links to relevant pages of best practice/worst practice

(not in strict order...)

  1. founding (selecting, installing, configuring software)
  2. invitation: declaration of purpose
  3. SeedPosting by founder
  4. WikiCommunityBuilding creates a close knit group of pioneers - previously familiar with each other, at least by reputation
  5. WikiReputation induces others to join, process of getting to know one another; TheTippingPoint between private club and public community
  6. notable individualities
  7. BehavioralNorms begin to foster and accrete
  8. MetcalfesLaw kicks in leading to rapid growth
  9. Wiki:EmergentBehaviors become evident
  10. CommunityMayNotScale
  11. CrossingTheTippingPoint
  12. ConnectedGraphSquaringProblem -> PageChurn exceeds growth
  13. bringing order to chaos - categories, structure, and StyleGuide
  14. Wiki:WikiSuccessCanInhibitNewWriters -> stagnation of contribution
  15. wiki on wiki introspection
  16. social norms begin to fester
  17. ConstitutionalCrisis
  18. barbarian incursions -- the precondition being community size attracting plunderers
  19. Wiki:DeclineOfCivility -- there are more strangers than friends, even WelcomeNewcomers is impossible and AssumeGoodFaith fails as reputation is fleeting, ForestFires ravage the landscape
  20. CargoCult -- There is a sad CargoCult mentality that deleting the pages that don't conform the the writing style of the people that disappeared will somehow bring them back. All you will do is chase away more people, some you don't like and some you like, who will be replaced by even newer people. Eventually when you have replaced all the planks, you have a different boat. The only way to keep the people who are interesting is to maintain your PersonalRelationships.
  21. arrival of the PoliceForces.
  22. WikiBreathing -- opening for or repelling contributors
  23. splintering and WikiEmigration
  24. AbsentLeader -- the community in times without formal leadership
  25. AbsentCommunity -- a time of silence, important members turn into OccasionalContributors?
  26. rise of the cabal
  27. fall and decay...or transformation into a GatedCommunity
  28. WikiShutDown
  29. rebirth in splinters, maybe WikiPhoenix?

The above may be contrasted with Toynbee's lifecycle for civilizations.

In addition to the above typical sequence of stages, there are various events that may or may not happen, and may occur at different times for different wiki's. GreatChallengesToWikis are things that influence the path a wiki takes in the WikiLifeCycle, either causing a divergent path to be taken or advancing/reversing progress through various stages.

See also:


regarding Wiki:CommunityLifeCycle: it is rather general and not particularly helpful to someone looking to build a wiki community, lacking specifics. I'm thinking of more detail specific to wikis, like for instance SunirShah's comment somewhere where the early days were mostly just him creating documents ... if that is a common beginning process, would it be good to guide the expectations of a budding wiki builder?

Until such time as you find that quote, I affirm that claim. -- SunirShah
meaning once I find that quote, you'll deny it? ;-)

On which wikis can this lifecycle be observed? Please list:

For MeatballWiki, I've decided to go out of my way to not measure my self-importance by page hits. This seems to be quite a break from most site operators. I've had many arguments that ultimately came down to the fact that the other party was really interested in making "the most popular thing on the planet" whereas I was interested in making "something interesting and useful." I think popularity is actually quite unfun. Of course, I'd also like to be "well known", though I try to keep away the firebugs by making this place too pedestrian to burn down. -- SunirShah

I think that when you hit CommunityMayNotScale, you should split the community into separate Wikis dedicated to each unique area of interest (EnlargeSpace). That way, the Wiki:ExtremeProgramming members didn't need to kill the Wiki:PatternCommunity ;-> -- JeffGrigg?

Some examples of this is on WikiEmigration.

I sense there are two forms of exodus in the WikiLifeCycle - documented at WikiEmigration is the splintering form, but there is also the mass exodus of abandonment, which would have happened at MetaBaby (for example). These are two different forms of exodus, one is healthy growth, one is not so healthy ... is there a name for this?

Something could be said about how transition from one stage to the next (or previous) is not necessarily a gradual thing ... sometimes it seems a community is stuck at one stage, nothing much changing, and then *bang* TheTippingPoint is reached and everything changes in a rush.

[Somewhere I saw a reference to a cycle of rapid evolution followed by long periods of stability ... someone please fill me in to the missing reference. cf. ParadigmShift ... which leads to Wiki:PunctuatedEquilibrium and Google:Punctuated+Equilibrium, and then http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/PUNCTUEQ.html]

The importance of this observation is that as a community building it is sometimes prudent to be preparing for change even though not much is happening. Start working on stuff behind the scenes, in preparation for the big day when everything happens fast.

Looking at this ordered sequence, I think it's good that CrossingTheTippingPoint is in bold text, because this and everything below it is all quite negative and depressing. It seems we have accumulated a greater weight of information about the different ways that wikis communities can fail. This serves as a warning to anyone who thinks their community can only get better, but can't we be more cheerful? Are there any more positive ideas for ways of keeping a community alive and well. Positive steps which could be inserted after MetcalfesLaw for example.

I suppose the problem is that this list makes it look like there is an enevitable progression through these stages, whereas in reality we see cycles, or as someone else was saying, 'PunctuatedEquilibrium?'. (At least for smaller communities which didn't really hit the MetcalfesLaw stage) . -- HarryWood - 29th March 2005

At least we're not as bad as weblogs.

yet it all seems so [familiar]

Forgive me from quoting:

The endless cycle continues today:
    1. Create a new wiki
    2. Create a badly-defined scope
    3. Fill it with inappropriate content
    4. When it becomes unmanagable, goto 1
-- http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Wikibooks_talk:Policies_and_guidelines

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