In the final chapter of Here Comes Everybody, Shirky writes that there are three things that must exist before collaboration can happen: promise, tools, and bargain.
- Promise: reason people get involved in collaborations
- Tool: facilitators of such collaborative work
- Bargain: the rules and expectations of the collaborative group
It is when all three of the requirements are properly met and executed that a group succeeds in collaboration. In my section, I will be focusing on the bargain aspect and also touch on the complexities of collaboration.
A bargain defines the expectations of a group so that everyone can agree and follow accordingly. A successful bargain is one that is “a good fit for both he promise and the tool used” (261). Sometimes the bargain is simple, as in the case of Ivanna’s phone Shirky discusses in Chapter 1. Social networks come with more intricacy. In Flickr groups, there are intricate rules about posting that users must observe. For instance, you are not allowed to post pictures if you do not comment on the two previous images, and you must wait before making multiple postings. This is to combat Tragedy of the Commons, the temptation for user to post their work for potential viewers, but not bothering to pay attention to anyone else’s photos. Alan Page Friske refers to this phenomenon as “equality matching,” where the most talented members of the group don’t get much more attention than the least talented” (276).
This seemed to echo the concerns of Lanier (although not as extreme). Regardless of your talent, people are “forced” to comment on your picture and praise you, even if your picture sucks. Not that I have a problem with mediocrity, but should we really be falsely celebrating the bad because we have to follow some rule to participate in the group? What are your thoughts – is equality matching something positive or negative?
Shirky explains while some bargains are fair, like in the case of Wikipedia, others are often biased. The bargain of Wiki sites is that “you can edit anyone else’s writing and anyone else can edit yours” (271). Fake entries are quickly removed by users, the guardians of the guards. With flash mobs, the bargain is gathering together, doing something outrageous, and getting the pleasure of watching people gape. In this case, the bargain is unbalanced because the power belongs to the head organizer, not the participants. In Belarus, however, the flash mobs altered the meaning of flash mob participation when a large group of people agreed to meet in a public square and simultaneously eat ice cream.
Like the ice cream incident in Belarus, the bargain must be “a part of the lived experience of interaction” as opposed to a traditional contract (273). However, Shirky writes there are times when contacts are necessary. In the case of the Spanish Wikipedia, users worried that the website would soon become commercial and lose its impartiality. They even threatened to “fork,” and start a new site that would not have any commercial interests. In response to the public’s concern, Jimmy Wales applied the GNU Free Documentation License for Wikipedia and the site became a .org page. This guaranteed that commercial interests would never interfere with the content, and helped build a trust between the organization and the millions of users.
Though the concepts of promise, tool, and bargain seem simple enough, execution is difficult and complex. The interactions within the group also contribute to the intricacy. The promise of Wikipedia, for example, has gone from the simple “you can help” to the more complex and slightly distant “imagine an awesome world of infinite knowledge.”
Within a large group, there are smaller subgroups, and each of these groups comes with its own bargain. MySpace is considered a tool for small groups, because it starts off with your profile, which links to your friends, and then on to their friends. The numerous subgroups and varying bargains pose the question of whether Wikipedia is really a community. While users collaborate to update information, they lack direct interaction with one another. Shirky argues that both arguments are true. The “core community,” or the heavily committed contributors, guards the system, and thousands of contributors upload tidbits of information. Because of the complexity of interaction between the various subgroups in Wikipedia, the 80/20 rule optimization will only alienate members who are critical to the success of the system.
These days, groups use customized software and often use multiple tools. These tools cater to the unique bargains of each group. Group environment customization is also common, as seen in the case of the Flickr groups and their rigid rules. Shirky illustrates that on alt.folkore.urban, the word veracity was replaced by voracity. This form of “trolling” was embraced and regarded as a “norm… sustained by the community” (281).
This is the first time I have ever seen trolling seen in a positive light. Usually when I think of trolls, I think of 4Chan (and WoW), where it’s usually seen as negative (or just ludicrous). You can read about the negative aspects of trolls and teh lulz here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/magazine/03trolls-t.html