URLs of wisdom (22nd March)

URLs of wisdom is a weekly round-up of interesting links about topics at the intersection of people, science and technology.

Social network analysis

Behaviour

  • Let’s really be friends – a defence of online intimacy
  • Trollbusters – strategies to preserve constructive online discourse
  • Americans’ privacy strategies post-Snowden – “Those who are more likely to have changed at least one of their behaviors include the people who have heard a lot about government surveillance (38% say they have changed a great deal/somewhat in at least one of these activities), those who are at least somewhat concerned about the programs (41% have changed at least one activity), and those who are concerned about government monitoring of their use of social media, search engines, cell phones, apps, and email.”
  • The ethics of algorithms – Beatrice Martini rounds up some notes and resources from a recent discussion hosted by the Center for Internet and Human Rights.
  • The search engine should not be the arbiter of truth
  • Where do millennials get their news? “Simply put, social media is no longer simply social,” the report says. “It long ago stopped being just a way to stay in touch with friends. It has become a way of being connected to the world generally — to send messages, follow channels of interest, get news, share news, talk about it, be entertained, stay in touch, and to check in and see what’s new in the world.”
  • How many TV sets do you have? And does it matter?

Academia online 

  • End of feed – Cameron Neylon on the closure of Friendfeed: “relying on the largesse of third parties is not a reliable foundation to build on. If we want to take care of our assets as a community, we need to take responsibility for them as well.”
  • Paper Now – Create, edit and display an academic paper entirely in GitHub

Social media/networks/data sharing

  • 4 questions researchers need to ask before using the web to share their research –“what goes on the web, stays on the web and that what you think is a private comment is easily sharable by your contacts”
  • Search is so 2014 – with nods to new tools such as Sparrho and Kudos.
  • Changes at WIRED – more changes to the science blogosphere

Outreach

  • Social media and science – the problems and the challenges – “many anti-scientific or pseudoscientific ideas a promoted by social media. What’s more, these new social media are very effective at promoting messages, especially in areas of social health, so we ignore the media at our peril. Social media are a fact of modern life and if we can’t beat them, perhaps we should use them ourselves. These are the messages I got from a recent study of the way public health misinformation is promoted via social media.”
  • Selfish reasons for researchers to publicize their study findings “Researchers already have a lot of responsibilities: grant-writing, lab work, writing papers, preparing presentations, working with grad students and post-docs, being grad students or post-docs, having a life outside of work, etc. So – why add publicizing research findings to that “to-do” list? There are a lot of reasons.”

Communities 

Working with technology

  • A great overview of product management by Ian Mulvany, Head of Technology at eLife. “The story that gets built up internally about a product can often be very different from the story that the end user has created about that product. Reconciling these world views is only ever a good thing.”
  • Found from Ian’s piece above – Improving bug triage by scoring user pain -“At with many agile techniques, User Pain isn’t all the complicated.
    1. Rank each bug on several criteria
    2. Combine those criteria into a single score called User Pain
    3. Sort all bugs by User Pain into a public list
    4. Start fixing the most painful bugs at the top of the list.

    There is a distinct philosophy at work here. First, empower bug submitters to easily create well formed, well classified bugs. Next, give the team the tools and information necessary to make smart decisions about what to work on first. Finally, encourage practices that make it easy to put quality first. Instead of relying on expert managers, you rely on a well informed, empowered team.”

Social media developments

Digital marketing

Resources

Just for fun

URLs of wisdom (mid February – early March 2015)

URLs of wisdom is a weekly round-up of interesting links about topics at the intersection of people, science and technology. This instalment covers mid-February to early March as I’ve been busy with work-related travel.

Social network analysis

Behaviour

  • Is there joy in missing out? – “We’ve focused mainly on how seeing the accomplishments of others can make us feel—the pressure to keep up with the proverbial Joneses, the sense that everyone is hitting the typically accepted life milestones—but we aren’t really talking about how other’s downfalls may make us feel.”

Academia online 

Social media/networks/data sharing

  • Principles for open scholarly infrastructures – “What should a shared infrastructure look like? Infrastructure at its best is invisible. We tend to only notice it when it fails. If successful, it is stable and sustainable. Above all, it is trusted and relied on by the broad community it serves. Trust must run strongly across each of the following areas: running the infrastructure (governance), funding it (sustainability), and preserving community ownership of it (insurance). In this spirit, we have drafted a set of design principles we think could support the creation of successful shared infrastructures.”
  • Why is open data a public good? – “a public good is something that you can’t stop anyone using, and that doesn’t get used up. The examples of public goods that people tend to use are “clean air”, “lighthouses” or “public parks”. Open data also fits this economic definition.”
  • Article sharing on scholarly collaboration networks – draft STM guidelines and a consultation “…there’s no doubt that SCNs are here to stay; so, in hopes of finding a collaborative solution to the challenges and opportunities they present, the International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers (STM) has recently issued a set of voluntary principles that aim to facilitate article sharing on SCNs.”

Outreach

  • The Communicating Science seminars from the AAAS annual meeting were live-streamed and video archives are available online.
  • Storifys from the Investing in Science Communication funding conversations at the AAAS meeting – part 1 and part 2.
  • What do we know about our investment in science communication? – asks Brooke Smith in reflection on the panel she co-organised at the AAAS meeting. “Last year, the United States invested $465 billion (from public and private sources) in scientific research.  Our panelists explored what percentage of this amount we invest in scientists communicating and engaging. But the truth is, no one knows. Turns out it’s a very hard thing to measure. Communications and engagement is not a line item in budgets that we can pull out and add up.”

Communities 

  • Seth Godin’s daily thoughts on his blog are one of my favourite reads. This on the difference between connecting to and connecting particularly nails the difference between treating users as customers or a community.(This is also good on ways not to make customers feel stupid).
  • Jono Bacon on building engagement within an organisation“So, if you want to have a culture of engagement, take the time to actually follow up and make sure people can actually do something. Accepting great ideas, agreeing to them, and not following up will merely spark frustration for those who take the initiative to think holistically about the organization.”
  • 7 questions to ask before attempting to launch another online community – “It’s not a case of build it and they will come. It’s build the community, cultivate a ton of relationships and promote it heavily, then they might come. This takes a lot of hard work and time to get the community up and running. That’s in the early community days. If your community takes off, you then need to consider scaling and moderation concerns.”

Social media developments

  • Twitter updates user safety features and explains why it faves Net Neutrality “Openness promotes free and fair competition and fosters ongoing investment and innovation. We need clear, enforceable, legally sustainable rules to ensure that the Internet remains open and continues to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers. This is the heart of Twitter.”
  • What blogging has become – reflections on changes to Medium “But you can only flirt with being a platform for so long before you just become one. The description of Medium that’s most stuck with me is from Josh Benton again, this time on Twitter: Medium is now “YouTube for prose,” he said. In other words, it’s a platform. And I think with these product changes, it’s embracing that. It feels like a social network now.

    The YouTube model is revealing, too, because it sets up two kinds of Medium readers. Some people go to YouTube to watch a one-off viral video. (Read: an especially popular essay.) But many of them go to watch their favorite YouTube stars, video bloggers with whom they’ve developed long, intimate relationships over time. To run a YouTube, you need well-recognized authors, working over time, with audiences all their own. You need bloggers.”

  • The unbearable lightness of tweeting – “Every good media organization knows that the road to traffic leads through Facebook rather than Twitter. Even so, I thought the sharing economy of the Internet shared a bit more than this.”

Resources

Just for fun

So what colour was that dress?

And what about the Amazon reviews of it…?

URLs of wisdom (February 14th 2015)

URLs of wisdom is a weekly round-up of interesting links about topics at the intersection of people, science and technology. This instalment covers a fortnight as I’ve been busy with work-related travel.

Social network analysis

Behaviour

  • How news outlets help to spread or debunk false stories online –“outlets will start a chain of linking to and citing others who have already reported the rumor. “The story’s point of origin, once traced back through the chain of links, is often something posted on social media or a thinly sourced claim from a person or entity.”
  • A time for fewer, better friends – One study shows that as people reach their 30s they prune their social group: “Time is the key. When it is perceived as limited—either because of pressing family and work demands or because the future literally shrinks as people age—people spend it with those dearest. “We may have fewer friends, but are closer to them”
  • The changing definition of friendship –“while Facebook probably slows a relationship’s “rate of decay” when you no longer meet in person, …social media won’t stop a more intimate friend (say, in the 15 or 50 category) from moving into a further-out ring if there’s no longer any face-to-face contact.”

Academia online 

  • Interesting read on the digital humanities and what it means to use digital tools for research“some people feel excluded from the Digital Humanities as a discipline, but also sometimes feel excluded from their stated disciplines because of their digital work. These feelings were echoed by a number of participants, not just postgraduates but also early career and established researchers.”

Social media/networks

  • In STEM courses, a gender gap in online class discussions – “The study tracked 420,389 undergraduates and graduate students enrolled in STEM classes in the United States and Canada during four nonconsecutive semesters from the spring of 2012 to the fall of 2014. The study found that, on average, women in computer-science classes asked 2.20 questions and men asked 1.75. In contrast, women answered 0.70 questions and men answered 1.20 questions.”
  • New Ciencia Yale initiative -“The Yale Ciencia Initiative will establish programs based at Yale to enhance the scientific training and professional development of students across the nation and to develop culturally responsive strategies for the engagement of diverse audiences with science,” said Giovanna Guerrero-Medina, executive director of Ciencia Puerto Rico and associate research scientist in the Center for Teaching and Learning. “Research and scholarship about how these types of science networks can be applied for these purposes will also be a big part of the initiative.”

Outreach

  • How science communication can fuel modern sexism – and the role for new media – “the analysis also illustrated the importance of new media in diversifying public discussion of science. Blogs and comments allow people to articulate their more personalised, spontaneous responses to scientific messages. This can mean, as in the case of the readers’ comments discussed above, the circulation of pejorative or reactionary statements that would not satisfy the editorial restrictions of more formal media outlets. However, in our study blogs and comments also offered a platform for objecting to the socially conservative interpretations of the research that dominated the traditional press. These online spaces were critical in facilitating more nuanced debate about the social implications of the research, and its potential to perpetuate gender stereotypes and inequalities. The new media bring a vastly increased variety of voices to science communication, which can open up more inclusive and dynamic debates about what emerging scientific findings mean for the local realities of individuals and communities.”

Communities 

Social media developments

Resources

Just for fun

The creepiest things you can do on Facebook…

 

URLs of wisdom (January 31st 2015)

URLs of wisdom is a weekly round-up of interesting links about topics at the intersection of people, science and technology.

Self-promotion

Behaviour

  • Why apps for messaging are trending “The most popular apps that sustain themselves day after day, month after month, at the top of the leader board, are messengers…That’s a reflection of what people do on their phones.”
  • The cultural specificity of health technologies “App designers and those who develop many other digital technologies for medical and health-related purposes often fail to recognise the social and cultural differences that may influence how people interact with them. Just as cultural beliefs about health and illness vary from culture to culture, so too do responses to the cultural artefacts that are digital health technologies.”

Academia online 

Social media/networks

  • When is a feature a product and a product a business? Interesting read about scholarly publishing and new technologies “Get three publishers into a conference room together or, more productively, at a bar and wait for the conversation to turn to something like this:  “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could [insert your feature here]?” And it would be cool. Conversations like these mostly focus on new things that would be appreciated by end-users–because we are all, at certain moments, end-users ourselves. This creative process is valuable, but it ultimately has to be married to how the new capability will be expressed in an economic context. Hence the defining question of the age: What is the business model?”
  • Reaching 4000 Twitter followers – Paige Brown reflects on what Twitter means to her: “It’s not about the followers, it’s about the friendships”
  • Facebook use and academic performance“the relationship between Facebook and grades provides a way of capturing self-regulation skills in freshmen. In other words, the pattern of Facebook use helps us see something about self-regulation we might not otherwise be able to measure. This is also evidenced by how regular use of Facebook for students at other class ranks is not related to academic performance.”
  • Not strictly “online” – new PeerJ pre-print asking what the optimal size for a research group is – “We show that the number of publications increases linearly with group size…[further examination of the data] suggests that PIs contribute on average 5-times more productivity than an average group member and using multiple regression we estimate that post-doctoral researchers are approximately 3–times more productive than PhD students.”

Outreach

  • The latest Pew Research Center survey looks at public and scientists’ views on science and society and “marks a more formal commitment [by the Center] to studying the intersection of science with all aspects of society – from public opinion, to politics and policymaking, to religious and ethical considerations, to education and the economy.”
  • And some responses to the survey results – from Matt Shipman – I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: to protect public funding for research at the state and federal level – much less increase that funding – you need to have broad public support. And thekeys to building that public support lie, in part, in science communication. Now, do I have the answers? No. We know that the deficit model – the longstanding idea that folks would support science-based decision-making if they just knew more about science – isn’t all that effective. But we haven’t come up with anything to replace it. Yet. I think a lot of folks agree that we need to incorporate cultural mores and beliefs into our science communication efforts, and that science communication shouldn’t be confrontational. We shouldn’t start out by saying “What you believe is wrong, and here’s why.” But how do we do those things? I have no idea.”
  • …and John Besley at The Conversation: “The main thing that seems potentially troubling about the research results is the small decline in positive views about science. Such results echo through the report’s comparisons of the 2014 figures against a similar study from 2009. For example, whereas 79% of Americans thought science made life better in 2014, 83% held this view in 2009.”

Communities 

  • The Community Roundtable have opened their annual survey on the State of Community Management. It should take about 20 minutes to complete.

Social media developments

  • With the news that Andrew Sullivan, a blogger of 15 years, has decided to stop blogging, Matthew Ingram responds: “Blogging is still very much alive, we just call it something else now” –“When blogs first showed up, there was no other economical way to write and share your thoughts and hear from other writers or readers, but now they are everywhere. We can tweet and Snapchat and Instagram, and post things to Facebook or Google+ or Medium or dozens of other places.”

Resources

  • Buzzfeed shares its ethics guide “a first attempt at articulating the goal of merging the best of traditional media’s values with a true openness to the deep shifts in the forms of media and communication.”

Just for fun

7 fundamentals of design – and how they apply to online spaces

In “It’s complicated – the social lives of networked teens”, Danah Boyd considers the four affordances of online networks (the first of which I’ve discussed here). An affordance is a term that originates from the field of design, and recently I’ve been reading “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman, where he starts by explaining 7 fundamental design ideas. Here I consider how each can be applied to online spaces.

i) Discoverability

Usually when the word discoverability is used about the Internet it refers to how easy content is to find – either due to SEO or the intrinsic properties of the site hosting the content. Discoverability when referring to design is something different – it’s whether it’s possible to figure out how to use an object by interacting with it.

Online, many of the sites that we interact with use at least some features in common that guide us in how to use them. These might include navigation bars in the top and/or the sidebar of pages, dropdown menus and possibly even hover text with additional explanatory information. However, as we all know from experience, some sites are better than others at indicating how exactly to move between desired pages, or where particular features are located. For example, Facebook has been criticised many times over the years for not making its privacy settings easier to find and apply.

ii) Affordances

The affordance of an object is the possible use for that object once a user interacts with it. The key to the definition is that interaction is needed – an affordance depends on the qualities of the object and the capabilities of the person using it. A website might use a specific type of video player, but if users with certain browsers or smartphones cannot view the videos then the affordance of watching video is not available to them.

In terms of content shared in online spaces, Boyd lists persistence, visibility, searchability and spreadability as the four key affordances. However, if we go by the definition above, others such as the ability to participate in a conversation via a comment thread might also be included.

DOET

Drinking coffee, reading a book – but not with coffee poured from the pot on the book cover! Image credit: author’s own.

 

iii)  Signifiers

How do we discover what affordances are possible? Signifiers act as signs to indicate affordances. Online these could be a call-to-action button within an email, descriptive images in a carousel that invite you to read a particular news story, or a coloured section of a page indicating where you should look. They could also be a particular icon – such as the Facebook “thumbs-up” showing when you too can “like” a piece of content. Or they could be social sharing buttons, encouraging the reader to spread the content more widely.

Another good example is the “slide to unlock” text on the iPhone lock screen. Not only does it tell you what you need to do to operate the device, there is also an arrow indicating which direction you need to swipe in, and the text illuminates repeatedly letter by letter in that direction.

Signifiers don’t necessarily have to be deliberate to give away information about their environment. For example, as Norman points out, a bookmark doesn’t just indicate where in a book to resume reading; it also indicates how far through the book you are. Similarly, online, the number of likes or votes that an item of content has received may indicate how enjoyable the content is likely to be, but can also act as a signifier of how likely the content is to have been shared – and therefore how often it might have been seen.

iv) Mapping

Mapping is used to indicate the relationship between two sets of things – such as switches and the corresponding lights that they control. It’s often used when designing controls and displays.

Natural mapping is particularly useful in online design because it takes advantage of actions that we’re already familiar with – such as swiping through something to delete it and swiping down to refresh a smartphone page and pull more content into the window.

Another example of mapping is social network timelines, which typically show older content at the bottom and more recent activity at the top. One of the complaints about Facebook tweaking newsfeed settings is not just that it changes which content appears in your newsfeed, but that Facebook’s algorithm violates their instinctive mapping. The content no longer follows a strictly chronological sequence – older, more popular content may sit above an update made 5 minutes ago by a different friend.

v) Constraints

Providing constrains on what is possible with an object can help to clarify how to use it and what it’s for. For example, the handles on scissors constrain the user to only be able to fit one digit into the top hole, while she can fit all the remaining fingers into the larger, lower hole.

Tweets are an obvious example of an online constraint – only 140 characters are permitted for each tweet – and this is clearly signified by a counter that displays how many characters are still available to the user. A tweet therefore affords the user the ability to share small pieces or text including links to other media.

vi) Feedback

Feedback is important to help us understand how to interact with objects and what effect our actions have had on the object or system. Too much or too noisy feedback, however, can be distracting and impair the ability to use the item smoothly. Online feedback might be in the form of additional information appearing on a page. Or it could be a pop up window indicating that an action has successfully occurred or that there has been an error that the user needs to know about.

One of the challenges with feedback online is that it can also be used to encourage engagement and that can make for a frequently interrupted experience. For example, a popup window may not only be used to tell you about something that you did, it might also be used to point you towards content that may be of interest, such as a promotion, a survey, or even an online chat bot to help you with your purchase.

Another interesting issue about feedback is that new users typically need more than experienced ones do – and what is initially helpful can quickly become annoying as a user becomes more comfortable with a product. A human teacher will tailor their feedback to the needs of a learner, but we need to make sites sensitive to how much a user already knows.

vii) Conceptual model

A conceptual model is how the user understands a system to work and is important for giving the user a sense of control (think how frustrated you get when you can’t figure out how to setup the new TV!). With a clear conceptual model, discoverability is enhanced – the user can figure out how to do new things or try variations on existing things. She can also evaluate the results of the actions that she takes.

An example of a conceptual model online is the idea that content spreads on Twitter by being re-tweeted and that this provides a good mechanism of attracting new followers. This model may suggest to the user that she should experiment with what time of day to tweet, how often to tweet and what types of content to share in order to be retweeted more frequently.

Better by design

Next time you’re struggling to figure out the settings on your favourite social network, or enjoying an app or website, consider how each of the above principles has been applied (or not). I’d love to hear in the comments about any great or ghastly experiences you might have had!

URLs of wisdom (25th January 2015)

URLs of wisdom is a weekly round-up of interesting links about topics at the intersection of people, science and technology.

Behaviour

Privacy

  • Privacy and cybersecurity – key findings from Pew Research – “Americans express a broad loss of control over the way their personal data are managed by companies. Fully 91% of adults “agree” or “strongly agree” that “consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.”

Other news

  • How do people post important life events on Facebook? “the specific event itself did not determine how an individual would share the news on Facebook, rather whether it was positive or negative. Users tended to share positive life events indirectly and negative life events directly”

Academia online 

Social media/networks

  • The number one predictor of career success according to network science Having an open network is a huge opportunity in a few ways:
    • More accurate view of the world. It provides them with the ability to pull information from diverse clusters so errors cancel themselves out. Research by Philip Tetlock shows that people with open networks are better forecasters than people with closed networks.
    • Ability to control the timing of information sharing. While they may not be the first to hear information, they can be the first to introduce information to another cluster. As a result, they can leverage the first move advantage.
    • Ability to serve as a translator / connector between groups. They can create value by serving as an intermediary and connecting two people or organizations who can help each other who wouldn’t normally run into each other.
    • More breakthrough ideas. Brian Uzzi, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at the Kellogg School of Management, performed a landmark study where he delved into the tens of millions of academic studies throughout history. He compared their results by the number of citations (links from other research papers) they received and the other papers they referenced. A fascinating pattern emerged. The top performing studies had references that were 90% conventional and 10% atypical (i.e., pulling from other fields). This rule has held constant over time and across fields. People with open networks are more easily able to create atypical combinations.”

Outreach

  • Do 80% of Americans not know there’s DNA in food? Ben Lillie looks at a recent claim and the survey behind the headline. “We only go and poke at numbers if they seem wrong. What that means is that “80% of people don’t know there’s DNA in food” didn’t register as odd for quite a lot of people. I think that’s a problem. “The US public is incredibly stupid about science” is a hell of a seductive narrative for scientists. And for that reason it’s very much worth questioning.”

Communities 

  • Jono Bacon discusses the challenges of bridging Marketing and Community activities within an organisation: “If we are passionate about a brand, we want to play an active role in how we can make that brand successful. We want to transition from being a member of the audience to being a member of the team. Most brand managers want this. All community managers want and should achieve this. Thus, brand and community managers are really singing from the same hymn sheet and connected to the same broader mission. Brand and community managers are simply people with different skill-sets putting different jigsaw pieces into the same puzzle.”

Social media developments

  • Facebook allows uses to flag “fake” news stories – what does this mean for real publishers?“Facebook is adding a layer of what looks like editorial accountability without actually taking on the responsibility of figuring out what’s true…So Facebook gives the impression that it is an editorial gatekeeper, but there’s still this buffer that protects Facebook from having to actually explain its thinking the way a newsroom would have to.”

 

Considering Community: a brief history of academic studies of online communities

I’ve decided to start a new series of occasional posts focused on community management tips and related information. I’m tagging these Considering Community and you’ll be able to find all the posts in the series here.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the stages of growth for online communities. I ended up reading a paper that compares the research literature on online communities to come up with a model for the lifecycle that communities follow. While I’m going to blog about that in a future post, the paper also gave a great introduction to how the literature on online communities has itself grown – and the different disciplines that have been involved.

Knowing first-hand that “community” doesn’t fit neatly into one category, this was particularly interesting to me, so I’m going to share the paper’s overview here in case it’s of interest to you too. All text below that is highlighted in italics is taken directly from the paper, which is a much recommended read.

The literature about online communities as 4 waves

The review (published in 2009) describes four waves in the community literature:

i) 1st wave – input from sociologists

During the first wave, which started in 1993 when Howard Rheingold coined the term virtual community, sociology took the lead focusing on online communities as a social phenomenon capable of modifying how people interact in society. Sociologists compared online communities to physical communities and explored the presence of various community-related concepts such as social aggregations, identity, social networks and ties, and social and collective action.

They also studied the impacts of Internet use on individuals and society, such as social isolation, social involvement, and well-being [Carver 1999; Jones and Rafaeli 2000; Cummings et al. 2002; Turkle 1995; Hampton 2003; Hampton and Wellman 1999; Katz and Rice 2002; Kraut et al. 2002, 1996]. For example, Wellman et al. [1996] and Wellman [2005] found that online communication can strengthen face-to-face communication in local communities, as opposed to producing social isolation. Moreover, they found that online interactions can facilitate accumulation of social capital which may enhance civil involvement.

Those interested in the impact of online communities on society found that by facilitating strong social relationships, trust, and reciprocity, an online community may gather enough social capital to engage in social action to achieve a collective goal [Blanchard and Horan 1998; Chaboudy and Jameson 2001; Hampton 2003; Iriberri 2005].

ii) 2nd wave – input from those studying management and business

A second wave in research on online communities started around 1996 with management researchers analyzing the value to business organizations of the content generated by online communities. Hagel and Armstrong [1997] studied online communities as viable business models capable of attracting customers who are searching for information on products or activities of interest to them, and who want to find and build relationships, conduct transactions, or live fantasies.

They suggest that if organizations provide mechanisms to identify and satisfy customer needs more accurately this can then turn into profit for vendors. When businesses provide the space for interaction, vendors can strengthen customer loyalty and also extract customer information to further improve marketing and customer service programs.

Wegner et al. [2002] focused on online communities that emerge in business organizations and are used by employees as repositories of organizational knowledge. In these communities of practice, the knowledge created and stored by members contributes to the organization’s ability to solve problems, create new products, innovate, and ultimately increase productivity [Millen et al. 2002]. This is evident in the widespread use of wikis, electronic boards, and electronic meeting rooms where team members in organizations add content and share online documents, thus reducing by one-half the time it takes them to complete projects [Conlin 2005; Goodnoe 2006].

Stuck on the shelf: How do you translate knowledge from the literature into practice?  Image caption: Flickr user wy_jackrabbit https://www.flickr.com/photos/wy_jackrabbit/4294858160/

Stuck on the shelf: How do you translate knowledge from the literature into practice? Image caption: Flickr user wy_jackrabbit https://www.flickr.com/photos/wy_jackrabbit/4294858160/

iii) 3rd wave – input from psychologists

In the third wave of online community research, psychology researchers focused on members’ relationships and attachments within online communities. Blanchard [2004] and Blanchard and Markus [2004] studied sense of community including feelings of belonging, safety, and attachment to the group. When these feelings are present, members develop lasting relationships with other members, feel attachment to the community, and perceive the online community as a source of social and emotional support.

In one online community of multisport athletes, Blanchard and Markus [2004] found that active participants develop personal friendships that in some cases move into private and face-to-face interactions.

iv) 4th wave – input from information systems researchers

Last, in the fourth wave, information systems researchers integrated previous perspectives, developed working definitions, and created research agendas to initiate a more focused and controlled empirical study of online communities [Gupta and Kim 2004; Lee et al. 2003; Li 2004]. The focus shifted to members’ needs and requirements, development of electronic tools to support online communities, adoption and implementation of these tools, online communities for new purposes such as teaching and, finally, outcome assessment [Arnold, et al. 2003; Kling and Courtright 2003; Stanoevska-Slabeva and Schmid 2000, 2001].

For example, Stanoevska-Slabeva and Schmid [2001] described the activities members conduct in online communities and matched those activities with the technology platform capable of supporting those activities; and Arnold et al. [2003] presented a model to translate member needs into technology requirements.

In the latter years of this fourth wave, the focus of the information systems discipline moved toward proposing conditions that would increase member participation and ensure online community success. For example, Preece [2000] recommended following a participatory design approach, which takes into consideration user needs, and establishing a clear purpose combined with policies of behavior to govern the interactions of members. She referred to the fostering of “tacit assumptions, rituals, protocols, rules, and laws” that define the community identity.

Similarly, Leimeister et al. [2005] proposed implementing mechanisms to encourage trust, such as discretionary levels of anonymity, which can help promote lasting relationships. Most recently, empirical studies have been carried out to test independent success factors such as presence of content quality, interaction support, organization of online and offline events, rewards for contributions, volunteerism, and posting of member pictures and profiles.

From communities on paper to communities in practice

I’ve been pondering a bit this past year how much professional roles that involve working directly with communities – whether that’s pure community management, or related activities such as marketing, customer service, and market research teams – apply what’s reported in the research literature in their day jobs. As a research scientist – whether in academia or industry – it’s a standard part of your job to keep up to date with current developments in your field of expertise. While some of that may be done alone, for example, by subscribing to updates from your favourite journals, some of it also takes place in communal activities such as lab meetings and journal clubs. How do you find and share knowledge if you’re a community professional?

There are some resources – from the #cmgrchat that takes place weekly on Twitter to the annual Community Leadership Summit founded by Jono Bacon, but it’s my sense that as a lone individual or very small team within a larger organisation, community managers can often end up feeling professionally isolated in terms of knowing how to develop new skills or where to turn to for peer-to-peer support.

Secondly, where there is useful information available  – such as websites that discuss updates to common tools that community managers use – the focus tends to be on technology updates, or on successful business reporting. Especially within organisations that haven’t fully grasped the benefit of community there can be an emphasis on the types of conversations described in wave ii) above – namely how to demonstrate the business value of online communities, whether those are internal employee communities or external engagement channels. By contrast, I don’t see many articles or other professional development resources that really focus on waves i) and iii) as described above – the sociology and psychology of communities.

Are you a community professional who’s found some resources that I’ve not yet seen, or who has successfully created your own peer network? Do you ever consult the academic literature for a different view on the daily activities that you’re involved with – or is this something that there’s not realistically enough time for in a job that already involves doing multiple different tasks in a given week?