*The following post is based off a paper I presented at “The Future of Platforms as Sites of Work, Collaboration and Trust” workshop at the 2016 Conference for Computer Supported Cooperative Work
The sharing economy has been described as a phenomenon that reintroduces social interaction into economic exchanges, where people no longer place their trust solely in a network of complex legal frameworks or brand reputation, but also engage in interpersonal negotiations about the terms of the transaction .
This act of negotiating the terms of a transaction emphasizes an aspect of how trust is defined in the sharing economy in that it helps to anticipate, “imminent outcomes and behaviors in the presence of uncertainty” . For example, Yochai Benkler describes a website for an ad-hoc carpooling community that outlines behavior ranging from how people wait in line to how they should interact with each other in the car. Trust in Benkler’s example of the carpooling community is based on a mutual expectation that all participants in the carpooling community are aware of the social framework articulated on the website.
While research has looked at such mechanisms as trust, reputation, and social norms that mediate online transactions , what we know less of is how newcomers to such platforms learn what the social frameworks of participation are. Because many transactions in the sharing economy are distinct from the majority of transactions we engage in, the question of understanding the learning curve of participating in the sharing economy becomes important. Furthermore, as I suggest later on, this question of newcomers and learning curves to participation is crucial not only to how we understand existing sharing economy platforms, but how we can envision the development of new iterations of the sharing economy.
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.
Socialization is a process where newcomers move from a state of uncertainty to a state of fluency in the practice, terminology, and behavior that define an organization. For settings where activities have a high degree of impact on the functionality and continued existence of the organization, socialization processes are particularly important (Van Maanen & Schein, 1979). While formal training models successfully integrate newcomers, crowdsourced projects like Wikipedia are unable to provide formal training due to the ad hoc assemblage of volunteers that participate. Studies on socialization in open online collaborative projects typically focus on information seeking, the impact of feedback, and the construction of social networks as newcomers make sense of their new environment. While such research is important, there is scant consideration for the material components of the online platforms and their role in the socialization process.