Mathieu O’Neil – Cyberchiefs: Autonomy and Authority in Online Tribes

Mathieu O'Neil

Pluto Press, ISBN 978-0745327969, UK, 2009, English
The internet, in the early days of social spreading, has represented the utopia of a medium fully supporting horizontal organizations within self established communities. If this has partially happened, especially in the most successful cases, it is also thanks to an internal organization that explicitly or implicitly establishes hierarchies. The communities that are able to produce outstanding outcomes (Linux as the most popular example) have to take care of quality control and that means establishing authority. But, this author suggests, it is a different type of authority – the “internet is a stateless system”, one in which the spontaneous organization of groups is better understood as tribal. So the distribution of authority, in these contexts is the “distribution of charisma”. It deals with the meritocratic principle that hacker groups have moved away from an authoritarian character and have become charismatic. The book first goes into the notion of autonomy from systems, and issues surrounding neo-tribalism, charisma and the net structure, before examining four case studies: the radical Primitivism text archive, the Daily Kos progressive political blog, the Debian free software project and its mailing lists, and the collective editing practices of Wikipedia. It’s clear then that the most successful models include support for maximum autonomy for participants, which the author defines as “online tribal bureaucracy.” The challenge to get consensus depends on a collective negotiation of decisions, where finally organization is pursued without domination.