Genius.com’s Curatorial Lesson: Constraining Users Less Makes Them More Collaborative

I interviewed with Genius.com this past week through the fact that they are wanting to be more ‘Wiki’, and I am looking a way to fund my Wiki-based research. After a few videochats, it didn’t quite work out between us, as they are not set-up for housing pure research just yet. But there were some quizzical results that came out of the interview process around user-trust.

I did not want to take their standard programming test because under good advice you never should. Instead I suggested that as a work-trial I run and report the collaborativeness measures I developed this year (accepted to CSCW ’15) on their data. Genius accepted this idea, and you can read the full report below or jump directly to it at the NBviewer.

The most interesting thing that comes out of the report is that their x.genius.com subdomain – their subdomain for miscellaneous texts that aren’t rap or news or history etc. – performs very well under the collaborativeness measure in contrast to all other subdomains. As I wrote to them:

X doing very well is a surprising result to because one would imagine that the “no specific subject nature” might make it more jungle-like and thus less collaborative. The results is actually quite well explained by considering the humorous but true “Zeroeth law of Wikipedia: Wikipedia only works in practice in theory it can never work.” Counterintuitively, people collaborate better with less constraints rather than more. As people are given more freedoms online they respond well due to unrealized incentives. From an Wikipedian’s perspective this is makes a lot of sense, that a company can never make decisions for the community as well as the community.

This, I relayed, was footing for doing away with genius curating subdomains top-down and either folding everything into one large category. Or, I added, if they were really attached to their tradition perhaps a wikia-style create your own subdomain philosophy could work as well.
It’s astonishing how poorly people understand commons-based peer production outside of the Open Culture world, and cling to the world of the Yahoo! portal homepage. The positive lesson for me is that this was domain that showed that more user freedom means higher collaborativeness – an intriguingĀ  piece of evidence to file away.

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