About 15 years ago, I was the administrator of what was at the time the largest MUD in existence. I ended up in my position as a result of a coup. The previous administration had acted like a bunch of authoritarian pricks, causing all sorts of ugly petty politics. I’m a labour organizer, so it’s second nature for me to organize groups of angry workers and direct their aggression in ways which effect change. I eventually fomented open rebellion, the admin shut down the MUD to stop it, and then the guy with physical access to the server opened the MUD up and handed the virtual keys to me and my fellow co-conspirators.
I’ve only recently been a participant on here, and already I’ve run into the middle of what appears to be ongoing conflicts. I was told at one point to either dedicate months to learning the code base and implement my suggestions myself or basically cram them up my ass; I was accused just yesterday of being part of some sort of anti-bloat conspiracy. At this current moment I’m trying to figure out how an IRC channel relates to this forum, and why the petty bickering from there can result in bans here (and the concommitant trolling, counter-trolling, counter-counter-trolling, anti-trolling, counter-anti-trolling, and so forth).
All of this has got me thinking about the feasibility of projects like this which appear to be entirely or primarily organized over the Internet.
There was a university psych study I read about years ago which attempted to answer this very question. A control group of volunteer students was timed while attempting to complete a project while all face to face in the same room. Another group was split up into separate rooms and could communicate only by computer. The experiment could not be completed because the group working over computer became so furiously angry with each other that they had to be escorted from the building by security to keep them from physically attacking each other.
The ability for people to collaborate over computers seems to be seriously crippled by the loss of body language, facial expression, tonality of voice, and so on. There seems to be an entirely instinctive assumption of hostily when unconscious communication levels are removed, resulting in ever-escalating levels of anger and combativeness. What little work does get done appears to be the result of small groups of people working out-of-band, resulting in a sort of elitist executive committee which controls the direction of the project, creating all of the problems associated with vertical organization while maintaining the pretense of being horizontal.
What do you think? Is it possible to create a healthy collaborative project over the Internet? Or does the medium itself have limitations which prevent horizontal organization?