EssayCollaboration and Participation in Web 2.0 by Maria Gomez Aguirre Student Id: 100034l3 CMP007N Principles of Digital Media MA Digital Media London Metropolitan University January 2011
Maria Gomez Aguirre | 1 Collaboration and Participation in Web 2.0In this essay we will talk about participation, the factors that lead collaborative projects to successor failure and how it is this applied within the Web 2.0.As Lind (2007) says Collaboration is quite a difficult term to define. She suggests it to be a wordthat englobes all of “the diverse working methods that require more than one participant”. London(1995) goes a bit further defining it as the process in which different parties come together in theaim of reaching a common goal. Although he is using the term as a key methodology to resolveproblem within a community I think this can be apply to all aspects of society, including newmedia.On the other hand, we have the term Participation that Lind (2007) represents as working togetherwith the idea of having something in return. The same opinion seems to have Shirky (2008) whenhe explain the idea behind Nupedia (even when it did not succeed), an online encyclopedia witharticles written by scholars, which main objective was to compile the works written by experts andsharing freely (an author shares his articles with the aim of accessing others).In this essay we will be using both terms indistinctly, as we believe, based on the definitionsexplained previously, that they differ each other only slightly.Working in a collaborative way does not just that applies to new media, but it can be found in a lotof different environments, for instance Gray (1989) argues that collaborative techniques are themost optimal way to approach problem solving.Focusing on new technologies we should state that Web 2.0 means collaboration. We can have alook at the comparison made by OReilly (2005) to confirm this statement. He lists some of theapplications or services that in his opinion make the core of Web 2.0 and all of them havecollaboration or participation as common feature (Google, Flickr, Wikipedia, blogs, etc). Eventhough the article we are referring to was written before the golden age of user-generated sites likeTwitter and Facebook, OReilly was capable of forecasting the importance of the public in the futureof the Internet. This has to make us questioning what are the reason or motivations behind thisbehaviour and why the public is so willing to participate and became a member of onlinescommunities.
Maria Gomez Aguirre | 2Lets start by analysing the following example:Linux is probably one of the first and most successful collaborative projects. Linus Torvalds hasbeen able to lead a community of thousand of people towards a shared goal: the creation of anoperative system. One of the keys of this success resides in a fundamental principle: making lifeeasier. Essentially Torvalds started his project based on a already existing operative system addingnew features that were useful for him. He asked for help in an online community and offered inreturn a completely accessible and “ready to be modified” system (Moon, 2002). This confirms thedefinition of participation explained previously. Another important factor of Linux, and incollaborative projects or platforms, is that the members share interests and that makes themparticipate actively. However this is not always that easy, that is why the leader or leaders of thegroup need to encourage the participation, by for instance giving the more active participants somekind of recognition (in the case of Linux this takes the form of becoming a credited developer ormaintainer (Moon, 2002)).We have just mention an important role in any community, the leader. It may appear ascollaborative community is not synonymous of hierarchy or organization, when the reality is noteven close. Jaques and Salmon (2007) divide groups into three categories based on the leadershipsstyle: Autocratically led groups, Democratically led groups and Laissez-faire groups. They alsoassert that although democratic leadership is the most popular, the approach to take it will alwaysdepend on the nature of the group and its goals: in the case Linuxs development community it maylook like it is a democratic one, however it is ultimately Torvalds (or any of the appointeddevelopers) who decide whether a new feature is to be included in the system. As well as leader,whatever his approach is, there has to be a well defined hierarchy on place in order to maintain thewell being of the community. In news-aggregation sites like Digg or Reddit the users are the one torate the news and so to decide the news to reach the front page, however there are a series ofmoderators who can change this if they decide that the content is inappropriate and thereforedowngrade it.One of the most characteristic tools of Web 2.0 are the Social Network sites or SNS. Boyd andEllison (2007) define SNS as web-base platforms where individuals can create a online reflection ofthemselves, connect with other individuals and enter in some kind of interaction that variesdepending on the system. They also analyse the history of SNS, appointing their origin in thealready extinguished SixDegrees.com. They are normally created to connect people who shareinterests or hobbies or even ethnicity and nationality. Examples of this are Linkedln (a professionalSNS) and Match.com (online dating SNS). However there are other like Facebook or Twitter which,
Maria Gomez Aguirre | 3even though they started with a closed user base, now they are opened to a much broader audience.Focusing in participation we could assume that individuals decide to join a SNS mainly with theidea of having something in return, being this job opportunities (Linkedln) or connect with youalready friends in real life (Facebook).One special case that is worth mentioning is MySpace. Originally created to compete in the marketwith similar sites like Friendster it based its target audience in youth people. The main differencewith the others (and probably the reason of its early success) was the possibility of modifying theHTML code of your profile. However, the most interesting aspect was the use that musicians andmusic bands have made of it, by modifying their profile and providing free samples of their music.This allows musician the opportunity to reach a much broader audience, even some of them makinga career out of this (Cieslak, 2006).This example of the music industry and the use of SNS takes to the next topic to study: user-generated content. Its use is a key factor in a wide range of applications, being those open-sourcesoftware (as explained previously), wikis and SNS, among others. Online and media companies hasstarted to realise that providing the users with an space where they can participate and give theirpoint of view is much more lucrative than only giving them material to consume. This idea ofparticipation gives recognition to the users and encourage them. We can find sites as Amazon wherethe content it is add by professional staff but the users generate the reviews.It is as well true that there is an unbalance of participation in all user-generated applications. Shirky(2008) describes this as a power law distribution and provides as an example a given article ofWikipedia, where out of a 129 contributors only six were responsible for about quarter of the edits.He also suggests this is the way of analysing any community based on social interaction andconfronts it with the traditional bell curve distributions where the studies are based on averages.This, he says, is not valid to study a collaborative system, because its premise is to take arepresentative sample, which in collaborative communities does not exist. He then asserts that weshould be looking at the “behaviour of the collective” and the way interaction changes along thedistribution. Putting as an example weblogs he proves that the more successful a weblog is (themore readers it has) the more difficult is to maintain a conversation and therefore interact with thosereaders.An real life example of the way individuals use this content and applications can be found in therecent student protests in London (The Guardian, press, 2010). Without entering in the details of theprotest, what we want to analyse are the tools used by the student in order to organize themselves(press). They used Google Maps to ping-point the position of police crew, the number of casualtiesand based on that decided where to go next. This was possible because students participating in the
Maria Gomez Aguirre | 4demonstration were updating their social network profiles (like Twitter and Facebook) includingtheir location and the situation in the area. Even broadcaster companies and the police make use ofthis tools on the day. Newspapers like The Guardian and TV broadcaster like Channel 4 went toTwitter and Facebook to get an live feed of the protest and publish their analysis on their websites.Obviously we are not implied that this new way of informing or spreading the word is going to endwith traditional journalism but, as we said before, companies are starting to use this content toretrieve information in a quicker way and to interact with the public (BBC, 2011).However, not everyone agree with this: Keen (2007) is very critic when analysing user-generatedcontent. He affirms that news-aggregation sites are “a mirror of our most banal interest” based onthe fact (as I explained previously) that the users rate the stories and based on that the front page isgenerated. We have to disagree with him on this. Without entering in discussion about amateurismand the quality of the chosen articles, news-aggregation sites are just a sample of what its users, as agroup, think is interesting. It might not be an particular individual choice of news but it definitelyprovides an idea of what the people is really interested on. He makes, however, an interesting pointwhen talking about SNS and asserting that the reason why they exist is to be used as a platform topromote ourselves. We live in a time when not having an online social life is synonymous of beingsome sort of outcast, when we are willing to tell the world (or our online network) where we are(via FourSquare), what we are doing (via Facebook), what kind of music we like (via Last.fm) andso on. Probably part of the reason of doing that resides on the need that we, as human beings, haveof being noticeable and part of a group.
Maria Gomez Aguirre | 5References • BBC, YouTube - Social Media and the Student Protests. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8_i656bVyU [Accessed January 28, 2011]. • boyd, d.m & Ellison, N.B., 2007. Social Network sites: definition, history and scholarship. In Online Communication and Collaboration. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 261-281. • Cieslak, M., 2006. Rise of the webs social network. BBC News. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/click_online/5391258.stm [Accessed January 28, 2011]. • Gray, B., 1989. Collaborating: Finding common ground for multiparty problems, San Francisco: Jassey-Bass. • Jacques, D. & Salmon, G.,2007. Studies of group behaviour. In Online Communication and Collaboration. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 12-25. • Keen, A., 2007. The cult of the Amateur. In Online Communication and Collaboration. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 261-255. • Lind, Maria. The Collaborative Turn. In Billing, J., Lind, M. & Nilsson, L., 2007. Taking the matter into common hands: on contemporary art and collaborative practices. London: Bacl Dog Publishing, pp. 15 - 31. • London, S., Collaboration and Community. Available at: http://www.scottlondon.com/reports/ppcc.html [Accessed January 16, 2011]. • Moon, J. & Sproull, L., 2010. Essence of distributed work: the case of the Linux kernel. In Online Communication and Collaboration. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 125-145. • OReilly, 2005. What Is Web 2.0. Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software. Available at: http://oreilly.com/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html [Accessed January 28, 2011]. • Shirky, C., 2008. Here comes everybody: the power of organizing without organizations, Penguin Press. pp 109-142
Maria Gomez Aguirre | 6• Shirky, C., 2008. Publish, then filter. In Online Communication and Collaboration. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 236-250.• The Guardian, Student protests – as they happened. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/blog/2010/dec/09/student-protests-live-coverage [Accessed January 28, 2011].