Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Elisabeth Sylvan: the Sharing of Wonderful Ideas

Dr Elisabeth Sylvan

Today I attended the thesis defense of my friend Elisabeth Sylvan, now Dr Elisabeth Sylvan, from the Lifelong Kindergarten research group at the MIT Media Laboratory. Her dissertation is entitled the Sharing of Wonderful Ideas: Influence and Interaction in Online Communities of Creators.

At her dissertation committee: Mitchel Resnick, Alex P. Pentland and Peter Gloor

This thesis presents a new framework for understanding how communities of creators share work, influence one another's creative processes, and learn from one another. I introduce the concept of Online Communities of Creators (OCOCs), which are online communities where the core activity is sharing personal creations. Using a mixed-methods approach of ethnography and social network analysis, I study two specific OCOCs: the Computer Clubhouse Village and the Scratch online community.

I analyze how ideas spread through OCOCs using the framework for diffusion of innovation developed by Everett Rogers. I map specific behaviors in OCOCs to Roger's five stages of adoption of innovation: awareness, interest, evaluation, trial and adoption. Within OCOCs each of these stages represent deepening understanding of other community members' work. The last two stages can be seen as members learning from each other. I report on how different social and project-related activities support the communities. I analyze which community members and which projects are most commonly in the trial and adoption stages. Finally I describe what creator and project factors predict influence in OCOCs.

Even though developed for two specific communities, her framework could be re-applied to the understanding of the sharing of creations within another community. It would be interesting to research on the mechanism of creation through blogs, or social communities.

Throughout her research, she analyzes the forms of participation, the mechanism of adoption of ideas and how ideas spread within the community, and finds ways to predict influence. For instance, prediction for download of user's projects happens:
1st- when the project is featured by administrator of the community
2nd- when the creator of the project has many projects already
3rd- when the creator of the project comments on projects
4th- when the creator of the project has uploaded projects recently
5th- when the creator of the project has friends, etc...

By observing a specific community, she studies how the learning happens socially.
Community members spontaneously filled in surveys that her software uses as data to generate a network visualization. She noticed that community members were developing popularity and skills that went beyond the community itself and could motivate users to later do something on the internet.

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