Collaborative promises, tools and bargains

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.

  1. Promise: reason people get involved in collaborations
  2. Tool: facilitators of such collaborative work
  3. 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

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8 responses to “Collaborative promises, tools and bargains

  1. I think it depends whether or not equality matching is a bad or good thing; however, it will always limit the group’s growth and life span. If being large is the best fit for a community then equality matching will only hinder it and therefore be seen as a bad thing. However, if content and participation is more important, it is useful. Personally I don’t see how community’s that require it can survive beyond its founders and initial users for its growth will plateau faster than that of an open community. Once the older participates lose interest or simply get too busy to care about Black and White the group, if membership is too selective or demanding, there won’t be enough newcomers to keep it going.

  2. I agree with the above comment.
    Sometimes the ‘bargain’ takes on various forms within these social communities encountered online, in accordance with the evolving situation online. I would venture to say that that the ‘promise’ held within each social community online is in fact the reason for the ‘bargains’ evolving nature . Hence if the ‘promise’ of one site such as Flckr used within the example, is to promote a world filled with user generated photos and a community surrounding those photos then certain ‘bargains’ are made to sustain that world. As the ‘promise’ is established and develops, as is the case with the Wikipedia example which moved from ““you can help” to… “imagine an awesome world of infinite knowledge” “, then the bargaining tools/rules implemented must therefore change. Additionally I would argue that none of these communities online could exist without the ‘promise’. It acts as the core force encouraging participation and groups to form around it. I consider the phenomenon of ‘equality matching’ more of a latent affect of the group’s perceived plan of action to maintain the community as a it evolves and grows. If it is an impediment to the communities initial focus is debatable but I do not feel that it is the main event.

  3. As someone who’s not a part of Flickr I didn’t know that you have to comment on previous pictures to post new ones. I think that’s a bad thing and goes along with Lanier’s concerns. I think it’s bad if you’re forcing people into pseudo participation. People are just participating because they have to. I think it’s for the best if people participate in a group naturally.

  4. I for one was quite disturbed when I read about “equality matching” in this chapter of Shirky. I am not a Flikr user and did not know about this policy. This idea makes me question exactly how free the Internet is and exactly how much power a user has. I suppose if the “promise” of the website is seductive enough, a user will follow the “bargain” of “equality matching.” I feel that having this policy makes weeding out “bad” and “irrelevant” content so hard. I do not think that a website, which is based around making good photography known, should keep poor work around.

  5. I don’t think equality matching is necessarily complimenting or praising the users before you, but more so commenting and maybe giving feedback or constructive criticism. I think users want to know that their pictures are seen instead of everyone being too caught up in their own “talent” to realize anyone else.

    I think Alan Page Fiske explains equality matching as taking turns. It’s about reciprocity and doing your part. Equality sharing on Flickr may help a photographer become better at his craft, encourage him, or perhaps encourage the user required to comment on an image to explore that photographers methods and become better at it too. I think this “taking turns” is helpful for the group.

  6. In the beginning of this chapter Shirky talks about the importance of promise. As he states, “The promise creates the basic desire to participate”. This is essentially the most important part of any website for it is the way websites gain users and increase site traffic. There are so many different choices and websites out there today that one can easily find a handful of options that offer similar things. It is important for websites to offer things that stand out and make us want to stay and become a part of the community. I rarely register for a website unless there is a reason such as a benefit or feature that it creates. For example, in class while talking about digg about 5 students use it but only 1 had an account. With free websites it is important to give casual users a reason to get more involved. With flickr anyone can simply browse but if you want others to see your pictures or if you want to comment then suddenly you have an incentive to register; promises require privileges. People register for these sites with their own ideas and goals in mind and it is important for the site to keep an active community participating and meeting these promises ; they must keep their users happy or they will lose them.

    I think this has a lot to do with the reason people today are so against paying for online content, because we have always been promised to get these things for free. Hulu for example has become so popular purely because it offers free HD new television content. However, it is rumored to soon be turning over to a paid subscription service. They are taking away their promise and changing the key feature that made their site such a sensation. This might cause them to lose their previously loyal users and create an uproar in the community.

  7. I think this is a really fascinating conversation. I agree with Angela that equality matching is entirely situational and depends on whether it is fostered in a positive or a negative way. In the case of Flickr, I actually do think that it is a positive aspect of the group formation. I think it empowers the otherwise passive and perhaps insecure members of the group and encourages those who would be hesitant to post their work or comment on others in a real life setting. Who cares if some of the comments are bullshit? If it means that one must comment on someone else’s photograph in order to enhance his/her own status in the group, then so be it. Like Lynn said in her comment above, I do not think that equality matching is solely concerned with praise and positivity–there are and there should be the ability to provide constructive feedback. When it comes to creative groups, it definitely becomes a stickier situation because people tend to reject any criticism on their own personal and creative expression. One needs to be aware of others’ feelings in order to contribute to the group in a constructive and positive manner. When equality matching is handled with respect and good intentions, I believe that it is successful and fosters positive group collaboration because people can feed off each other.

    I also agree with Lynn’s point that people probably accept equality matching just in the sense that it forces people to look at your work. Otherwise, I’m sure a majority of the Flickr community would limit themselves to their own work. It’s a bargain that enables you and your work to be more visible within the group while at the same time encourages you to speak up.

    The reciprocity aspect of equality matching enhances social interaction in certain cases such as Flickr. Basically, don’t enter into a bargain that requires equality matching if you’re not up for commenting or up for being commented upon. Simple as that.

  8. I agree with that equality matching is situational. Just to add to the comment above, I think that Flickr’s requirement helps keep the aesthetic sense of the group (afterall, it is a site where expression through art is shared). It helps maintain control–control that isn’t harmful to anyone. As the comment above said, if you’re not up to follow these particular rules, no one is forcing you to join. You still have access to go through albums, but when you want to join the core, I think it’s fair to require contributions to the community. It’s not much different from how we use this blog for our class. If we as account holders only published our individual posts but had no interaction with one another, I think it takes away from the success and the primary reason for having a community in the first place. And despite having requirements to have a certain number of comments before you can post, the more “more talented” ones will end up getting more attention anyway. Basically, even though it’s tedious, it’s harmless and not necessarily a negative thing.

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