Does the iron law of oligarchy apply on Stack Overflow and other Stack Exchange communities? How do we measure it?
Robert Michels’ “iron law of oligarchy” () [is] an influential sociological theory which proposes that as membership organizations become large and complex, a small group of early members consolidate and exercise a monopoly of power within the organization as their interests diverge from those of the collective.
In Shaw and Hill 2014, Laboratories of Oligarchy?, the iron law was confirmed on hundreds of large MediaWiki wikis beyond Wikipedia:
Our findings show that peer production communities tend to follow Michels’ iron law of oligarchy [...] We note that some wikis in our dataset appear more robustly democratic than others.
They looked at some data which depends on MediaWiki-specific bits, such as the sysop group, page histories and reverts:
Leadership roles remain concentrated among an extremely small group of elites as organizational membership grows, affirming H1. This group of administrators is increasingly active in administrative activity, controlling for the total amount of such work, consistent with H2. Finally, we observe that as membership grows, the number of reverts of experienced users by administrators tends to rise, supporting H3.
On Stack Exchange, it's less important which version of a post prevails. More impactful is probably where the flow of votes is directed, e.g. by closing questions or bringing an answer to the top. Some voting patterns are private.
What data could be tested on Stack Exchange to verify the iron law? Maybe some of the following?
- Does the reputation produced in any given day become increasingly concentrated in a few hands? (Maybe a few oldtimers "own" the questions and answers which get more traffic.)
- Do the review queue votes become increasingly concentrated?
- In general, do the upvotes and downvotes become increasingly concentrated (both in their origin and target)?
- Does some kind of "minority" group of experienced users emerge, who are constantly sidelined in votes (e.g. close votes)?
- Does it become increasingly rare to achieve reputation increases with new posts (for new users in a site or in a tag)?
- In any given tag, do the gold tag badge holders increasingly channel reputation towards few users, e.g. by closing questions as duplicates of questions with accepted/upvoted answers by a specific group of users (themselves or others)?
- In any given tag, does a group of users or posts emerge which mostly gets upvotes (or downvotes) from a certain group of low/high reputation users?
- Can we calculate a "social mobility matrix" of users? What would be the analogous of one's parents' wealth? Does the rank change in the user reputation league tell us anything about mobility?