73 How to Start a Guild with Kei Kreutler and T.L. Taylor (Trust episode 3)

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Reimagining the Internet
Reimagining the Internet
73 How to Start a Guild with Kei Kreutler and T.L. Taylor (Trust episode 3)

Almost two decades ago, World of Warcraft gamers started gathering in guilds to share resources and organize raids. Did they create one of the most trustful types of communities on the entire Internet? This week on our trust mini-series, we talk about how artist and gaming communities cooperate with artist Kei Kreutler and sociologist of virtual worlds T.L. Taylor.

Kei Kreutler is based in Berlin and is co-creator of the collective Gnosis Guild. She is author of “A Prehistory of DAOs” and Zodiac Wiki.

T.L. Taylor is a professor of Comparative Media Studies at M.I.T. and founder of AnyKey. We had her on the show previously in March 2022.

A very special thank you goes to Nathan Schneider, who helped with background for this episode.


Ethan Zuckerman:

Welcome back to Reimagining the Internet. I’m Ethan Zuckerman, and I’m once again joined by our producer Mike Sugarman. Hey Mike.

Mike Sugarman:

Hey Ethan, hey everybody.

Ethan Zuckerman:

So Mike, this is episode three of our series about trust on the Internet and you said we’re going to be talking about… World of Warcraft?

Mike Sugarman:

Yup, that’s right. This is an episode about cooperation. It’s an episode about how groups of friends or communities of artists collaborate online. It’s about how people online figure out how to set up rules for themselves and share resources.

Ethan Zuckerman:

And it’s also an episode about gaming.

Mike Sugarman:

It is an episode about gaming. We’re going to talk to our old friend T.L. Taylor about all of the different ways cooperation plays out in gaming spaces online, from World of Warcraft guilds all the way to Twitch streamers who develop communities with their fans.

Ethan Zuckerman:

We ended the last episode talking about community. Molly White was talking about ”predatory community.” She was talking about retail investors who got caught up in bad crypto projects in part due to the power of community. They may have put themselves at risk because they weren’t just invested financially, but emotionally.

Mike Sugarman:

Today we’re also going to be talking about crypto communities—for the last time. Kei Kreutler, an artist and co-founder of a project called Gnosis Guild, is going to help us take a look at a less-talked-about movement of DAOs: artists trying to create cooperative support systems that provide some alternative to the art market.

Ethan Zuckerman:

So just to refresh listeners’ memories, a DAO, or distributed autonomous organization, is basically a way of starting a company or a nonprofit or a collective where instead of creating a legal document you’re creating a technical and financial document. Basically you create a currency that everyone holds and that currency can either be used to fund projects, it can also be used as a voting token to govern what you as a group are going to do.

One example of this was the Constitution DAO, a group of people who got together to try to purchase a copy of the U.S. Constitution. In theory, they then would have used their shares in the Dow, their coins, to vote on how that Constitution should be shown in museums or shared or brought around to different locations.

But DAOS  get really weird, really fast. When we talked with Primavera de Filippi about them, she explained that in some cases they’ve got really strange legal status, particularly when people try to create them to be outside of any country’s legal jurisdiction.

Mike Sugarman:

Yeah, and it might help to think about a lot of dowses existing outside of something or in between the cracks of current markets. So if you take the case of the current global art market, it’s a weird place. It’s a place where artists sell work to wealthy collectors for what feels to the artist like a lot of money, but then the work they sell often gets resold for a lot more on the aftermarket. Artists never get a cut of that resale value, and then the collectors who have bought that work get a huge speculative asset of nebulous value that they can then donate to a nonprofit museum for a huge tax break, where frankly, used to launder money.

So Kei Kreutler has an idea about what artists can do.

Kei Kreutler:

I think just a foreground and caveat that I don’t think necessarily a new technical infrastructure like crypto can be a panacea to the structural problems in the art industrial complex or basically any other fields. 

Mike Sugarman:

That’s Kei, by the way. I talked to her back in September, which was effectively halfway between the stablecoin crashes that Molly talked about last week and the FTX fiasco this past November. It was a really interesting conversation about some alternative possibilities for crypto, taking into account all the greed and fraud that had been plaguing the space in the past couple of years.

Kei Kreutler:

I think what crypto networks offer is an opportunity both for people to get excited about different types of systems as well as an opportunity to have real resources to do the experimentation and pragmatic work towards saying, “Does this work differently? Is it actually changing anything? How can we do it better?” In Berlin, there’s been many talks about having DAOs run different art collectives. Obviously, there’s groups like channel which try to do basically revive RSS feeds for decentralized media studios. 

I think at the core of a lot of these more utopian projects is basically trying to think through how can you have a slight inversion of contemporary art institutions where it’s not an artist that kind of exists as a commodity to be collected, but an artist has fundamental ownership but also fundamental kind of curation control of the institution that is building up their own work as well. 

Really kind of that divide between what exists now as kind of like art institution, curator, collector, an artist. What if those roles were much more muddy and what if the actual resource power was controlled by the artist? Crypto can make this question much more in focus and in practice than I think other opportunistic moments have in the past.

I do think that NFTs are interesting because they’re kind of digital objects and sometimes they’re paired with a JPEG and sometimes they’re paired with, it could be a key to access open source software that’s a particular edition for you. Then, this gives you a portal to a community that then leads you to all of these other cultural opportunities. I think we’re still figuring out what these digital objects are that bring a kind of site specificity to the internet. I don’t want to distance too much from there, but I would say that definitely the goal with what I’m trying to do is not Ponzification of art and claiming it as new paradigm. 

With my team specifically, we’re thinking much more about how can you have almost like an affinity network that is linked in some forms by digital objects. I think one of the cultural aspects of art is that it has always produced, not necessarily the lone artists, but different groups of artists who think together, who work together, and who produced basically a cultural vibe shift, let’s say. 

And now that we have these types of digital objects that are actually more like keys and portals than objects themselves, how can we use them as not exclusive membership but almost like a key to being able to think together. To be more concrete, my team is doing a kind of NFT model where it will be an on-chain SVG, so an on chain image that will evolve over time as you contribute to the project. It’ll be a wand and it will get ornate and more elaborate and aesthetically more interesting, but it will also kind of give greater governance power and claim to the resources of the project as you contribute. 

And of course, as well, we’re paying people adequate rates on top of this. But just as a kind of mechanism or key to be able to say, “Hey, this is the community of practitioners that contribute and this is the kind of fun insignia by which we can record it and have it be a live object in the organization.” I think with this, if it persists for decades or more, as we see these affinity networks kind of linked by not only ideas or vibes, but by real economic resources and trackable ownership, then we get something that makes it really, really interesting in the face of our institutions that survive on millionaire collectors. 

Now, we have something that could, on the longer term, to be a little bit less power law distribution and more fairly distributed over time. So really thinking about how do you produce—how you take the form of more grassroots networks and turn them into equitable and open—or maybe open is a little bit too jargony here—but equitable and interesting and I would say balanced cultural groups.

Mike Sugarman:

I think it’s worth pointing out: it doesn’t necessarily have to be that these systems where you can fund things, make everything a funding project first. I think what you are actually talking about is how do you build protocols, norms, community values, that sort of stuff.

One of the projects that you’re involved is something called Gnosis Guild.

A lot of the aesthetics of what you’re doing—the wand that you described in this kind of iterating NFT— these seem kind of inspired by the fantasy side of games and gaming, whether that’s D&D or these video games. Could you tell me more a bit about the gaming guild, influence here, what you find inspiring about that and also how the history of that kind of plays into how you think DAOs might evolve?

Kei Kreutler:

About a year ago I wrote an essay called Prehistory of DAOs where I tried to situate DAOs and both a more historical context but also a different aesthetic context than they were usually placed because they were often placed in a kind of almost Skynet-like setting and autonomous capitalism-like future. I wanted to show that there are other precedents and other influences that can be drawn from. 

I mentioned cooperatives and that seems like the one that kind of took off in the kind of more left crypto space the most. But I would say, they actually in practice, DAOs are still much more like gaming guilds in the sense that you have a kind of group of people who might know each other in person but are more likely to have met online first and maybe have met later, who are deeply invested in a kind of game world that’s just as real as the world. And they want to work towards certain goals together and they want to have certain experiences, but mostly it’s also a kind of narrative linkage. You’re invested in the narrative.

You’ll see that this is the case with a lot of DAOs, both for better and for worse. In the piece what I wanted to argue and why I wanted to draw that analogy with how DAOs function with gaming guilds was because I think we have a tendency still, let’s say, if a mainstream still exists and—the mainstream does not take gaming very seriously in some respects, there’s still some kind of shuffle of, yeah, maybe it’s generational, I’m not sure, but that actually DAOs are maybe the first or third or second kind of landmark of saying, “Oh, what if something like gaming guilds or online organizations,” maybe it’s actually more the 10th spark of this. What if online organizations are actually a very formidable and recognizable political force? 

Mike Sugarman:

In a video game with a lot of these MMORPGs, there’s a company that owns it. No matter what your contributions are, no matter how much value you create a game, really a company profits from it, at the end of the day. What you are kind of suggesting is an analogous structure where through something like a DAO people would be able to own the types of things they create and benefit from them. 

It wouldn’t just be that they are users that are kind of powering the value of corporation, but they themselves, when undertaking these collective creative endeavors, have some kind of stake in what it is that they’re creating together. Am I right that that’s kind of what you’re saying?

Kei Kreutler:

Yeah, that’s definitely one of the dreams of it. Of course, there’s been a kind of level of DAO washing in this space where often DAOs maybe don’t touch on-chain, don’t actually distribute property, don’t have an ownership layer at all, but it’s totally possible to do and it’s, in fact, pragmatic to do, but just to say that not all DAOs do this could definitely have what the term use in this space is self-custodial assets. 

The idea that the wands in  World of Warcraft will always be your wands and it can’t be taken out. I always joke about the kind of Ethereum origin story being quite explicitly Vitalik basically having a spell that he worked towards get taken away by an admin, the power of it. That was actually the impetus to creating basically a programmable blockchain layer. 

I think that these spaces are interesting because they’re kind of sandboxes where you can start getting people used to actually both shared ownership and holding in common but also against corporate ownership and making that more of a cultural norm. Even if blockchain or crypto doesn’t fulfill all of these promises, I think we need all that we can get to culturally stop the tide of expecting that everything that we have is leased from a corporation and this is maybe one cultural force that can do that.

Mike Sugarman:

I’m really interested to hear you talk a bit more about building these kinds of structures that people can trust in the space you’re working. I’m kind of interested to hear about how you’re doing that by organizing norms partially through this project that you’ve launched recently called Zodiac.Wiki, which to summarize for our listeners is basically a knowledge-base for how to put together a successful and equitable DAO, I think.  It’s a wiki that contains everything from guides, about how to start your own DAO to glossary of various terms you might encounter that people in this space use. It seems to me like what you’re trying to innovate here is a kind of social infrastructure for DAOs. Could you tell me more about the kind of project making something like Zodiac.Wiki?

Kei Kreutler:

What I always say is that what might have the most impact is not necessarily decentralized digital technology alone, but the cultural patterns that it normalizes. In my previous work, pre-crypto, I got interested in the idea of pattern languages for organizations. 

Taking from the work of Christopher Alexander and team who was an architect who came up with the idea of being able to form a field of architecture based on small patterns that you combine to produce a building rather than a kind of top down blueprint. Things like having light on two sides of every room, making sure that there’s always a sun facing outdoors that goes out to the north or south depending on your hemisphere. 

Basically, taking these small patterns, iterating them and creating a building that feels kind of whole and not a universal whole but a kind of lived-in, practiced whole. This idea of pattern languages became very influential to the software development community through people like Ward Cunningham. 

Fast forward to today, I feel like there’s a lot of patterns that DAOs are producing. Just kind of common things that people see and then copy, for better or worse. To give an example, not to say that this is actually the best example, but just one of the accidents that happen, is often people will get together, they’ll form a shared account, a crypto account, maybe they’ll come up with a mission, they’ll work on that. They’ll want to expand the community. They’ll mint a token in five minutes. They’ll give that token to their friends and say, “Hey, want to get on board?” 

Then, they’ll gradually open that community out and they’ll also gradually give up control of that shared account with a treasury. Even in this kind of small example of one path of the DAO, the technical infrastructure from crypto creates all of these patterns that actually weren’t really accessible to people before because you have things like, in the past, I’ve tried to do kind of joint bank accounts with people to do different social projects. It’s basically forget about it if you don’t all live in the same country and also it’s quite hard to do if you don’t have a certain revenue above a certain amount.

It’s very, very hard to open these things and then all of a sudden this random tech comes and you can kind of set this up. Of course, it’s not totally divorced from real world assets, there will always be on and off ramps that may be just as difficult, but just the practice of being able to set up an account with your mates and kind of spin up this project in a couple of days as opposed to years of getting your paperwork in order. These are really powerful cultural norms about what it means to hold resources in common with others.

Part of the impetus behind Zodiac.Wiki was taking this idea of patterns, cultural patterns, pattern language and putting them in the context of DAOs and social organizations in order to both capture what’s happening in the cultural norms that are produced but also to shape them, of course, in the kind of feedback loop towards basically what could be more interesting ends less, as you mentioned, the speculative aspect and much more about the kind of, I always use this phrase as well kind of holding in common. 

What does it mean to have, on one side you have property, but on another side you have responsibility. How can you think through these as different civic responsibilities, these new powers that crypto gives? Just to be clear, I don’t think that the technology itself will reform the structural issues, but I do think that it’s a really weird kind of cheap trick to have people start acting differently.

Ethan Zuckerman:

So what Kei is describing here is actually a very old tradition online. For as long as people have been getting together on the Internet, they’ve been trying to figure out how to create civics for their social spaces.


There’s a classic case study of this from the early days of cyberspace, and that’s actually where my conversation with T.L. Taylor began. It was an article that Julian Dibbel wrote for The Village Voice back in 1993 called “A Rape in Cyberspace.” Ethan, I know you tend to teach that article in your classes a lot. Would you mind telling us a bit about it?

Ethan Zuckerman:

Yeah, oddly enough Mike, I’m actually gonna be teaching it next week. For people who grew up on the internet in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Some of the most important online spaces were called MUDs and MOOs. MUD stands for multi-user dungeon, MOOs stands for object-oriented MUD.

You don’t really need to know what those things mean. Basically, these were very complicated online chat spaces, rather than everybody being in a room saying, “Hi, what’s up?” you could describe the room, you could describe objects in the room, you could describe your own appearance, you could not just say things, you could do what are called verbs. Ethan waves, Mike waves back. And these led towards really rich discussions and very passionate communities.

One of the most active of MUDs at that time was called Lambda MOO. It was hosted by a guy named Pavel Curtis, who worked at Xerox Park, the legendary research center. And by the early 1990s, Lambda MOO was being used by thousands of computer scientists, students, a lot of very bright techies all over the world. People were incredibly passionate about it. I have friends from college who spent hundreds or thousands of hours on it.

Julian Dibbel was very active in that community and he saw a really historic moment in its evolution which was someone coming on to Lambda Moo and using the tools of that community to assault a community member. And he writes a really powerful piece about what does sexual assault mean when all that’s quote unquote really happening is text on a screen. 

But what Dibbel gets so right in this piece is how outraged members of this community were and how worried about whether the community could survive this sort of a violation even if the violation was just words on the screen.

Mike Sugarman:

And without further ado, T.L. Taylor.

T.L. Taylor:

So when you’re kind of building a world together, and Lambda MOO, the MUD, the MOO that event happened on, it wasn’t a gaming world, it was really just a early virtual social world of which games and playfulness might happen in it, but need not. There’s all kinds of ways in which people come together and maybe trust the architecture of the world to work in particular ways.

The physics, if you will, I’m doing air quotes, it’s the physics of the world. So they trust the underlying software in particular ways, or they can trust different kinds of users in different kinds of ways. The people you know well, you’re going to extend a certain level of trust to them. The strangers that are passing through, a different level. And I think that the incident that Julian recounts was so powerful because it not only caused the community to think about the conditions of engagement with each other, it actually caused the community to think about the underlying architecture of the world. Because actually, and this may be too in the weeds for your podcast, but what happened was the person who was committing the harassment was using the technical infrastructure to spoof action. And so it wasn’t just a social issue of trust, it went to the heart of there’s an underlying technical architecture here that works a certain way. And oh my God, now we see how that architecture can be used against people.

The other really fascinating thing that came out of that incident is the folks who ran, and again, I’m doing air quotes because what it means to run a MUD can be very complicated. But the folks who ran it basically said, we don’t want to be the ones to have to decide. They actually ended up creating a very elaborate voting and referendum system to try to give the community tools to say, we respond to what the community wants.

So I’ve probably veered from what trust is. My main point here is trust is not a singular thing. It’s not a singular thing socially. You’re going to interact with different people and groups in different ways, you’re going to have different trust bases and expectations. And there’s also forms of trust around infrastructures and what people’s expectations are of a world or of a space or of how the place will function. And I guess one of my main things is that we have to disentangle those. It’s not like a flat, I trust X, or I trust my fellow community members. What does that mean? Is that your rating group? Is that the people you see every day and you’ve shared offline pictures with? Is it the stranger who’s passing through

Mike Sugarman:

There is a big crisis of trust in, I mean for lack of a way of putting it, the MOO as an institution, as actually a kind of architectural space. The people in charge spun up this weird democratic process as an effort seemingly to avoid acting unilaterally, but clearly also because it was a matter of will this thing continue or not? Will people want to continue participating? When your trust in an institution gets shaken, we see it in, I don’t know, contemporary American life—People will disengage. The funny thing is the democratic process didn’t end up really informing what happened at the end. A mod just kind of kicked out the user, and that was that.

T.L. Taylor:

And it was really cumbersome. It’s a little bit that thing where I think you sometimes hear this in states that have heavy referendum governance systems. People are like, this is what we’ve elected people for. We should not all be deciding if this singular piece of legislation should go through. So the idea that everybody would be directly voting on everything is a really cumbersome, weighty structure. 

Mike Sugarman:

T.L. has spent a lot of time studying virtual worlds: first with places like Second Life, and later with MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. There she’s studied a system that maybe a lot of you listeners of this podcast have taken part in: guilds.

WoW is organized around raids, which you could basically think of as a team that leads some fight against a boss. Guilds are a kind of meta layer that organizes those raids, where people form their own groups and develop their own governance system for planning the battle, doling out roles, and allocating resources.

The thing I didn’t realize, though, is that guilds were developed by gamers first, and adopted by WoW’s designers second.

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah, so guilds are really interesting social institutions because the guild as a structure that gets produced for gaming, for people to organize, the first multiplayer games did not have guild structures. People decided we need a structure to organize and manage ourselves. And people created guilds completely independent of the formal properties of the game. And as is often the case, game developers were like, “Oh yeah, this is really important. We need to start now integrating in tools and formal apparatuses to meet people where they’re at.”

So this is the first thing I think is important for people to understand. Guilds as a form of social organization comes from the bottom up, doesn’t come because a game developer decided it was a great thing to do. It came because people were already self-organizing to carry out complex actions in the world and slowly decided we need to crystallize and formalize this. And so they did things like, they used third party websites to set up the bounds and structure of that social group. They created calendar systems to manage competing over resources in the game in a sensible way. So this form of complex social organization completely comes from the bottom up, first of all, in games.

Developers key in and realize that this is useful, and so they start building into games the functionality to support guilds. There’s a way technically now to carve off for little group and you have a name and you have maybe have some private chat. And as you point to, maybe you have some shared resources. But again, one of the things I think is really important for folks to understand is the social innovation users do to produce meaningful systems of governance and participation for themselves.

I mean, top down stuff can help and amplify and give people tools, but if you really watch the innovation people are doing from the ground up it’s incredibly instructive. So say you get guilds. Well, then people realize as they start playing together and as the system says, okay, you’re going to kill a big dragon. And when you kill that dragon, there’s going to be some amount of resources that drop. Some good loot as it’s called. But you’ve got 40 people, and say only three pieces of armor drop, really valuable resources. What do you do? Does the most popular person get them? Does the most vocal person get them?

So in fact, what we see is a period of time where guilds actually come up with really elaborate systems, heterogeneous systems to deal with resource scarcity. And it’s everything from instrumentalized systems where you get points for attendance and you can spend those points on loot or it’s completely sort of dictatorship and the raid leader distributes the resources according to what they think or the team thinks is important.

But what I’m pointing to here is that it’s not even just that we get this form of social organization, we get really complex ways of managing, then, things like resources, participation, how we value what people are contributing to the group. And all of those are both forms of governance, but are interwoven with layers of trust: trust in the leadership, maybe it’s trust in the instrumental infrastructure of accountability, trust in your fellow teammates that they’re going to show up and perform.

Thinking about a sports team is a really useful analogy because you’re going to trust that people are going to show up and have your back and do a good job. So I’m of course, as I will always do, making a mess of a very simple question, but the main thing I’m just trying to highlight is there’s a lot of social innovation, heterogeneity and complexity in the systems that people come up with to manage what might from the outside look like, oh, this is a game, surely this is an easy thing. It’s actually a really sophisticated social system.

Mike Sugarman:

T.L., if I had a time machine, I would take you back to the year 2006 when I was trying to convince my parents to let me play more video games after school.

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah. Well do you remember during that, you probably may remember, you might have been too young, but during those years, there were a number of articles that would come out and they would say, “Why being a raid leader for guild should be something I can put on my resume, because I have managed a team of 40 people.” People were really trying to explain to non-gamers or the outside world, “Look, you don’t understand. This is a really interesting, important socially complex space, even though it’s a ‘game’.” Air quotes.

One of the things I always loved about guilds is people who are investing that kind of time in those worlds, they are really thinking a lot too about the social implications of the systems they’re using. So what does this system do to our sense of ourselves as a collective, as a group, our social cohesion, our solidarity

Mike Sugarman:

A running theme is that social innovation and technical innovation go hand in hand, and are to some extent indistinguishable from one another. T.L. described a tool that mods she encountered developed to visualize how much damage guild members were doing in a game.

T.L. Taylor:

You’re killing things and you can get it visualized. And I did research years ago and talked to raid leaders about this visualization tool and they regularly said, “We know people use them, but we don’t allow them to share the results during the raid, because it distorts what actual participation looks like.”

Because what happens is if you’re doing damage, it shows, but what if you’re a healer? Or what if you’re the person who does less damage, but you brought a lot of supplies for that raid, none of that gets visualized. To me, this was an amazingly sophisticated way of understanding sociotechnical systems and thinking about how these systems are tied up with group cohesion, feelings of solidarity, participation. So as I said, they’d say we know people use them, but we’ve learned that when people start sharing that data, it kind of corrodes us working together.

And so we have some limitations on what we allow in this group to preserve some sense of team solidarity and collective. I don’t know what you think, I think many people outside of gaming would be surprised to hear that. And it’s one of the things I’m often, I feel like I’m sort of crying into the wind, like, “Look at gaming.” Gaming is rife with governance experiments. It is just shot through with them. And it’s not abstract. It’s people actually doing politics in a really kind of mundane, but daily way. And again, all of those systems are also interwoven with forms of trust, each other, your leader, the system, the group, the developers, so yeah.

Mike VO

T.L.’s recent work has focused on videogame livestreaming where cooperation is perhaps a little more multilateral. People aren’t just cooperating within gameplay, but a complex and nuanced system of cooperation emerges on these Twitch channels. I asked T.L. to dig in.

T.L. Taylor:

Streamer with audience is fascinating because streamers work really hard to try to build the kind of culture they want on a channel. And whether that’s rules or norms, but there’s all this. And trust and hope for some that they’re not going to get harassed. Sometimes it’s also really mundane, like one of the expectations of the channel is that you don’t back seat game when you watch it. So there’s a real range of, here’s the conditions I want to set up for myself as a streamer and how do I carry that out?

I think the other flow is audience member to audience member because that’s also one of the interesting dynamics about Twitch. It’s not just a one direction or even a two direction streamer to audience, but it’s audience to audience. And so with some channels, there are actually really robust communities where people know each other, are known to each other. Maybe they’re also in a Discord together. So those systems of connection and trust also exceed the bounds of the platform.

T.L. Taylor

That social innovation people are doing, people really, “Let’s find the thing that helps us get where we need to go.” Which means, the kind of why that matters, if people care about trust and platforms and governance, you can’t think in terms of single platforms. I don’t think it’s a meaningful way to understand online life. I don’t think it’s how people use or move through it. So we have to have an assemblage or multi-platform understanding of online life and systems of trust and systems of governance.

Yeah, I was going to try to give you one example to maybe push this home. I mean, if we think about the multitude of spaces people operate in, even just on a site like Twitch, say you’re a fan of a number of streams and you follow them all. Say you’re a bad actor and you just consistently go into a number of streams and cause trouble. There’s a model which says, well all of those streams are kind of little independent islands of activity and you are just a bad actor in a million different islands of bad activity.

Well one of the things that, again, people innovated years ago is they started creating lists of bad actors and sharing them. They just started saying, “Oh actually look, there’s this person and we have seen now that they are a bad actor in multiple places,” and usually that knowledge bubbled up because they were all sitting on Discord channels together. So moderators, and then they created Google Doc or they created some doc and they started sharing it. Well, now we have a system where Twitch realized, oh, might it be useful to have shared information about bad actors? And they’ve built that into the system now. But that’s again, I think that’s a really smart understanding of how people engage online, that you’re not just on one little island. So you have to have systems that account for that. You are a citizen of many places.

Mike Sugarman:

Yeah, and I think what you’re talking about is that moderation is not—I mean, in one sense I think Facebook would like us to believe that moderation is about making a set of rules and enforcing it on certain content. Actually, if that’s your terms for moderation, then it’s a little more forgivable when you drop the ball. Because you can say, “Oh, well what are we supposed to do? Pay attention to all the content? It’s really hard. There’s so much.” But what you’re talking about is moderation as an effort to, much as we try to do in our offline lives, determine how you want to live your life and sniff out what might be impeding that and work collectively to do something about it.

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah, and streamers who work really hard to have what I would call healthy, inclusive communities, they don’t just spend time building rules. The building the rules for your channel is like, okay, that’s step one. Streamers who actually talk about being really excited about their communities will say like, oh, it’s really about either my moderation team or in the best moments, the kind of channel as a whole coming together and socializing people into what this space is.

So the rules are the bumpers that get erected when you go to the bowling alley, so you don’t hop the ball into the next lane. They’re the basics. But actually what people who are really invested in creating healthy communities and gaming spaces often say is it’s the long term socialization, engagement that happens not just through the rules mechanism, but through the culture that we’re collectively creating.

And that’s again from Twitch to MMOs to early MUDs, that idea that we are collectively together trying to create something that there are systems of trust, there are systems of governance, there are systems of participation that we’re going to iterate it. I mean, that’s the other big thing. We’re going to figure out what’s working, what’s not, and we’re going to keep changing it. That’s the serious long term work. Rules are necessary but they’re not sufficient.

Ethan Zuckerman:

Trust requires rules. Streamers have figured out that developing rules and enforcing them is the first thing they need to do to foster healthy communities of fans. Understanding that we need rules is one of the hardest things to understand about online spaces. Without rules, we have a hard time trusting one another, and without trust, we don’t take risks and put our feelings, our thoughts or our work out into the world.

Mike Sugarman:

Next week we’ll be wrapping up our planned slate of episodes. We’ll be focusing on what tech companies tend to call “trust and safety.” Usually that means guidelines for keeping users safe and regulators relatively happy, but we’ll be diving a little deeper into what trust and safety really means. How do platforms convince users that they should be trusted? How much does moderation rely on a meaningful belief in justice? We’ll have some clips from our recent interview with Tom Tyler and Tracey Meares as well as close friend of the lab Nathan Matias. Ethan, what are you talking to Nathan about?

Ethan Zuckerman:

Nathan is going to tell us about what happens when people don’t trust platforms, don’t trust algorithms, and frankly, don’t trust that the people in charge of technology will keep them safe.