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Governance 2.0

On the first of April 2016, a random button with icon of a bird appeared on Reddit on the spot for ads. You clicked it, it lead to an empty page with another button. No information, just a sign “Join in, more info /r/joinrobin”. But that “info” sub was full of “wut?” and threads guessing what the heck is going on. Nobody knew what the button did nor what was the purpose of it all.

Of course it is in the nature of a Redditor to follow the white rabit and see what it does. Everybody clicked that button.

Turned out that the button created a chat room for you and one another person. There was just the chatbox and three vote buttons — abandon, stay, grow. There was a time limit of 3 minutes to vote.

At this point at first most people ignored the chatbox and turned back to /r/joinrobin: Wat do i do? wat happens if i say grow? abandon will exit me rite? whats stay? guys i found out people who dont vote are kicked out. So you had two strangers frozen in a chatbox, not saying anything, a giant WTF on everyone’s mind and waiting what “it” will do.

Soon people figured out the basic game:

  • You join, at first it’s just you and a stranger. You can only be in one chat room at a time. 3 minutes to vote.

It all got interesting after you abandoned a couple of chat rooms and tried different ones.

As it all started with a single stranger at the beginning it was very awkward. Nobody would say anothing for the first round or people would post random ascii pics.

Sometimes it would stay that way into the first merge too.

But in a second merge it was very likely that a leader would emerge. The more likely the older robin got since there were more seasoned people around but still, leaders were a minority. Leader was a person who, into the silence of no chat or random smilies, said something like: “Hey you bitches.”

There was always someone to respond to this. “You called me?”

The leader then started asking random questions. “Where you guys from?”, “Favorite color now everybody!”, “What do you think of Donald Trump?”. Everybody now wanted their 2 minutes of fame. The talking started.

Note that to do this the leader could have been a bot. There was no dialogue needed with the leader. Leader simply pushed people into talking about themselves or doing simple, “unharmful” tasks like pressing f key.

(Indeed, there the “joke” of the day was robin was created by NSA since the information spread just couple days before that reddit dropped their warrant canary and probably received a NSA letter).

Based on the initial talk-starter subgroups spontaneously emerged. Say, if the talk was about nationalities and you exchanged a few lines in a foreign language with someone you were now closer to that peer than to other participants.

It is that easy to start feeling connection to someone? It was based on… next to nothing, a very random overlap that meant nada for you.

There were more questions from leader(s) coming and you started to feel connection to more peers.

At some point though, with about 40 people in, the chatbox got too full. It got difficult to follow if you were called as there was no notification system like with IRC (or we didn’t know about it).

Then the debate started:

  • some people wanted the biggest chatroom even if the number of people made the chat too crowded (vote grow)

With each person voting in some way the crowd of their peers started howling or wooting, depends if their “friend’s” decision was the same as theirs or different. Generally, people’s decisions started to flock together.

However, the stay-voters weren’t just redirected to their own subreddit. It had to be the majority of people voting for stay, otherwise no subreddit was created and all people were merged with another group again.

  • Some type of crowd influence was necesary if the happiest inner circle of peers wanted to stay in touch as a big happy family in their own subreddit.

With no influence you saw people leaving because they were hungry and the like — i.e. for personal reasons, ignoring the group as a whole and their close peers. And to influence people, guess what. To influence, it was enough to order them to do something or to speak in a bossy way.

At least in the beginning — As long as people felt there’s not much to lose they went with whatever any self-appointed authority said.

Later it took a more skilful leader to make people vote grow. Some people even half-jokingly pulled methods like “It will be worth it in the end, you just have to hold on a little longer!”. There had to be some incentive for people to decide to grow. The original incentive of connecting to peers (which felt nice) was gone in large chat groups — too many people, too disorganized, everybody posting their own shit and nobody talking to each other.

So what was the new incentive? Well, none, but now there was the peer pressure.

See pic above: “We appointed a king and created spam for him.” Now that there’s a king that is openly supported by many, others will not want to miss out and will support whatever the king says.

This is what we are.

So much for decentralization, bitches.

Originally published at a now defunct archived blog in spring 2016. In case you’re wondering, the April fools project was soon dropped by Reddit because there was not enough server power to sustain the largest chat rooms.

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