Expert, Editor, Diplomat, Vandal Hunter

Marc Smith proposes four key roles for managing a wiki or other social media platform: domain expert, diplomat, editor, and vandal hunter.

Expert, Editor, Diplomat, Vandal Hunter

I attended an interesting talk by Marc Smith on August 4 “New Metrics for New Media.” Sponsored by Bay Area CIO IT Execs it was a thought provoking talk. I had heard Marc Smith speak at the 2003 O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference and was curious what he was up to at Telligent.

The  slides are below:

Talk summary

He made some remarks about unpublished research, I believe based on work by Howard Welser that built on “Visualizing the Signatures of Social Roles in On-line Discussion Groups” but addressed the four different roles that every successful Wikipedia article requires. One bit of background, every  article has a “talk page” where the different contributors may discuss changes to the article itself, this allows a discussion to take place backstage without affecting the content of the article by embedding the discussion points in the article itself.

  • Domain Experts provide the key or core content for the article, and who often contribute to the talk page. They will make large changes, typically adding blocks of text, to a small set of articles.
    Value: core content for a page
  • Diplomats mediate disagreements among domain experts, most of their edits are to the talk pages.
  • Editors makes small changes, typically these are copyedits (e.g. fixing typos, punctuation, grammatical errors).  They correct small errors and improve the look and professionalism. They will make small edits over a large number of articles.
  • Vandal Hunters perform rapid reversions or undos to the article, normally in response to spam or other harmful edits. They have a very short time between last edit and their edit, and they have high percentage of actions that replace a page with an older version. They increase the chances of additional contributions by lowering the chance that a potential contributor reads a page that has been defaced, and then worries that their own contribution would be defaced.

I thought that there were some interesting parallels to how change happens, or is snuffed out, in a corporation.

I also think that most groups trying to reach a working consensus on a document, especially against a deadline, end up creating both document pages and discussion pages for the group to be able to hash out the final content and managed any issues or disagreements that need to be resolved. Archiving the talk pages is a quick way to make post mortems or after actions more useful, as they should contain a decision record for why certain decisions were reached and what options and/or issues were discussed and considered.

Note: Marc’s slide 27 has a different list of user types, my notes were transcribed from his talk. I think this list comes from his efforts at Microsoft to outsource customer support to USENET groups and is focused on that problem.

User type reports in Telligent Analytics include social network metrics to define different kinds of contributors:
Answerer: users who reply to many questions from many people.
Influencer: users who are connected to other well connected users.
Asker: users who raise questions that get answered by answer people.
Connector: highly connected users who are replied to or linked to by many other community users.
Originator: initiates new content in the site that is often linked to by others.
Commenter: replies or links to content created by others.
Spectator: reads but tends not to create content.
Overseer: moderates content created by others.

Background: event description from Meetup (via

Presenter: Marc A. Smith, Chief Social Scientist, Telligent Systems

Abstract: Social media is growing in importance but the tools and concepts needed to measure and track it are lagging. As businesses adopt message boards, blogs, and wikis internally or deploy them outside their companies to host the conversations and contributions of their customers, tools that provide accounting and measurement of this activity grow in importance. This talk will introduce useful traditions from the social sciences that provide a language and methods for studying the collective creation of value in social media. Social network analysis of social media can provide a way to map and measure conversations and connections to reveal central people, isolates, and different kinds of participation patterns that are invisible to simple activity measurements.

Bio Marc A. Smith



Marc Smith is a sociologist and Chief Social Scientist at Telligent Systems, a provider of fine quality social media platforms and systems. Smith specializes in the social organization of online communities and computer mediated interaction. He founded and managed the Community Technologies Group at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington and is now leading the development of social media reporting and analysis tools for Telligent. Smith lives and works in Silicon Valley, California.

Smith is the co-editor with Peter Kollock of Communities in Cyberspace (Routledge), a collection of essays exploring the ways identity; interaction and social order develop in online groups.

Smith’s research focuses on computer-mediated collective action: the ways group dynamics change when they take place in and through social cyberspaces. Many “groups” in cyberspace produce public goods and organize themselves in the form of a commons (for related papers see:…. Smith’s goal is to visualize these social cyberspaces, mapping and measuring their structure, dynamics and life cycles. He developed the “Netscan” web application and data mining engine that allows researchers studying Usenet newsgroups and related repositories of threaded conversations to get reports on the rates of posting, posters, cross-posting, thread length and frequency distributions of activity. This research offers a means to gather historical data on the development of social cyberspaces and can be used to highlight the ways these groups differ from, or are similar to, face-to-face groups. Smith is applying this work to the development of a generalized community analysis platform for Telligent, providing a web based system for groups of all sizes to discuss and publish their material to the web and analyze the emergent trends that result.

Smith received a B.S. in International Area Studies from Drexel University in Philadelphia in 1988, an M.Phil. in social theory from Cambridge University in 1990, and a Ph.D. in Sociology from UCLA in 2001. He is an affiliate faculty at the Department of Sociology at the University of Washington and the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland.

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