Cranks and Operatives

24 Feb ’07

Thanks to Mathew for passing along an interesting post by Steve Petersen on growing pains at Politicopia, a new political wiki in Utah, which has had some problems with unruly community members:

Politicopia has broken some barriers between state legislators and who they represent, but it has also had a few hiccups. Like in virtually all things politics, some wiki contributors aren’t that cool — despite Steve Urquhart’s, who launched the wiki, explicit plea on the homepage that participants “Be cool.”

Former U.S. candidate Pete Ashdown — who pioneered the use of wikis in political campaigns during the 2006 election — unfortunately encountered some unhip interlocutors who deleted comments. He states on his blog that, “For some reason my concern of tax dollars [for school vouchers] going to extremists was not only scoffed at, but edited to remove references to America’s and Utah’s history of extremism.” The pro and con arguments that he added to the abortion discussion were also eliminated. Such actions defeat the whole purpose of Politicopia to serve as an on-line forum for politicians and citizens to discuss legislation.

So, is some moderation of the wiki in order? In a blog comment response to these complaints, Ashdown argues that since some Politicopia participants weren’t cool that the wiki “still requires some steering from above to prevent the kind of actions that I have seen so far” — just like Wikipedia.

My first reaction when I read Steve’s post was that some moderation is essential if the community around a controversial topic isn’t large enough. It’s like steering a small boat compared to steering a large boat. If the community is large enough, it takes more than just a few cranks and operatives to subvert it. But then again, it may be that topics like politics and religion are ultimately not amenable to wikis because too many in the community *are* cranks and operatives – or people who have vested interest in subverting the purpose of the wiki. I think the jury is still out.

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