One of their most striking findings is that, even on Wikipedia, the so-called “Iron Law of Oligarchy”—a.k.a. rule by an elite few—holds sway. German sociologist Robert Michels coined the phrase in 1911, while studying Italian political parties, and it led him to conclude that democracy was doomed. “He ended up working for Mussolini,” said DeDeo, who naturally learned about Michels via Wikipedia.
“You start with a decentralized democratic system, but over time you get the emergence of a leadership class with privileged access to information and social networks,” DeDeo explained. “Their interests begin to diverge from the rest of the group. They no longer have the same needs and goals. So not only do they come to gain the most power within the system, but they may use it in ways that conflict with the needs of everybody else.”
He and Heaberlin found that the same is true of Wikipedia. The core norms governing the community were created by roughly 100 users—but the community now numbers about 30,000.
A January paper published in Physical Review E by physicists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology would seem to support that finding. That study found that a fairly small number of Wikipedia editors exert a major influence on the site. And just as DeDeo and Heaberlin’s analysis predicts, that editing inequality is increasing over time. It’s now quite rare for a newcomer to break into the upper echelons of so-called “super-editors.” (Source)