Effective online collaboration and organisation is facilitated by the use of web 2.0 technologies and by harnessing the input of people through organisations, crowds and movements.
Effective online collaboration and organisation is facilitated by the use of web 2.0 technologies, and by harnessing the input of people through organisations, crowds, and movements. This essay will first consider the nature of participatory culture online and the web 2.0 technologies that enable it. Following this, the essay will explore formations or collectives of people through movements and crowds to highlight how online collaboration is being effected. Several case studies will be analysed to further highlight the effectiveness of web 2.0 technologies and how different formations of people are used to achieve effective online collaboration. The creation of Wikipedia exemplifies the use of crowdsourcing to achieve a quality knowledge management system, comparable or better than traditional encyclopaedias. The development of Linux software is another example of crowdsourcing as a collaborative method to design and deliver open source software. The use of social media by Queensland Police will demonstrate the effectiveness of web 2.0 technology, in this case Facebook, for effective disaster management. The final case study will be the use of twitter for political protest, looking specifically at the events in Egypt known as the Arab Spring. Together, these case studies will demonstrate how effective online collaboration and organisation is achieved.
Participatory culture is defined by Jenkins (2006) as a blurring of the boundaries separating consumer from creator, where members feel socially connected to each other and believe their contributions to be valued within the communities they are connected to. Blau (2011) defines web 2.0 as ”an information space through which people can communicate by sharing their knowledge and ideas in a common pool and find items shared by others” (p. 22). Hands (2014) writes that the value of commercial web 2.0 applications is created mostly from the ”social relationships they mediate” (p. 239). He writes further that ”the regularity that people check their social media feeds, that they look at their ’friends‘ pages, or catch up with their ’followed‘ accounts produces an ongoing degree of connection that is much greater in scale and intensity than previous communication media” (Hands, 2014, p.[space]241). We are seeing that individuals are already connecting in a communal manner on various web 2.0 platforms, such as Facebook and twitter, and from an efficiency scale, it is logical to harness these communities for the benefit of the wider community. Demirbas, Bayir, Akcora, Yilmazand, and Ferhatosmanoglu (2010) write that “it is easier to give the community a tool, than to give the tool a community” (p. 1). Rather than looking for ways to create a community, efficiencies can be achieved by utilising an existing community and collaborating from that point – harnessing and growing the collectiveness already in place. P
Collaboration is defined by Blau (2011) as ”a method that implies working in a group of two or more to achieve a common goal while respecting each individual’s contribution to the whole” (p. 23). She contrasts this with cooperation (2011, p.[space]23), which she describes as breaking up a task so that each individual is responsible only for a part of the whole and not the whole itself. Blau (2011), citing Kock, Davison, Ocker, and Wazlawick (2001) provides a broad definition of e-collaboration as being ”a process of collaboration among individuals engaged in a common task using electronic technologies”. The use of electronic technologies includes web 2.0 tools and social media. Individuals are able to connect from any geographic location via the internet, using web 2.0 technology to interact, and can collaborate and organise themselves to share knowledge and innovate. This essay will explore two formations that individuals can use to come together to do this – crowds and movements.P
The concept of crowds is literal, in the sense that it describes the coming together and subsequent collaboration of a large group of strangers. In his book The Wisdom of Crowds, Surowiecko (2005, Introduction p. 13) writes that ”under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them”. Arazy, Morgan, and Patterson (2006, p.1) support Surowiecko’s statement and offer an example whereby many people are asked to guess a person’s weight, resulting in a closer to or better estimate than what a single expert would give. They conduct a case study to test the quality of Wikipedia data and use this to confirm their hypothesis that Wikipedia is an effective leveraging of the Wisdom of Crowds concept. Arazy et al. establish that there are three principles, according to Surowiecki, for ensuring the quality of aggregated contribution – ”a large number of contributors and opinions, diversity of ideas and opinions and appropriate mechanisms for content aggregation” (2006, p.2). Diversity ensures that group decisions are made with broad perspectives and limits conformity. Furthermore, the performance of a group increases with the differences in skills and knowledge (Arazy et al., 2006, p.[space]2). Arazy et al. are satisfied that the accuracy of Wikipedia content is of sound quality based on the control mechanisms in place, relying on other research from Viegas et al. (2004), Emigh and Herring (2005) and Stvilia et al (2005). Whilst Arazy et al. are satisfied with the quality of Wikipedia content, their study found that the success of Wikipedia is related to crowd size and diversity, supporting Surowiecki’s concept. Blau (2011) writes that “the quality of outcomes after the collaboration in networks is high” (p. 26). From this we know that the diversity and volume of contributors is key to the effectiveness of crowds for collaboration. We next need to understand what drives members of the crowd to participate.
The ongoing effectiveness of crowds for collaboration relies on the willingness of individuals to be present in the crowd. Blau (2011, p.[space]30) writes that the motivation for contributing to Wikipedia falls into two categories, personal (satisfaction and/or the need to acquire knowledge) or social (a desire to participate or belong). Blau writes further that unlike within an organisational space, contributors to a community-based system place less significance on extrinsic motivation and more on “self-expression, personal development, utilitarian motives, economic motives and knowledge efficacy” (2011, p.[space]31). She supports this with an assessment undertaken by Rafaeli, Hayat, and Ariel (2009) that found the motivation for contribution is sharing with and contributing to others (Blau, 2011, p.[space]31). The success of Wikipedia as an online encyclopedia and knowledge management system is reliant on the ongoing input from contributors. With the main motivators mostly being of a selfless nature, and with a common goal being to feel like they are playing a valued role in the creation of something tangible, there is more likelihood that contributors will continue to contribute to ensure the ongoing accuracy of Wikipedia. Wikipedia is one example of how crowds are successfully and effectively used as collaborators for the purposes of knowledge sharing, but the benefits of crowds are not limited to knowledge sharing.
Linux open source software is another example of the effective use of crowds, on this occasion to deliver a software product. The process involves placing an open call seeking ideas from a ”potentially large and unknown population” (Poetz & Schreier, 2012, p.[space]4), as well as facilitating ongoing improvement ideas and updates. The generation of ideas from crowds in this manner is known as crowdsourcing, and in the case of Linux, Blau (2011, p.[space]28) writes that this process makes it possible for millions of programmers to contribute without any additional costs. Some programmers may only contribute once – a traditional organisation could not sustain such low input from an employee, but from a crowd network this level of input has no impact on costs. Poetz and Schreier (2012) undertook research to determine whether crowdsourced ideas were comparable to new product ideas generated by professionals. Their finding indicate that “users can actually outperform professionals in the generation of new product ideas, at least under certain conditions” (Poetz & Schreier, 2012, p. 23). Based on the information presented regarding Wikipedia and Linux, crowds as collectives are proving to be effective knowledge sharers and ideas generators.P
Movements are a collective of a different kind to crowds. Unlike crowds who bring together strangers who appear to have no apparent connections, movements bring together individuals with shared objectives, who may or may not otherwise have some form of connection [citation would be good here]. Political protest movements make effective use of social media to garner cooperation and collectivity amongst individuals with a shared objective. There are some conflicting views around the role played by social media in bringing about political change. Shirky (2010) writes that social media enables the coordination of activities that can bring about political change. Gladwell (2011) views social media as nothing more than an innovation in communication and a home for slacktivism, the term given to individuals who join online groups but undertake no useful action. Shirky (2010) responds to Gladwell’s view with ”[t]he critique is correct, but not central to the question of social media’s power; the fact that barely committed actors cannot click their way to a better world does not mean that committed actors cannot use social media effectively”. Shirky goes on to list a series of political events in India, South Korea and Chile, where social media enabled the coordination of real world action. Such was the success of the use of these tools to coordinate the movement of people that they are likely to continue to be used in all future like-natured events (Shirky, 2010). Shirky also writes that the use of these tools doesn’t guarantee the success of a political movement, given the State has the same ability to use these tools as do activists. P
Swenson (2012) writes that social media does not create the change but amplifies what the dominant political position is at a point in time. Using the uprising in Egypt in 2011 as a case study, Swenson writes that despite the claims by Ghonim that ‘without Facebook, without Twitter, without Google, without YouTube this would never have happened’ (Swenson, 2012, p.113) the role played by social media was smaller than reported in the American media, ‘In this case, social media is still only being used as a tool to amplify dominant political and economic positions’ (Swenson, 2012, p.[space]116). Afouxenidis, as a result of his research into the use of social media for unemployed university lecturers, supports this notion and writes that:
Evidence is unclear on whether the use of the net and/or social media with respect to political participation actually enhances activity and generates new forms of democratic engagement. While it is highly noteworthy that online participation is the major cause for the generation of an offline collective organisational form, evidence also points to the fact that use of the net is ephemeral and does not alter significantly the basic ’political discourse‘ of individuals. (Afouxenidis, 2014, p.3).
Grossman (2009) reached the same conclusion in regards to the political unrest in Iran; “Twitter didn’t start the protests in Iran, nor did it make them possible. But there’s no question that it has emboldened the protesters, reinforced their conviction that they are not alone and engaged populations outside Iran in an emotional, immediate way that was never possible before.” Mobilising individuals as part of a movement is achieved through social media, where the effectiveness I gained from use of the tools as a point of coordination and a tool for communication rather than from any attempts to change the political persuasion of any individuals involved. P
The final case study to demonstrate the effective use of social media for collaboration and organisation is the use of Facebook for disaster management by the Queensland Police Service. During the period between December 2010 and January 2011, Queensland (at times) was ninety percent disaster declared . The Queensland Police Service had begun using social media, specifically Facebook and twitter, in early 2010 . With the significant disaster situations unfolding across the state, the need for keeping the community informed and educated increased. Alongside this, the number of community members who were turning to their Facebook page increased from 17000 to 100,000 in one day . The increased audience made it possible for Queensland Police to take advantage of the ability to have a one-to-many reach by using social media. This aligns with Castells (2007), who wrote that social media enables an organisation to reach many with one action. This also links back to the point noted earlier by Demirbas, Bayir, Akcora, Yilmazand, and Ferhatosmanoglu (2010, p. 1) about bringing the tool to the community. Impacted residents of Queensland were already using Facebook, had easy access to the tool on mobile devices when stranded somewhere, unable to access traditional news services (television and print for example). Queensland Police were able to effectively manage the disaster using social media, creating a single reference point for community members and traditional media to be kept up to date with the response tasks, and to also contribute to communication efforts and share information with others. P
Effective online collaboration and organisation is facilitated by the use of web 2.0 technologies and by harnessing the input of people through organisations, crowds and movements. This essay has examined the nature of participatory culture and the web 2.0 technologies that underpin this culture. The use of crowds and crowdsourcing has been explored to demonstrate the effectiveness of crowds to share knowledge and build an online encyclopaedia, and to develop and improve open source software. People have been mobilised as part of Movements, evident during political protests in Iran and Egypt, where collaboration has occurred not in the form of political arousal, but in the ability to communicate and advocate political landscapes as they already are. Finally, the concept of social media as a tool for communication and collaboration during the management of disaster relief activities has shown the effectiveness again of harnessing individuals and the power of one to many. Together, these case studies demonstrate how effective online collaboration and organisation is achieved.
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