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Excerpts from Clay Shirky’s “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy”

by Michael Nielsen on June 2, 2008

Clay Shirky has an excellent essay – “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy” – on the problems that befall online groups, and would-be designers of scoial software (my rough otes). Here’s a few choice quotes:

Group structure is necessary to defend the group from itself… Constitutions are a necessary component of large, long-lived, heterogenous groups… As a group commits to its existence as a group, and begins to think that the group is good or important, the chance that they will begin to call for additional structure, in order to defend themselves from themselves, gets very, very high.

People who work on social software are closer in spirit to economists and political scientists than they are to people making compilers.

This pattern has happened over and over and over again. Someone built the system, they assumed certain user behaviors. The users came on and exhibited different behaviors.

Less is different — small groups of people can engage in kinds of interaction that large groups can’t.

Of the things you have to accept, the first is that you cannot completely separate technical and social issues.

the pattern that’s worked the most often, is to put into the hands of the group itself the responsibility for defining what value is, and defending that value, rather than trying to ascribe those things in the software upfront.

Members are different than users. A pattern will arise in which there is some group of users that cares more than average about the integrity and success of the group as a whole…. in all successful online communities that I’ve looked at, a core group arises that cares about and gardens effectively. Gardens the environment, to keep it growing, to keep it healthy… Now, the software does not always allow the core group to express itself, which is why I say you have to accept this. Because if the software doesn’t allow the core group to express itself, it will invent new ways of doing so.

absolute citizenship, with the idea that if you can log in, you are a citizen, is a harmful pattern, because it is the tyranny of the majority.

The world’s best reputation management system is right here, in the brain. And actually, it’s right here, in the back, in the emotional part of the brain… If you want a good reputation system, just let me remember who you are. And if you do me a favor, I’ll remember it. And I won’t store it in the front of my brain, I’ll store it here, in the back. I’ll just get a good feeling next time I get email from you; I won’t even remember why. And if you do me a disservice and I get email from you, my temples will start to throb, and I won’t even remember why. If you give users a way of remembering one another, reputation will happen, and that requires nothing more than simple and somewhat persistent handles.

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