Search engines have become the steam locomotives of the twenty-first century, pushing connectivity to new heights. Even as the world increasingly became a single whole, the Internet chronicled the rise of newer forms of communities which exhibit strange social structures. Wikis and the "wiki mentality" have likely outpaced our ability to understand how they work. While forums and social networks live and die by the memes which they create, wiki's of all kinds seem, somehow, to endure; how is it that they are able to be operated so effectively when no one is operating them? What kind of social order exists to hold them together?
A "wiki" is a website which allows for quick, easy editing of page content and structure. This form of editing is open to its entire user base; typical wikis, such as Wikipedia, are open to the public while others may be operated by industry or company members only. In public networks, any single user base has to have varying levels of access to content, ranging from complete administrative control to a permanent IP ban, with rules governing how access is determined. The vast majority of users all have the same level of access, encouraging collaborative effort through equal interactions.
Social order is constrained by the automated software that manages the user accounts. Following that, power is handed off to administrators, moderators, and other extremely active users who regulate the wiki. These are the dedicated core users and the pillars of the community. Still, the largest providers of contributions to most wikis are the anonymous users, people who make edits to the wiki typically without ever creating an account. These users are commonly referred to as the "Anonymous Horde", for they are innumerable and nigh untraceable. Yet even these are seemingly of the same body, leaving behind as the only evidence for their existence a coherent, thorough written work.
For their excellent record keeping, wikis yield little personal information on users. The membership of wikis such as Wikipedia has a large turnover rate and is largely anonymous anyways, canceling any possibility of surveying users. Whatever useful data can be found would have to be mined from raw user information or guessed at through intensive observations of hundreds of cases (each page and its edit history representing a single case to study). Data mining is cheap and fast, but presents us with limited information, and case studies are perhaps too intensive. A theoretical approach is best for producing falsifiable claims on wiki social dynamics.
First of all, we can observe a very low entry cost for most people operating the wiki. Part of the longevity of a wiki is likely associated with their ease of use. They are largely text- and image-based web pages with little support for anything else, so overhead is negligible. Total freedom of editing is checked and balanced with permanent records of every edit made, allowing most damage to be undone quickly and...