Happy 25th birthday, World Wide Web!

World Wide WebToday, the Web’s been around for 25 years, hip hip hurray! In this excellent interview, founder Tim Berners-Lee makes some remarks that should be particularly close to the hearts of fellow community informatics researchers and practitioners, e.g.:

- “I’ve been very satisfied with the international spirit. It’s wonderful how the Web has taken off as non-national thing. I don’t think of it as international, because that’s nations getting
together.”

- “The control thing — we’ve got big companies and big governments. Now in some countries the corporations and the governments are very hard to tell apart. I’m concerned about that.”

- “what I want to see that I haven’t seen is the Web being used to bridge cultural divides. Every day we get people falling for the temptation to be xenophobic and to throw themselves against other cultures. The Web has gone up without national borders, but when you look at the people that other people support, it tends to be people very much of same culture.”

- “We look at governing the Internet in a multi-stakeholder, non-national way, but the world is still very nation-based and people are still very culture-based. I’d like it if developers on the Web could tackle the question of how to make Web sites that actually make us more friendly to people we don’t know so well”

Enjoy the full article:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57620198-93/tim-berners-lee-25-years-on-the-web-still-needs-work-q-a/

Communities & Technologies finally meeting Community Informatics

workshopI’m currently in Siegen, Germany. attending the Communities & Technologies Future Vision workshop. A main goal of the workshop is to build more common ground between the two very related fields of Communities & Technologies (C&T) and Community Informatics. We’re having very positive, fruitful discussions. To give you a flavor, here are the notes I just took of the discussion about the possible points of intersection in a breakout group consisting of Volker Wulf, Michael Gurstein, Susanne Bødker, Marcus Foth, and Aldo de Moor.

Common research themes
  • Societal role: the roles of communities in their various forms in society.
  • Common goals & Institutions. Community norms sometimes translate into goals, institutions.
  • “The Other”: Communities can also be against something, working on the boundaries, The Other.
  • Emergence of communities: the potential of communities to take a form and articulate itself, often in response to an external opportunity or threat. The time dimension is very important.
  • Context of communities: Is the goal to study communities or communities in a particular context? The latter: we should not just look at the narrow direct context of immediate users, but the broader (institutional) context and ecology. Essential in complex domains like health. E.g. the institutional sponsors.  Then you can also better tie in with practitioner communities, governance, etc.
  • Ecosystems of tools: communities do not just use one tool, they live in a whole ecosystem, a rich space of physical and online tools.
  • (At least in in the CI) it’s not so much about the development of new technologies but about how the effective use and appropriation of community technologies. How can we model and use rich, situated context that informs socio-technical systems design without constraining community behaviors?
  • (C&T) Explore new technologies and try them out in new communities. Make the opportunities that these tools offer available to communities. In an ethnographic way try to find the ways to help them transform communities.
  • In CI: the interesting problem is identified by the community, the socio-technical systems solution emerges in the collaborative response to the problem CT: the interesting problem is in the tool community potential.
  • The common theme is really about how the larger societal context meets the relevant community technologies.
Key research questions in the next 10 years:
  • The Surveillance Society, how the net is turning into a Societal Control Device. What are alternatives?
  • Governance: how do you govern systems, disaggregate governance of systems so that communities can be empowered. Is the local level accountable to the higher level, or the higher level accountable to the lower level? It’s a systems design question
  • Employment and wealth distribution
  • Put the local back in communities.
  • Inter-community issues: networks of communities, collaborating/intersecting/mashing/clashing communities
  • Make technological power (such as Big Data (and “tinkering technologies” such as 3D printing, Raspberry Pie) available to and usable by the people. How does it affect communities?
  • The notion of citizenship, not just users/consumers is key.
  • Migration, urbanization, depopulation: how can technologies strengthen sense of community?
  • Political activism, new ways of shaping democracy
Organization
  • Thematic conferences: more context-awareness should lead to more thematic conferences. Risk is that it scares away people working on other topics. There are all kinds of ways to deal with these, e.g. separate slots
  • Conference attendants could meet members of specific communities, and e.g. work with them in separate community-driven workshops. Could be too optimistic given the complexities of trying to ground academic discourse in practice. A workable approach could be to have sesssions where community members present their communities and their issues in very rich, informal ways, and have a well-facilitated discussion with the attending academics about some possible directions for addressing these issues. At the next edition of the conference, academics could then (also) present their follow-up (action) research jointly done with these communities on these cases in the more academically oriented slots, while continuing to give useful feedback in comprehensible and acceptable ways to the communities they have started to work with.
  • Turning it around: having “academic streams” in practitioner-oriented conferences.
  • Hybrid approaches are necessary in terms of different participants having different motivations needing different kinds of outcomes for the conference to be rewarding for them.
  • NB such innovative approaches are a lot of work, there is often a language barrier to be overcome, etc.
  • The range of potential funders does become much larger this way, e.g. government, corporate funding.
  • Ethical issues need to be taken care of very well: the communities participating are not in a zoo! What are legitimate ways of involving them?
  • The communities being researched should get a permanent community representation within the overal C&T community, so that trust can be built, criticism can be seen and shared, lessons can be learnt, more legitimate and useful longitudinal research can be done. E.g. the communities could have their own space within the overall C& community space, where they can present themselves in multimedia ways, comment on the research being done with them etc.
  • Various types of conferences: E.g. thematic conferences with invited people from the issues being focused on with dedicated funding, the overall academic conference should not be overall thematically-focused.
  • Boundary-spanning activities between various communities would be very valuable as a research (conference) strategy.
  • The Community Informatics community is large and diverse enough by now to help out contributing at least time-wise. Represent many different communities, a great context to work with.
  • We need to work on a (communications & activity) commons around which the Communities & Technologies and Community Informatics communities start to find more common ground.

Using Collaboration Patterns for Contextualizing Roles in Community Systems Design

On October 28, I presented my paper “Using Collaboration Patterns for Contextualizing Roles in Community Systems Design” at the Community Informatics Research Network  2010 Conference (CIRN 2010) in Prato, Italy. Here are the abstract of and link to the paper, as well as the presentation.

Abstract

Activation of collaborative communities is hampered by the communicative fragmentation that is at least partially caused by their distributed tool systems. We examine the role of domain, conversation, and functionality roles in modelling community activation. We show how collaboration patterns can be used to design appropriate socio-technical solutions.  These patterns contextualize the various types of roles by linking them to the (1) relevant usage context (2) communicative workflow stages and (3) functionality components across the tool system.

Presentation

What’s up with the Pragmatic Web?

On September 1, I was a member of the Pragmatic Web track panel of the I-SEMANTICS 2010 conference in Graz, Austria, after having given the keynote earlier that day. The Pragmatic Web is a newly emerging field,  still in the process of being defined. Its main focus is not Web technology per se, but the contexts and communities in which these resources are developed and used to accomplish goals, develop mutual understanding, and create and realize commitments. For background see the Pragmatic Web community site, and my blog posts Patterns for the Pragmatic Web and The Growth of the Pragmatic Web.

The Pragmatic Web should not be seen as separate from, but instead as building on and feeding into the Semantic Web, which concentrates on knowledge representation and reasoning approaches. One can try to formally represent “everything necessary” in a context but (1) this overformalization often kills the necessary human interpretation of any situated context and (2) still does not answer what relevant context factors are. Mainstream Semantic Web research does not deal with the subtleties of communities, goal setting and negotiation, human interaction, and myriad other context factors. For this, you need research perspectives different from those provided by the Semantic Web field itself.  Of course, there is no precise dichotomy between the Semantic and the Pragmatic Web, instead there is a grey zone between the two fields, like the “Social Semantic Web”.

In the panel, we discussed the status and future of the Pragmatic Web. Other panel members included Alexandre Passant (DERI),  Hans Weigand (Tilburg University), and Adrian Paschke (Freie Universität Berlin).

Alexandre covered the budding field of the Social Semantic Web, which examines how social interactions on the Web lead to the creation of explicit and semantically rich knowledge representations. Hans discussed another  research area that is a major contributor to the Pragmatic Web, the Language/Action Perspective, as is its sibling Organisational Semiotics. Adrian focused on the Corporate Semantic Web, and the Pragmatic Agent Web, which represent some of the more applied research areas.

My own presentation was about what’s up with the Pragmatic Web as an area of research. I placed it in the Web 3.0 era we are entering, covered some of its fundamental questions and theories, and presented a socio-technical conversation context perspective that can be used to organize and position Pragmatic Web research (the framework is further explained in the paper and presentation of my invited talk.) I showed how the number of research publications addressing or referring to the Pragmatic Web is growing rapidly (with a small dip in last year’s number of publications). The high turnout at the panel discussion, especially given the competition of many high-quality parallel tracks, should also be a sign of the growing interest in the field. Finally, I positioned some contributing and related research fields shaping and being influenced by the Pragmatic Web. Core contributing fields in my view are Community Informatics, the Language/Action Perspective, Organisational Semiotics, Web 2.0/social media and the Semantic Web. See slide 7 of:

The discussion following the presentation, as well as many personal responses later, indicate that the Pragmatic Web as an area of research seems to be viable. One criticism is that much of the research is still very conceptual and needs to materialize much more into concrete applications and projects. This criticism is justified, but can be partially explained by the early stage the field is in and the still small number of researchers and organizations involved. However, there is also a more fundamental reason for this lack of applications: the Pragmatic Web studies context, and context by its very nature is extremely wide in scope and is always context of something else. Still, by fruitfully cooperating with more technology-driven and application-oriented R&D areas like the Social Semantic Web and Web 2.0, fundamental research insights about relevant contexts generated by the Pragmatic Web community should descend into the real world and become much more visible  in the years to come.

Collaboration Patterns as Building Blocks for Community Informatics

From 4-6 November 2009, the 6th CIRN Community Informatics Conference was held in Prato, Italy. As in previous years, the conference brought together an interesting mix of researchers and practitioners from North and South, discussing ways to effectively use information and communication technologies to foster community building. This year’s theme was “Empowering Communities: Learning from Community Informatics Practice”.

I gave a keynote address at the conference. Title of my talk and the accompanying paper was “Collaboration Patters as Building Blocks for Community Informatics”. Below the slides of the presentation and the abstract of the paper.

Abstract

Community Informatics is a wide-ranging field of inquiry and practice, with many paradigms, disciplines, and perspectives intersecting. Community informatics research and practice build on several methodological pillars: contexts/values, cases, process/methodology, and systems. Socio-technical patterns and pattern languages are the glue that help connect these pillars. Patterns define relatively stable solutions to recurring problems at the right level of abstraction, which means that they are concrete enough to be useful, while also sufficiently abstract to be reusable. The goal of this paper is to outline a practical approach to improve CI research and practice through collaboration patterns. This approach should help to strengthen the analysis, design, implementation, and evaluation of socio-technical community systems. The methodology is illustrated with examples from the ESSENCE (E-Science/Sensemaking/Climate Change) community.

Moving Community Informatics Research Forward

091001_movingCIThe latest issue of the Journal of Community Informatics contains my point of view on “Moving Community Informatics Research Forward”. In it, I argue that at least four aspects need to be taken into account when researching the interplay of communities and their technologies: contexts/values, cases, process/methodology, and systems. Furthermore, in order to move our research field forward, more systematic attention needs to be paid to the role of definitions, the identification of lessons learnt and the development of testbeds and collaboratories. The point of view is based on my conference summing up of the Prato 2008 Community Informatics & Development Informatics conference.

Libraries and Collaborative Research Communities

091001_TicerAlready a while ago, but still worth a post: on August 5, I was an invited speaker at  the Ticer Digital Libraries a la Carte 2009 summer school. In 2008, I attended their fascinating keynote summer school lecture by Stephen Abram. It was a privilege to be on the other side this year! Ticer stands for Tilburg Innovation Centre for Electronic Resources, and is a business unit of Tilburg University’s Library and IT Services. Every year, they organize a summer school, which is well attended by librarians, publishers, researchers, lecturers, and IT specialists interested in the latest developments in (digital) libraries.

My module concerned the Libraries and Collaborative Research Communities track. My co-speakers were John Butler (University of Minnesota), Judith Wusteman (University College Dublin), and Gary Olson (University of California, Irvine). We had a very stimulating day – with lots of questions from the audience -  in which we explored this lively and quickly evolving field from many different angles, including topics like virtual communities as catalysts for advancing scholarship, the role of librarians in virtual research environments, and critical success factors for science collaboratories.

My own talk was about how to activate research collaboratories with collaboration patterns. I really enjoyed discussing  this for me quite new field. It was good to see that many academic librarians agree  that a technical information retrieval focus by itself does not suffice anymore and that serious efforts need to made to integrate communities, communication, and collaboration in their library processes and systems. The worlds of digital libraries and community informatics are still far apart, but interesting connections are forming. A topic that surely will grow in scope and impact in the years to come.


Communities & Technologies 2009

090722_CCT2009From June 25-28, I was at Penn State, attending the Communities & Technologies 2009 conference, the main bi-annual conference specifically focusing on this theme. As with the previous editions, I again very much enjoyed myself, both with respect to the many interesting presentations and by meeting up with old and new colleagues and friends who are part of our nomadic research tribe.

To get a feel for what the conference was about, check out the following resources:

  • A Twitter account of the sessions by multiple authors, hashtag #cct2009.
  • An excellent summary of the conference by Joe McCarthy.
  • A Flickr conference photo gallery.

Presentation at the National Research Council Canada

090321_nrcc3On Monday, I will give another version of the talk “From Inspiration to Activation: Making Online Collaborative Communities Work” that I gave at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, this time at the National Research Council Canada Institute for Information Technology in Fredericton, New Brunswick. It’s good to have another opportunity to present  and get quality feedback on these ideas that have been keeping me busy for such a long time.

Abstract

Inspiration is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for collaborative communities to work. Such communities often make use of complex Internet-based tool systems. In these systems, work gets distributed over many tools, often leading to the fragmentation of communicative acts. To address this problem, explicit attention needs to be paid to community activation. We outline a conceptual model of online collaborative communities. We introduce the use of collaboration patterns for defining socio-technical design solutions for activation problems. We illustrate the approach by discussing the results from a digital class experiment. Applications ranging from e-government to scientific collaborations are discussed.

The talk will webcast live: Mon March 23, 10:30 am – noon Atlantic Daylight Time:

https://iitconnect01.iit.nrc.ca/aldodemoor

Distant participants should be able to ask questions via chat.

(The archived version of my talk is available at: https://iitconnect01.iit.nrc.ca/p14825022/)

D-Day for Communities and Networks Connection

As you know, the field of community informatics is a very fast moving target. Trying to keep up with even only the most basic developments in research and practice, from the softest social psychology intuitions to the hardest network infrastructure deployment, is the best way to get completely overloaded. Sometimes, you just want to give up and zone out (try clicking the square in this digital sandbox for some wonderful R&R if you reach that state of emergency!) However, when you feel the “Force Is Starting To Embrace You Again”, a brand new Jedi sabre is awaiting to help you cut through the conceptual tangle and quickly zoom in on the most relevant developments: the Communities & Networks Connection blog portal.

090217_mcs_cnc_badgeIt is not a single blog, nor a group blog, but a true portal that combines a blog roll of featured bloggers  in this area with  advanced search and newspaper-style presentation options. It distills the most important keywords from all the contributing blogs, and makes it possible to navigate easily and in multiple ways through the federated content. For example, after selecting a particular blog, the site shows you the latest and the best from that blog, as well as related content from other blogs. It also shows the subset of the collective keywords covered by this blog, etc., etc.

The Communities and Networks Connection portal launched only today, and is still under some construction, especially with respect to the finetuning the keywords.   However, it already has a very pleasant look and feel to it and is addictive in that it draws you into examining related content you would otherwise not really be bothered delving into. Cheers for Nancy White and Tony Karrer who have managed to pull this off!