New Technology for Empowering Virtual Communities

New Technology for Empowering Virtual Communities

David Lebow, Dale Lick, Hope Hartman
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-014-1.ch144
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In an essay entitled, The Next Information Revolution, Peter Drucker (1997) compared the existing business environment to conditions in the sixteenth century within the emerging publishing industry. Up until the mid 1500s, the people who controlled the industry were skilled printer craftsmen. By the end of the century, a major shift had occurred as publishers replaced craftsmen as the industry leaders. What had happened, according to Drucker, was that the focus shifted from the “T” in IT to the “I.” Drawing an analogy to the present, Drucker suggested that the current information revolution will have a transformational effect on society only when new technology realizes its potential impact on the meaning of information. This article describes a hybrid social software and hypermedia authoring system, referred to as HyLighter, which may fit Drucker’s definition of transformational technology. Social software (also referred to as social networking software) is a broad category of Internet applications for connecting individuals and forming virtual communities using various forms of computer- mediated communication. Hypermedia refers to a computer environment in which multiple linkages enable users to navigate from one segment of audio, video, graphic, or textual data to another segment. Hy- Lighter builds on the affordances of these and related technologies to extend the capacity of the document as a medium for the social construction of meaning. In the process, HyLighter aims to improve individual and group performance in a wide range of domains and interdisciplinary problem areas, improve the quality of instruction, and develop proficient learners (i.e., strategic, self-regulated learners who know how, when, and where to apply appropriate learning activities across various content areas) (Hartman, 2001). This article also describes an advanced adaptation of HyLighter, referred to as Coalesce, which is currently under development. When fully realized, Coalesce will help users merge ideas together from many sources into a unified whole that expresses a new perspective. The process identifies important ideas in multiple texts and exposes a range of views on selected points among a group of users. It also coordinates group activities in organizing and elaborating on the ideas of authors and readers toward achieving a cohesive, meaningful whole. In sum, HyLighter emphasizes responding to a document and social analysis whereas Coalese empasizes the social construction of a new document through social analysis and synthesis. Such new and emerging technologies supports a type of knowledge-building process aimed at empowering virtual communities engaged in knowledge intensive enterprises in a world awash with information.
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Overview Of Social Annotation Practices

During the Middle Ages, scholars used the margins and spaces between lines of manuscripts to engage in dialogue with other readers. The same physical copy of a manuscript was passed around a community, and selected annotations were customarily retained when scribes made new copies (Wahlstrom & Scruton, 1997). With the arrival of the printing press and movable type in the fifteenth century, the printed word became the primary means for the spread of ideas and ideologies. As Gutenberg’s invention revolutionized the spread of information, shared or social annotation practices largely faded away. The role of reader as co-author and member of a community engaged in a collaborative search for meaning generally changed to a largely private activity. At the same time, annotation practices became more personal, idiosyncratic, and ubiquitous, as demonstrated by Marshall’s (1998) analysis of used textbooks from a college bookstore.

With the arrival of the computer and networking technologies, the storehouse of human knowledge began to expand rapidly and move from largely printed matter toward largely text-based digital archives (e.g., Google Print, 2004), and increasingly toward multimedia digital archives (e.g., Artstor, 2004). At the same time, social annotation practices re-emerged as various forms of social annotation systems spread across the digital landscape. Today, a wide variety of tools and systems exist that allow users to annotate Web-based or other data via the Web or other Internet protocol for various purposes (e.g., the product review feature in and the seller rating feature in ebay are, essentially, annotation tools).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Collective Intelligence: A richly diverse area of study and practice with many uses appearing in the literature. In the current context, collective intelligence refers to the capability of a group to share thought processes and synthesize collective output in ways that amplify and improve outcomes.

Epistemic Cultures: Are “those amalgams of arrangements and mechanisms…which, in a given field, make up how we know what we know” (Cetina, 1999, p.1).

Interdisciplinarity: Has many definitions and related concepts and meanings (e.g., multidisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity). In this context, interdisciplinarity is defined as a problem-based approach in which knowledge and methods from more than one discipline are applied as needed to solve a complex problem.

Virtual Communities: Are groups of people who share common interests, ideas, and feelings, and whose members are connected by means of information technologies, typically the Internet. Similar terms include online community and mediated community.

Hypermedia: Refers to a computer environment in which multiple linkages enable users to navigate from one segment of audio, video, graphic, or textual data to another, related segment of data.

Social Annotation: Online-annotation (i.e., metadata or data about data) associated with a Web resource, typically Web pages, and shared by a group. The annotations can be thought of as a layer on top of the existing resource which is added after the creation or capture of the original object and, generally leaves the original object unchanged.

Online Annotation Systems: Enable users to add metadata (i.e., data or information about information) to a Web resource or other online resource without actually modifying the resource itself. Many different online annotation systems exist across the Web for a wide range of purposes.

Social Software: (also referred to as social networking software) is a broad category of Internet applications for connecting individuals and forming virtual communities using various forms of computer-mediated communication.

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