Flickr and Market Governance

Erin Malone points to an article on the challenges of managing the Flickr community in the SF Chronicle:

"People bring their human relationships to Flickr, and we end up having to police them," Champ says. …

Lest your inner libertarian objects to such interventions, Champ is quick to correct the idea that the community would ultimately find its own balance.

"The amount of time it would take for the community to self-regulate — I don't think it could sustain itself in the meantime," she says. "Anyway, I can't think of any successful online community where the nice, quiet, reasonable voices defeat the loud, angry ones on their own."

This struck me as uncannily relevant to what’s going on right now in the US economy.

Once social platforms like Flickr reach a certain size, they really do become a weird amalgam of City & Economy, and they require governance. Heather Champ (Flickr’s estimable community manager) points out that, even if you truly believe a collective crowd like this will self-regulate, much damage will be done on the way to finding that balance.

Isn’t that precisely the perennial tension we have in terms of free-market economics?

It seems to me that User Experience design is increasingly needing to learn from Economics and Political Science — and it may even have a thing or two to teach them, as well.

I have lots of thoughts on this, but too many to get down here … just wanted to bring it up because I think it’s so damned fascinating.

Social Architectures Compared

There are some insightful comments on how moderation architectures affect the emergent character of social platforms in Chris Wilson’s article on Slate:
Digg, Wikipedia, and the myth of Web 2.0 democracy.

He explains how the rules structures of Wikipedia and Digg have resulted (ironically) in highly centralized power structures and territorialism. A quote:

While both sites effectively function as oligarchies, they are still democratic in one important sense. Digg and Wikipedia’s elite users aren’t chosen by a corporate board of directors or by divine right. They’re the people who participate the most. Despite the fairy tales about the participatory culture of Web 2.0, direct democracy isn’t feasible at the scale on which these sites operate. Still, it’s curious to note that these sites seem to have the hierarchical structure of the old-guard institutions they’ve sought to supplant.

He goes on to explain how Slashdot’s moderator-selection rules help to keep this top-heavy effect from happening, by making moderator status a bit easier to acquire, at more levels of involvement, while still keeping enough top-down oversight to keep consistent quality levels high.