On Line Leadership

Luis reminded me the other day of one of the few smart insights I’ve ever had: the notion that in the free software world, a free-for-all of self-organizing social systems, “evolution” of a sort selects for nice people.

Commenters at the time (rightly, I think) complained that “nice” was a bit “self-patting.” Jeff Waugh worked out was going on more carefully, observing that “people who are cooperative, grateful, thoughtful and sharing are generally given more trust, responsibility and acceptance.” It’s worth noting that Jeff is cooperative, grateful, thoughtful and sharing.

There’s an article in the latest Science News that offers another layer to this. It describes a 1998 exercise in which a group at MIT worked with an online community of more than 3,000 youngsters brought together to discuss ways in which technology can help such young people.

The kids chose leaders from among their number, and the MIT folks found that the leaders thus selected showed very different characteristics from those selected in normal face-to-face groups:

Those who were later chosen as online leaders—regardless of age or sex—had referred to group goals rather than to themselves and synthesized others’ posts rather than offering only their own ideas.

Without in-person leadership cues such as height or attractiveness, online congregants looked for signs of collaborative and persuasive proficiency, the researchers say.

On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.


  1. Yeah, but how well do they do? To what extent do they rise to leadership positions and play important roles?

  2. Well, the society in general, “programmed” to cultural and psychological homogenization, which the prostitution of psychology by business has promulgated insidiously well(through its most ingenious invention of all, — advertisement) has made conformity and placidity, more crucial to social interaction THAN EVER BEFORE!!! So being “nice” and “going along” and “not rocking the boat” are, MORE THAN EVER, important attributes for engendering “popularity” and manipulating our way through our survival. None of those, are really true hallmarks of leadership, but they have become indispensable attributes for thriving in a culture of “sameness” and acquiescence (and by the way, we have been exporting this “flatness of being” along with our consumer-acquisitiveness, masked as “popular culture”, to international shores)

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