Knowledge and Knowledge Sharing in Virtual Communities

Knowledge and Knowledge Sharing in Virtual Communities

Ben Kei Daniel
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-663-1.ch008
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Knowledge management and knowledge sharing are topics best addressed in a different book. This Chapter is intentionally introduced in the book to introduce the reader to knowledge management and knowledge sharing and to think about these growing areas where there are potential opportunities to apply social capital to solve real world practical problems. Though the use of social capital and knowledge management was briefly introduced in Chapter 3, by reiterating these two issues here it will broaden the reader’s understanding of the critical role social capital plays in enhancing knowledge management through knowledge sharing in virtual communities. In addition, this Chapter discusses some of the most important challenges to knowledge sharing in virtual communities. Furthermore, this Chapter describes the basic concepts often associated with knowledge management and social capital.
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The Nature Of Knowledge

The term knowledge is subject to differing philosophical and semantic interpretations. The Webster dictionary defines knowledge as a fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience. It is a fact or condition of being aware of something; it is also the circumstance of apprehending truth or a fact through reasoning or association. The lowest level of known facts is data. Data has no intrinsic meaning. It must be sorted, grouped, analyzed, and interpreted within some context.

When data is processed in this manner, it becomes information. Information has a substance and a purpose, however, information does not have meaning. When information is combined with experience and put into concrete context it becomes knowledge. Consequently, knowledge is a combination of information, context, and experience. Context, as far as knowledge is concerned, relates to an individual’s framework for interpretations of facts and information. When knowledge is transferred from one individual to another, it is drawn into the receiver’s context and experience and so the new knowledge is interpreted according to the receiver’s values, context and experiences. If the receiver does not have an appropriate background or context for interpreting the new knowledge, the new knowledge will not be interpreted correctly and the knowledge will have little or no value. For example, if a person does not have experience interpreting certain procedures involved in the process of learning how to swim, they will not understand why people are able to float in water. Subsequently, they find it challenging to learn how to swim from just reading books. At the same time, if an author of a book on swim uses a poor symbolic representation of the knowledge about swimming, the reader will be misled or may even be unable to understand what is expressed in the book and the proper techniques needed to bounce and float in water.

While there is no agreed upon standard definition of what constitutes knowledge, knowledge can be conveniently classified into two broad categories; the ‘silent’ or tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge, one that can be deliberately shared, documented and communicated. Polanyi (1962) distinction between tacit and explicit is perhaps the most highly recognized. This distinction, which is described in Table 1, has major implications for virtual communities.

Table 1.
Comparative characteristics of tacit and explicit knowledge (Daniel, Schiwer and McCalla, 2003)
    Tacit Knowledge    Explicit Knowledge
    Drawn from experience and is the most powerful form of knowledge    Can be articulated formally as pictures, models and documents
    Difficult to articulate formally    Can become obsolete quickly - has a lag
    Difficult to communicate and share    Can be duplicated and transmitted easily
    Includes insights, feelings, culture and values    Can be processed and stored by automated means
    Hard to steal or copy    Can be shared, copied and imitated easily
    Shared only when individuals are willing to engage in social interaction    Easy to duplicate and transferable

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