additional insights re on-line communities

Earlier, I used a face-to-face model to understand the workings of an on-line community. Over the weeks that I have participated in the FOC course, I have come to use a new model as a handle of what might be going on in an on-line community. The model is as follows:

new model

new model

I now see four types of participants in an on-line community (ning, facebook, youtube, SL, etc.). At the bottom, yet the biggest in number, are the Browsers – people who visit the site and does nothing other than take a look and see. But, even if they don’t really do much with the site, they are still significant in that they add to the “hits” statistics of the site. In that way, they can still be considered ‘members’ though inactive and passive. Next comes what I will call the Users. Users come to a site and take something from the side by downloading, copying or linking. They are the direct beneficiaries of the community. Then, there will be the Contributors. These people do one better than the Users in that they are the people who contribute to the content of the site. In the case of YouTube, they will be the ones who would upload videos that eventually become available to the Users and the Browsers. At the top of the pack are the Designers. I would have called them Developers but that might become too limiting in that it might be construed to be a role exclusive to the system developers. Actually, these people I now call Designers will include the software developers but also those who will use it and craft it into creative application or even just redesigning how the content and the process of the community are structured.

In my mind I now realize that the role of the (full) Facilitator of an on-line community is to bring more members to move from Browsers all the way up to Designers, though understandably it will most likely always be pyramidical in shape, i.e., more Browsers and less Designers.

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6 Responses

  1. And what you have just described here is the progression of participation that Lave and Wenger call Legitimate peripheral participation (lave & wenger, 1991). Through this progression and through the various roles that participants in the community take – the individual grows, changes and learns and in turn affects the community’s growth/learning. It is not a linear process, nor does it need to be in order to foster a community. This nurturing does not need to be done by any one expert in the community but rather occurs through the process of participating with the spectrum of members in the community.

    One could look at your model in terms of novice to expert (Patricia Benner) and see how the differing of expertise effects how the mentoring process occurs within the community. In this framework, the facilitator becomes the expert mentor in terms of providing knowledge and expertise with the goal of assisting another to progress along the continuum.

    For me, the facilitator, in a community is just someone who feels comfortable in a topic/conversation/task who steps up to guide others who are less so. In a formal sense, the facilitator is responsible for keeping the conversation alive, interesting, and relevant to the community members while providing safety in the setting for all to participate.

    Just some thoughts 🙂

  2. Nice model. For me, it implies a process. I think that people need to gain skills as they progress through the process. A skills building program that trains people may also motivate them to move up because as they gain skills, they will need new niches to explore and to grow within. I think that our community should provide those skills from Day One. Simple skills, like learning the basic functions of a platform, or making an appointment with another contributor and getting there on time.

  3. Thanks Artie,

    More and more I am getting convinced that participation in on-line communities uses the premise that one can navigate through the many platforms and tools of the Internet. I kinda liken it to the basic prerequisite of participating in physical communities being that one, at least, knows how to move around the place, make use of whatever transportation there is available, where people are, etc.

  4. Interesting model, and I want to hear more about it. Is this a model for how you are perceiving communities do or should work? On another level, is this a hierarchical model that places value on moving up it, or more of a descriptive model that seeks to explain what is happening? I am asking because the arrows seem to point toward a goal (as does Maslow’s Hierarchy).

    Tell me, what value are you deriving from creating such a model? I am facinated by models, and hope to learn more about what you are trying to do with this.

  5. Jeffrey,

    Thanks. Models to me, both as a learner and a facilitator, are a way I am able to get a handle on the complexity of things. Of course, any model can never be an accurate reflection of what is being described as it takes away many variables and relationships. Having said that, I find it helpful to understand what it is I am working with by picking out what I see as significant variables and how they relate with one another. Really nothing different from Derek Wenmoth’s 4Cs

    What I have done above is really more descriptive rather than prescriptive. And the hierarchical order represents the gradation of the involvement a member gives to the community. The pyramid shape is more a reflection of the fact that while the Designers are usually those with the most commitment (as in investment of time, emotions, effort, and other resources) to the community, the fact of life is that there will be less of them than the Contributors in the same way that there will likely be less Contributors than Browsers.

    Where am I going with it? It helps me live with the fact that even when I do a simple transaction online such as a Blog post, many will browse through it, a few will use it and put a link to it, even fewer will comment on it and still even less will take it, give feedback on it and interact with me to possibly create an even better understanding (model) of reality.

  6. I like the final paragraph in your last comment where you concretely explained what you mean and how you you are using this. Quite helpful.

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