Dissertation Information for Derek L. Hansen
MPACT Status: Fully Complete
Title: Knowledge sharing, maintenance, and use in online support communities
Abstract: Widespread adoption of information technologies has fostered new social arrangements and opportunities for large-scale collaboration. Many of these new collaborations occur in online support communities where members help each other make sense of, and deal with, a particular topic (e.g., website design, cancer treatment). Many of these communities struggle with meeting the divergent needs of novices, experts, and those who overhear their conversations. A few communities have recently augmented their existing threaded conversations (e.g., email list discussions) with a wiki repository which serves a similar purpose as an FAQ document. I demonstrate how a threaded conversation and wiki repository can complement each other by describing in detail a technical support community (css-d) where they do. Using a mixed method approach I empirically examine how activity is organized to leverage both resources through an analysis of the governance structure, social roles and norms, information genres, participation patterns, and technical features. I also use an action research methodology to help 3 online medical support communities implement a wiki repository. I first the limitations of using a community conversation for reuse by arguing that the very same characteristics that make community conversations useful to their participants (e.g., their personalized, immediate, and social nature) make their reuse by onlookers problematic. I then describe how a wiki repository was used by the css-d community to create reusable content that complements the discussion. I characterize the wiki genres most useful to the community (e.g., Annotated Links, Debate summaries, How To pages, Articles) and describe the processes important to their creation, and how they lead to content that fills information gaps, is reusable, and relevant to the masses. I describe how the synergistic relationship between community conversation and wiki repositories helps overcome some of the information sharing and maintenance challenges common to help-based communities, as well as how it helps overcome some of the common social maintenance challenges of online communities such as keeping the discussion on topic and avoiding contentious debates. Finally, I characterize some of the challenges of implementing wiki repositories and collaborative authoring, such as the hesitancy of members to edit others' work.
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