Unbound whuffie

Steve Gillmor “writes”:http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,4149,1516928,00.asp in this issue of _eweek_ about the place of social software, quoting Ross Mayfield’s “suggestion”:http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/01/25/why_orkut_doesnt_work.php that these systems are “frictionless wuffie[1] fun.” He talks a bit about wikis and the question of incentivizing information sharing, which he terms “enterprise whuffie.”

I wonder if this isn’t an oxymoron. That is to say, bureaucratic institutions in the traditional form exist not upon personal reputation, but on codified exchanges that intentionally abrogate social reputation. As long as you remain within relatively broad limits, your reputation among your peers is fairly unimportant. Of course, organizations have tried to get away from this — implementing 360 reviews, etc. — but these efforts still require evaluation purely upon pockets of action carefully hemmed in.

Reputation systems flourish within environments where there are a large number of distributed workers who interact _across_ organizations. This describes everything from the profesoriate to manga otaku to terrorist “organizations.” Despite a number of efforts to remake organizations into these sorts of amorphous teams, the same flexibility, creativity, and resource maximization that these can bring also bring difficulties in “managing” and shifting from the top. (This will come as a surprise to no one who has read the literature on strong corporate cultures; they are self-perpetuating and move toward ideals rather than concrete commands.)

Jon Husband calls this “wirearchy”:http://www.blogue.com/wirearchy/about , which he defines as

a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology

As with many such ideas, turning the abstract into a concrete and observable set of measures is a difficult task, though one that would be very valuable.

I suspect that creating a wirearchy means making organizational boundaries more fluid and transparent. It’s a difficult thing to do half-way, and it raises special difficulties, those that come up for bloggers all the time: what not to blog. I’m running into this again on my own: do I open up my research notebooks now that I’m keeping them on wikis. I have three wikis up for notes: one that is me-only, one that I share with my direct collaborators (my graduate students and others with whom I am directly working on a project), and a public wiki. There is nothing on the public wiki yet.

I suspect that the breakdown will be simple. I publish widely what I have done, with the exception of future planning, and what I am doing at this moment. I think this might work on an organizational level as well, but I’m not sure. A lot of this has to do with “chunking.” In open source projects, you push code as soon as it is minimally workable. The corporate model is to pull away the curtain on a glimmering new product. How “done” is done enough for public consumption. I guess I’ll play that one by ear.

fn1. When I read “Down & Out”:http://www.craphound.com/down/ , I did so on my Zaurus, and misread it is “wuffle” throughout. So whuffie still looks funny to me. (And I _need_ to install “Textile 2”:http://www.bradchoate.com/mt-plugins/textile to make footnotes easier.)

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