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Wikihierarchism is the view that wikis should be organized as a top-down hierarchy of superusers, with each level appointed by, and accountable to, superuser(s) in the level above them.

Random comments[edit]

Circa 2012, there was a case in which a user with several sockpuppets was able to obtain checkuser access. That type of incident would be unlikely to occur on a wiki using a hierarchical system. Under such a system, decisions are not made by voting; therefore, there is little incentive for sockpuppetry. Rather, each level of officers has accountability to the level above it. There would be no point in having, say, one account with Lieutenant status and another with sysop status, or two accounts with Lieutenant status. It would not confer any extra authority, since all of those accounts' actions would be subject to veto by a Captain.

Nor are the officers elected; rather, the Captains hire and fire the Lieutenants, and the Lieutenants hire and fire the sysops, so there is no potential for rigging of elections by sockpuppetry. Since there's no reason to sock, the wiki does not need CheckUser. Therefore, there is no opportunity for abuse of CheckUser.

Jimbo's mistake was resorting to a mobocracy rather than establishing, and keeping, a top-down hierarchy with as many levels as needed to provide the necessary oversight and put each officer in a position appropriate for how trustworthy he were deemed to be. Of course, that raises the question, who keeps the head honcho (i.e. Jimbo) in check? That leads us to the other mistake that Jimbo made, which was setting up WMF as a nonprofit. A for-profit entity's management is subject to all the checks and balances of a consumer and investor democracy. See also wikicapitalism.

Span of control[edit]

If the hierarchy is too flat, i.e. doesn't have enough levels, it begins to resemble a mobocracy. The span of control needs to be narrow enough that officers at each level can exercise effective oversight over those beneath them, and disputes among officers at one level of the hierarchy can be resolved by officers at higher levels rather than through wheel warring or endless discussions that go nowhere because consensus can't be reached. If there are too few higher-level officers to resolve such disputes, then those matters can end up being neglected and settled in favor of whichever side, among the subordinates, is numerically strongest and most ardent; or that aspect of the wiki just stagnates because it's paralyzed from making a decision. The status quo, however unsatisfactory, often remains in such situations.

One of the advantages of a tall hierarchy is that it enables more precise calibration of users' responsibilities and authority to their level of trustworthiness. It also makes it possible to promote more users to superuser status, since there are so many officers to exercise oversight over them and stop any rogue superusers from wreaking too much havoc. This eliminates the need to exercise so much caution about who is to be elevated to sysop, since it is easy to demote them; it does not require a community vote, but merely a higher-level officer reverting the promotion.

If the number of users at one rank begins to swell to the point that the users at the next highest rank have trouble managing them, then the solution is to increase the number of those upper-level managers enough to narrow the span of control. If this becomes impossible because those at the top of the hierarchy now have too many immediate subordinates (e.g. if the benefactor ends up with twelve marshals), then the solution is to add another level to the hierarchy.

A unified hierarchy[edit]

Arguably, each wiki should not have its own hierarchy, but rather, officers should have global powers throughout the wiki farm. A user appointed to being a lieutenant on enwiki should also have lieutenant powers on frwiktionary, for example. This allows for more oversight (since there is a larger group of officers at each rank with power to intervene on any given wiki), helping avoid situations in which a small wiki ends up being run by a small, abusive cabal that has managed to gain control.

A downside to this is that some officers might be well-suited to exercising power on one wiki, but ill-suited to exercising it on another. Also, a user banned from one project would not be able to escape its officers' authority by going to another; they could easily ban him from those projects too. Having the same officers in authority over all projects would tend to homogenize the culture across the whole wiki farm. On the other hand, that might happen anyway if the organization is run as a top-down hierarchy, since the same person at the top would be appointing the leaders of each wiki anyway. The heterogenous cultures of the different Wikimedia wikis results partly from each wiki having a different electorate of self-selected users, which has perpetuated different cultures in a manifestation of Sanger's Law.

Direct reports[edit]

Direct reports would be handled as described at rationalwikiwikiwiki:Debate:Should officers have direct reports?

Example hierarchy[edit]

Rank Can add or remove Span of control Number of active users holding this rank[1]
Consumers Shareholders[2] ? Billions
Shareholder Director 5 ?
Director Benefactor 1 5[3]
Benefactor[4] Marshals, Generals, Colonels, Majors, Captains, Lieutenants, Sysops 1 1
Marshal Generals, Colonels, Majors, Captains, Lieutenants, Sysops 8 1
General Colonels, Majors, Captains, Lieutenants, Sysops 8 8
Colonel Majors, Captains, Lieutenants, Sysops 8 64
Major Captains, Lieutenants, Sysops 8 512
Captain Lieutenants, Sysops 8 4,096
Lieutenant Sysops 8 32,768
Sysop 8 262,144
User 2,097,152


  1. "Active user" is defined as one who has performed an action in the past 30 days.
  2. This model assumes consumer sovereignty; i.e. that the shareholders will not be shareholders for long if the consumers take their money elsewhere. An organization that goes bankrupt ends up under new management, and the old shares become worthless.
  3. The size of the board would be up to the shareholders, but let us assume that the board size is 5, which would give each 20% shareholder the right to select one board member.
  4. Also known as the CEO or his designee.