Stephen Downes on Community

Community Blogging with Stephen Downes

He wants reframe our thoughts on what a community is, what it constitutes online and in the blog world.

What usually enables a community in the real world is proximity. In the online version, it is a “place�? online. The traditional model was to give them a site, a topic, they will talk and you can retire to the Caymans.

In online learning- there is an assumption that it happens in a learning management system, or learning content management system.

In social networking sometimes it’s Orkut, Friendster, even Flickr.

These are all places, not communities.

Two major elements that define “community�?.

1. The network- idea that there is some connection between people, they is understood
2. The semantics- it’s about something, a topic, a value, an interest

Against the long tail- a property of networks. Get a bunch of people getting together and linking, what you get is a group of links. Similar to six degrees ideas. What happens is that some get lots of links, some get just a few. The power law is about the small group getting a lot links and a very large group getting only a few.

Conditions for Power Laws

1. Growth- the network grows over time
2. preferential attachment- nodes with a high degree are more likely
Base metaphor: the rich get richer

People endlessly talk about the virtues of the long tail- these are inevitably people who are living in the long tail.

Preferential attachment occurs because there is a shortage of time, money, attention of resources. It occurs at random. Often it is because something is available, not just good.

Community is based in meaning, not randomness
Community as proximity= random connections
Community as networks of semantic relations= semantically based connections

To build community, you don’t pick the random available connections, you pick the most salient.

Stephen is anti-tagging. What would a graph of all the tags for a subject look like? A power law. The meaning of the post becomes whatever is at the spike of the power law.

Two ways of looking at the world: Two modes of cognition

1. Seeing the words
2. Seeing the patterns

How do we kill the big spike?

What is happening is a transformation on online learning from a centralized, institution-based system with a top-down structure to a bottom up grassroots structure.

Community is defined by

Means of organizing input and experience
Means of putting that experience into context
Means of creation, of becoming part of someone else’s experience
There is no “place that represents communities with a variety of self-selected relations using a variety of contextual information to establish meaning. Meaning emerges from the community rather than defining community.

I missed some sections and got lost in the presentation. Some of Stephen’s ideas went a little over my head. I’m just not into the academic discussions I guess, or maybe I'm not smart enough to get it.

I was also disappointed to see him group 43 Things with some of the famous inauthentic deceptions in the blog history. People are jumping on them because they got a lot of investment from Amazon- it doesn’t mean they are being devious, inauthentic or evil. They just didn’t announce the Amazon connection soon enough. There is a short discussion here with a comment from Josh Peterson on the matter.

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