Coordination in Commons-Based Peer Production Communities: Evaluation, Analysis, and Design for Emergent Systems
Gilbert, Michael Dean
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Traditional organizations are often relatively structured, involving hierarchies of individual agents driving progress through production, with well-defined boundaries between internal requirements and external expectations and with explicit goals set to drive work processes to their ideal end. Modern commons-based peer production communities, however, exist in a different reality, both conceptually and physically. These communities of collaborators are often identified by their distributed agents acting among distributed teams, functioning without formal hierarchy, each contributing to disparate projects with divergent goals, each with myriad individual motivations, all leading to an emergent order that arises not from managerial decree but from the mass of actors participating in the melee. In these communities, coordination is no longer a top-down process that can be centrally controlled. It is instead a product of emergent order; it is a product of the ongoing and ever changing narrative of the individual actors contributing to and ultimately shaping those communities they interact within. This dissertation examines such coordination within one of the most visible commons-based peer production communities – Wikipedia. Within Wikipedia, millions of volunteers have contributed to create one of the largest and most visited resources in the world, a free online encyclopedia with the goal to make available the sum of all human knowledge. While prior research has contributed to theoretical understanding of coordination in organizations, no such theory exists for modern commons-based peer production communities. This dissertation presents such a theory, grounded in observations of the agents within that community, with the capacity to explicate the many discrete interactions that inform the whole, to identify the means by which those interactions succeed or fail, and to ultimately provide a theoretical foundation for future design interventions. Finally, to validate this theory I present the Virtual Team Explorer, a theory-driven design study resulting in a prototype application intended to facilitate the coordination of distributed actors within WikiProjects in Wikipedia, along with the tools and requisite documentation that make such an intervention possible.