Tuesday, August 11, 2009

FOC09 - What is an online community?

So, I have started on my next elearning journey of being part of the Facilitating Online Communities course. We have had a few online meetings via Elluminate, which have not been without issues, both from a groups point of view (the first one technology failed, so it ended up only being myself & Leigh chatting as we were both on-site at Otago Polytechnic), the second I had microphone issues so could not talk and the third seemed to go without a hitch. I have been impressed by the dedication of some members, fronting up to a meeting at 4am, apologies, but I need my sleep! Fascinating though that people from all over the world are joining in.

Our last meeting though focussed on “what is an online community?”. Over the past couple of weeks since my involvement with the course I have been reading the required information, looking at other people’s comments and trying to understand more about online communities.

Any “community” has to have a purpose, a reason for being, so I would presume that this would be the same for any online community. Whether you are involved in a community of practice at work, or maybe through external activities such as committee through childcare or school, there is always some focus of why people would gravitate together.

In the past face to face communities have been characterised through the geographic location of the participants and travel to and from a location could have been seen as a barrier to forming extended communities. In many of these local communities there is not only a sense of togetherness, but also of familiarity and safety, which may not always be the case with on online community. Saying that, the level of anonymity could certainly contribute in some degree to the safety felt on line. There is also that sense that you can come and go.

So what is an online community?....

  • It enables people from all over the world with a similar purpose or interest or maybe need to meet/connect
  • It enables likeminded people with similar attitudes and skills to connect with each other

An online community may give some people an opportunity to involve themselves in different ways than a f2f community because of a feeling of anonymity, or it may be time pressures associated with f2f communities

Etienne Wagner (1998) from the Communities of Practice quoted “a community functions with mutual engagement”, where you must interact with others to have sense of belonging. In our meeting this week there was some discussion around whether or not “we” the FOC09 are actually a ‘community’. The question has to be asked if we are by virtue of enrolling on to the course or joining in with the discussion a community. Sarah raised the question of whether we are a network (I have not come to a sound conclusion just yet). Does it depend on the level of engagement that people have? What happens if we are more reticent in nature? Or to quote Willie a “legitimate peripheral participant”! I can see the need for interaction, familiarity of online communities to maybe build confidence. I could also see that you are more likely to have people ‘lurking’ in an online community rather than f2f. If you don’t contribute then you would not feel part of that community. I need to leave my post here at the moment, but will come back to it, once I have delved into some more of the reading.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rachel,
    I like how you're developing points about "legitimate peripheral participants" - though being lazy I wouldn't mind continuing to use "lurker". I don't intend it pejoratively, though I recognise that offence is in the ear of the beholder!
    In common with other posts I've read, you talk about members of a community being like-minded or having a shared purpose. I think the safety and anonymity afforded by online interactions does give a different (additional?) flavour to membership. Whether or not that is legitimate is, I think, a matter for each community. The O’Reilly piece “Building Online Communities” explicitly discusses bell curves, and I think that’s likely to be the distribution for participation in most online communities. And it probably reflects physical communities as well. I used to attend a social non-competitive bridge club. I didn’t attend regularly, so I think I was a bit of a lurker.