Epistemic community

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An epistemic community is a group of people that shares a point of view or some set of epistemic rules to decide what is true or not. It is not the same thing as a real social community where people share risks. Epistemic communities agree only on what is true, not necessarily on what to do about it in the real world.

A very minimal definition of an epistemic community would be all the people who agree to use a certain tag in the blogosphere or category in the wikiverse. Because any act of classification affects the definition of the entire category or tag, by including or excluding something, these people must all cooperate. They will have ways of debating the tests to be applied, the process of classification and the means of appeal when someone feels an error has been made. These are more or less the only requirements to be an epistemic, as opposed to a real social, community.

Most online venues are epistemic communities of a limited sort, where users do not share physical or social risks. A wiki that puts content over community is correctly identifying that the medium they are working in does not facilitate most types of social relationships, and that it is designed for creating common content, not for socializing. Accordingly this is a wiki best practice for any wiki that serves its readership or a professional purpose.

However, many people insist on inappropriate use of social metaphor in epistemic communities, either because they are lonely, or perhaps because they gain power from doing so. As one example, inappropriate expectations from social communities are applied to online communities because people are not fully aware of the differences.

Sysop vigilantiism may be excused by some on these grounds. Physical communities are subject to a great deal of disruption by certain kinds of real world behaviour such as arson and assault. This justifies creation of a force monopoly (usually called "the state") so that the community can agree on how to use it. Similar ideas are often carried over into the online world and powers to exclude or restrict users are awarded to specific people. As in the real world, some percentage of those people will abuse the powers they are given - a form of vigilantiism. However, the exclusion wrought by the vigilantiism is often permanent and has no avenues of appeal such as would exist in an actual community, even only those caused by the fact that it is physically difficult to eject anyone unwilling.

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