I am at the 2015 Conference on Communities and Technologies in Limerick Ireland where I will present “Being Present in Online Communities: Learning in Citizen Science” a paper I authored with my advisor and colleagues at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies. Set in the context of the citizen science project Planet Hunters, my colleagues and I explore three uniques ways that newcomers learn to contribute to the project.
The paper extends existing research on newcomer learning in online communities which emphasizes that learning for newcomers involves getting feedback from experienced participants, observing the work of others, and building relationships with experienced members. In this paper, we suggest that these key themes are problematized in settings where such opportunities for learning are limited or are not possible.
Over the past year I was part of a team that developed the Co-op, a newcomer support space on Wikipedia. The Co-op was designed to match newcomers with experienced Wikipedians around specific needs. In our final report we present our findings from the pilot, describing the existing newcomer support ecology on Wikipedia, where the Co-op fits in, as well as performance outcomes of new editors that used the Co-op. You can find the final report here.
Wikipedia was once seen as “wild west” experience for newcomers, leaving them to their own devices to figure out how to participate. Over the past few years we have seen a growth and formalization of newcomer support systems, however researchers have not taken stock of what this growing ecology for newcomer support looks like. In a recent post on the progress of the Wikipedia mentorship project I am working on, I talk about this need for scholarship as well as some findings from a recent interview about this topic. Below is an excerpt from the post:
From initiatives like the Education Program that connect experienced Wikipedians with college students editing for the first time, to spaces like the Teahouse, where newcomers can ask questions the best way they know how without any worry of criticism, each of these examples consolidates information-seeking opportunities into a manageable experience.
See the full post here and scroll down to “August-September Updates.”
Perhaps one of the more challenging but also enjoyable parts of writing my dissertation has been grappling withe the idea of sociomateriality. There are a number of approaches to defining and researching sociomateriality, but the most obvious take away is that sociomateriality directs the researcher towards examining the role of materiality in the structuring/durability of human action. Some authors dance around the idea while others, through superb rhetoric, unveil this condition with profound clarity. A passage (see below) from Bruno Latour’s 1996 work,“On Interobjectivity”, is particularly illuminating:
We circulate smoothly from the offices of the post office’s architect, where the counter model was sketched and the flux of users modeled. My interaction with the worker was anticipated there, statistically, years before-and the way in which I leaned on the counter, sprayed saliva, filled in forms, was anticipated by ergonomists and inscribed in the agency of the post office.Of course they didn’t see me standing there in the flesh, any more than they saw the worker. But it would be a serious mistake to say that I was not there. I was inscribed there as a category of user, and today I have just carried out this role and have actualized the variable with my own body. Thus I am indeed connected from the post office to the architect by a slender but solid thread that makes me go from being a personal body in interaction with a worker to a type of user represented on a blueprint. Inversely, the framework sketched out years ago remains, through the intervention of Portuguese workers, concrete, carpenters and fiberglass, the framework that holds, limits, channels and authorizes my conversation with the post office worker. As soon as the objects are added in, it will be seen that we must get used to circulating in time, in space, across levels of materialization.
Today I presented research with my advisor, Dr. Carsten Osterlund, on the sociomateriality of newcomer socialization in the citizen science project, Planet Hunters. See the abstract of our talk below:
Crowdsourced initiatives rely on contributions from experienced and non-experienced contributors rather than on permanent workers. Such new organizational forms challenge existing theories of organizational socialization. Theoretically, the present paper merges insights from the socialization literature with notions of multiple spaces and forms of presence drawn from the sociomateriality debate, leading us to conceptualize socialization as emerging out of the mutual co-construction of the technical infrastructure and the volunteers. Combining virtual ethnography, trace ethnography, and survey responses, we study socialization of participants in a large citizen science project involving more than 800,000 participants. Our results depict newcomer socialization as a gradual change in the types of spaces participants perform. They start out performing scientific and communal system features as highly structured regional spaces characterized by authoritative-subject forms of relations. As they become more comfortable with the scientific practices some participants shift to perform system features as a resonance space characterized by a communal form of authority. The research contributes to our understanding of socialization in crowdsourced environments and implications their design and management.
Wikipedia has matured as an open source collaborative project, featuring a robust governance structure that has emerged over the project’s 13 year history. While the policies and guidelines help shape the creation of quality content on Wikipedia, one area of the community structure that is receiving a great deal of attention and thought is the experience of newcomers. Research shows that ,of late, newcomers find themselves in a hostile environment that does not welcome their contributions. With Wikipedia surviving on the goodwill of volunteers, chasing away newcomers has implications for the long term sustainability of the movement. As such, researchers and community members alike are rethinking how to support newcomers so that they will be more inclined to stay with Wikipedia. As someone who thinks a lot about the experience of newcomers in online collaborative communities, I was excited to receive news this week that I along with two other Wikipedians received a grant from the Wikimedia Foundation to develop a new mentorship system that matches newcomers with experienced Wikipedians based on the skills newcomers wish to learn. The aim of the project is to support newcomer socialization and learning with the broader goal of supporting newcomer retention. Over the next six months I will work on this grant as a researcher, examining the newcomer experience in the system we design as well as the outcomes of their participation. This project should shed light on some of the broader issues of expertise sharing and newcomer socialization and will ideally make valuable contributions to the research and design around development and management of online collaborative environments. I look forward to writing here about what I find over the next six months.
After nearly four years of trying to turn this idea into a reality, the pilot of CampusNeighbor finally came to a close on April 4th at 601 Tully: Center for Engaged Art and Practice (see press here and here). CampusNeighbor.org is a website designed to facilitate barters between students and residents in college communities. The goal is to bridge the traditional town and gown divide by encouraging bartering, a form of economic activity that can have a long term impact of creating social capital.
The website acts as a match maker between students and residents by matching skills with needs. The pilot ran from January 2014 to April, with the final event at 601 Tully acting as an opportunity for people who had been matched up on the site or were looking to be matched up to barter with each other.
In the four years that it took to get this project off the ground, CampusNeighbor went through a number of iterations, but it was the push back and input from a number of amazing people that helped take this project from an idea to a reality.