Wikipedia

Someone gave me the book The Wikipedia Revolution by Andrew Lih. It's a great story about organizational design – how an organization is thought about by its participants, how it evolves, and what pressures make the community take one route over another.

Setting off with the philosophy of "Assume Good Faith" backed up by "BEBOLD", and "SOFIXIT" Wikipedia's principles have been boiled down to five unchangeable pillars that Lih says 'Define Wikipedia's character':

Setting off with the philosophy of "Assume Good Faith" backed up by "BEBOLD", and "SOFIXIT" Wikipedia's principles have been boiled down to five unchangeable pillars that Lih says 'Define Wikipedia's character':

1. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia
2. Wikipedia has a neutral point of view
3. Wikipedia is free content
4. Wikipedia has a code of conduct
5. Wikipedia does not have firm rules

What's fascinating about the philosophies and the principles is that they are not mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (MECE) a multivariate logic concept (explained in a Wiki entry). This leads to difficulties in the Wiki organization because, for example trolls, vandals, and sock puppets sabotage entries which leads to discussion on the code of conduct, the need for firm rules around editing, and fierce debate about being bold.

Beyond trying to implement somewhat contradictory principles – each one is contentious. For example, the principle of 'neutral' was challenged early in the history of Wikipedia and an example of this is entertainingly told in the story of Gdansk and Danzig when an article on the topic 'quickly gathered Poles, Germans, and anyone else who cared to chime in with their interpretation of what was right. 'Neutral' was unfortunately a casualty of the conversation, as it had broken down into a test of wills and strong points of view.'

Assuming the same philosophies and the five pillars apply across the whole Wiki organization (that is not clear) it's also evident that immediately cultural differences in interpretation come into play. For example, the German Wikipedia culture has 'become famous for their strict standard for inclusion. Additionally 'administrators in the German edition voted among themselves on matters important to the community, and were not afraid to have closed discussions among sysops'. In the UK and US part of the organization the view is that this Germanic approach smacks of secrecy and bureaucracy which is anathema to the intent of the principle "Wikipedia does not have firm rules."

The book ends with an Afterword containing the marvelous Durova's fourth law.

Small organizations run on relationships. Formal policies emerge when the organization becomes too large to operate on that basis. Policies continue to grow in both quantity and complexity in proportion to organizational growth until the policies no longer work, at which point the policies remain in place while the organization reverts to running on relationships.

If only managers would start looking first at their policies rather than their structures when they want to re-organize.

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