Writers’ Strike at dailyKos?
March 15, 2008
If, like me, you spend too much time lurking around in the blogosphere you already have a sense that the dailyKos and MyDD communities have squared off behind the Democratic candidates. This was hardly surprising and certainly didn’t seem out of place in the flame-friendly environment of web-based conversations.
But this might be something new: yesterday evening, one of the many prolific community members on the Kos site, Alegre, announced a writer’s strike of Hillary supporters in her diary entry. Responses – both positive and negative – piled up quickly, including this one apparently from WGA member Jeff Lieber.
I am not really interested in discussing the merits of the arguments in the strike debate. Rather, I want to draw attention to the questions a strike raises about the nature of governance in Web 2.0 communities.
I blogged about this a few weeks back in one of my early posts. Building effective institutions of governance in the context of collaborative peer-production presents a number of deep problems. On Kos, conversation management is probably the most obvious of these. To understand how conversations are managed on Kos, though, you have to understand a little bit about the technical platform of the site.
Currently, Kos uses Scoop, a conversation management tool originally developed by Rusty Foster for the Kuro5hin community. The features of Scoop have helped Kos scale from the one-man show it once was back in 2002. Scoop includes a built-in, decentralized system for generating and measuring reputation among site users. Basically, every registered user can rate the other registered users’ comments. In addition, by commenting on other users’ diaries, community members can bring that diary increased visibility. The result is a massive conversation that pretty much runs on autopilot.
With the exception of Kos, ct the tech wizard, the contributing editors, and the handful of community members with front-page privileges, this reputational system structures the conversation among the site’s users. The problem is that the system isn’t fool-proof – or flame-proof. Angry blocs of polarized users can “approve” negative comments, thereby generating a feedback loop of discontent. Their opponents then retaliate in kind and create their own “peer-reviewed” circuit of annoyance. As the negative momentum builds, the argument attracts more attention through the site’s reputation systems and results in further polarization and negativity. The threat of a widespread disengagement becomes credible as more and more people find reasons to defect from the cooperative knowledge production model that makes the site so interesting in the first place.
My analysis may or may not be sound here, but the most important question – as Lenin always understood – remains: What is to be done?
Telling everyone to “just be nice” doesn’t work. The actions of the flamers already run counter to the behavioral norms set out in the FAQ on dKosopedia. Similarly, the strike seems unlikely to achieve the stated aims of those who have threatened to leave the site. Rather than bring about a return to civililty, the departure of Clinton supporters for MyDD and other sites will only reproduce the fragmentation of the political blogosphere within the progressive community. It is too early to know what this would mean for the netroots’ project of building a new democratic politics. But does it really have to come to that?
Instead, why not design a new technical platform to manage the conversation? What would such a platform look like? It would need to incorporate many of the existing features that have made Scoop so powerful and effective. However, it would also require some mechanism for recognizing negative/hateful feedback loops and enabling the community to address them in a more productive way. Political dialogue – whether between members of opposing parties or merely supporters of two Democratic candidates – will continue to be divisive. The trick is to leverage that divisiveness (is that a word?) so that it can produce a self-sustaining community that continues to generate strategic political advantages.