from Nick Carr‘s ‘Roughtype’ blog (June 27, 2009) …

The sour Wikipedian

Forget altruism. Misanthropy and egotism are the fuel of online social production. That’s the conclusion suggested by a new study of the character traits of the contributors to Wikipedia. A team of Israeli research psychologists gave personality tests to 69 Wikipedians and 70 non-Wikipedians. They discovered that, as New Scientist puts it, Wikipedians are generally “grumpy,” “disagreeable,” and “closed to new ideas.”

In their report on the results of the study, the scholars paint a picture of Wikipedians as social maladapts who “feel more comfortable expressing themselves on the net than they do off-line” and who score poorly on measures of “agreeableness and openness.” Noting that the findings seem in conflict with public perceptions, the researchers suggest that “the prosocial behavior apparent in Wikipedia is primarily connected to egocentric motives … which are not associated with high levels of agreeableness.”

Read the rest here (if you dare!)

I have to say: some of the stuff that’s been thrown at me on discussion forums makes me think “high levels of disagreeableness” is a vast understatement! Funny how much of it is anonymous — posted by what I call cardboard cutouts and glove puppets.

That said, I have also been pretty scathing myself online about what I see as crooked or dodgy behaviour in the offline world. I’m sure I’ve offended some good decent people by highlighting some (in my view) poor, inconsistent or short-sighted decision-making, or someone ‘mishandling’ a conflict of interest. But I don’t ‘do’ anonymous. My name is right there.

Sure, I’ve had to tone down my commentary at times, and write carefully. I try to stick to the point at issue and the actions taken or marketing claims madenot the person.

It’s devilishly hard raising ‘negative’ issues without looking like a prat, a killjoy or a hater.

I’ve also at times had to revise something I’ve posted, and back away from a strident tone, when given more information (rather than under threat). I guess we’re all learning, still.  – P

PS Of course I’m sceptical of any accurate ‘measurement’ of personality traits. (A degree in Psychology will do that for you.) But while possibly inaccurate, there is a familiar ‘feels right’ factor about these findings which is seductive.

I was talking with a pal about the high number of autistic/Asperger’s types who work in IT. As she said: How else do you follow hundreds of lines of code looking for an angle bracket out of place? Or remember that in this language a semicolon means ‘break’ but in that one it means ‘continued on next line’?

It would make me grumpy, oops, ‘disagreeable’ too.