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Open issues for research/thinking on communities

Had a pleasure to talk with Nancy on her work on technologies for communities. Some things are still hanging out in my head, so I guess I just write them here to move on.

Open issues for research/thinking on communities (communities of practice; KM perspective).

Definitions. Ton cites Marc Smith:

… let’s shelve the word ‘community’ and use and study the term collective action instead. There are over 150 definitions of community by social scientists. If we (the social scientists) are not able to decide what it is, maybe everybody else should not be using the word either…

I agree with both that there are no good definitions and I like ‘collective action’ as a term, but I think it doesn’t work if you want to talk about specifics. It could include anything between a loosely coupled network, a community with shared language and practice or a project group with tight deliverables and deadlines. The boundaries between those are fluid, but they (at least in the extremes) are different in many respects (e.g. relational density, levels of trust, shared understanding, goal-orientedness, etc.)

Bottom-up evolution vs. top-down control in supporting communities. See the discussion at Dave Snowden’s blog.

Personal vs. social in community tools. Most of the community tools are group-focused (although Nancy is right, it’s getting more and more blurred). However, many of us are members of multiple communities and have to deal with different group tool configurations for all of them. Technology-wise I’d love to see more work on something like personal learnining environments (slides with more) for networking and collaboration: a toolset that would allow me to participate in different social spaces without learning yet another interface.

Aggregation of digital traces and social effects of those. Digital traces we leave eventually get aggregated and fed back to the social spaces we participate in or to some members of those (think of a community moderator who has access to stats on your activity in a community). They change knowledge we have about each other and eventually change the dynamics of our relationships and interactions (think of gaming the ratings or effects of metrics to measure community things in a corporate context). This is going to be bigger and scarier (at least for those people like me :), so we need to know more about it.

Archived version of this entry is available at http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2006/11/22.html#a1857; comments are here.

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