Media Analysis Journal: Known Knowns in Soccer Knowledge Communities

The knowledge community: Doesn’t every community have knowledge? Yes, but from a media theory standpoint, a knowledge community typically refers to a group of people with a specific interest who share their views and acquired knowledge within a platform such as an online forum, blog, comment board, or the like. These communities may include topics as broad as United States politics or as narrow as the clothes worn by characters on a popular television series. As such, a knowledge community differs from the strands of mass culture, which is marked by a broader but shallower range of information. Knowledge communities usually develop their own internal procedures and policies. And, as in other groups of many types, the contributions of an individual to the knowledge community’s aims can make a participant liked and respected – or the opposite – within the community’s bounds.

A sample of RSSSF data: The 1977 Venezuelan league.

A sample of RSSSF data: The 1977 Venezuelan league.

When it comes to knowledge communities, few new new media communities have the global reach of the Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation (usually abbreviated as RSSSF). This online knowledge community originated in the early 1990s, evolving from a forum on an old Internet newsgroup. When the World Wide Web was in its infancy and most news sources offered little up-to-date information from soccer leagues in other countries, members gathered on this newsgroup to post scores and standings as well as offer their own opinions on the events of the day. Soon, this newsgroup community developed its own website (www.rsssf.com) and started chapters in individual countries (including Brazil, Denmark, Poland, and more) dedicated to statistical and historical research. Over the years, the RSSSF’s archives have grown to include records from big (the 2014 World Cup), not-so-big (the national league in Gambia; the results of every national team game ever played by Bermuda), and downright obscure (the official league of the Vatican City; the 1969-70 standings of amateur soccer in the Channel Islands) competitions.
Gambia: Statistics from almost anywhere can be found on RSSSF. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Gambia: Statistics from almost anywhere can be found on RSSSF. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The library of statistics compiled on the RSSSF website spans all inhabited continents and extends from the converged communications universe of today to the heart of the Victorian era in 1872. Anyone around the world can copy or otherwise use this information as long as they properly credit the author.

The RSSSF’s methods actually combine some of the best features of collective intelligence and traditional gatekeeping. As stated in the organization’s bylaws, anyone with statistical information not already covered on the site is free to join through a registration process. Individual submissions, however, are subjected to an internal peer review process prior to publication and checked against a list of known sources. Thus, unlike Wikipedia, a screening process makes the bar very high for those wishing to post their data. Moreover, since the site consists almost exclusively of raw data sets in very basic format, the dry presentation does not encourage would-be hoaxers, vandals, and others who disrupt knowledge communities such as Wikipedia. When errors occur, they can generally be traced to discrepancies in the original primary sources such as newspapers and magazines.

The RSSSF’s example would likely encourage Levy and others who express optimism about the value of collective intelligence. It’s an example of a knowledge community that is actually superior in reliability and scope to the official records of world governing body FIFA. Because national authorities frequently fail to keep proper records or to report them to FIFA, the official records are plagued by gaps and inaccuracies. Since RSSSF relies on an enormous number of individuals who continually check media and other sources, the foundation can fill in these gaps much more effectively. Ironically, some participation in RSSSF has diminished because of the rise of another knowledge community – Wikipedia. Because Wikipedia offers fewer barriers to content creation (anyone can post nearly anything) and a much larger audience, some researchers now post their statistics not to RSSSF but to Wikipedia, particularly for in-depth materials like all-time aggregations of results for national teams. The story of RSSSF shows the evolution of the knowledge community in the age of the World Wide Web, from birth to growth to maturity, as well as the ways that one knowledge community can influence another.

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