Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Digital Habitats (Part 8)

This is a cross-post from my blog on the military Social Media tool milBook.

This is the eighth and last  post in a series based on the book Digital Habitats: stewarding technology for communities (CPsquare Publishing, © 2009) by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John D. Smith. This post will cover Chapters 10,11, and 12 of the text.

Chapter 10 of the book is a series of checklists and other resources designed to help a tech steward put some of the other concepts of the text into action. They are worth reviewing and using as appropriate.

Chapter 11 covers emerging trends in technology stewardship and how these trends may affect the intersection of community and technology in the digital habitats of the future. The roles in the community are blurring and the process is accelerating.

The authors explain these trends in terms of the three polarities that were defined earlier in the text and a previous post. They go on to add a fourth dimension that spans all of these polarities. Here is a brief overview of these reconfigured polarities:

1. Increased connectivity across time and space (Polarity: Dynamic fluidity of togetherness and separation)
- Ubiquitous connectivity: The progression here has been from intermittent connections using modems to the current "always on" wireless and mobile technologies.
- Virtual presence: We have gone from purely text-based interaction to virtual presence, multimedia on demand, and avatar-based environments.

2. New modes of engagement (Polarity: Reweaving participation and Reification)
- Generalized self-expression: This manifests itself through the Web 2.0 technologies that enable users to publish content rapidly and easily using blogs and "personal space" sites.
- Mass collaboration: Examples of this are wikis, tagging, social networking sites, publicly shared, interactive storage spaces.
- Creative reappropriation: This is an emerging practice where remixes, social bookmarking and personalized lists, and mashups create content from existing content.

3. Changing geographies of communities (Polarity: Dynamic group formation and multimembership)
- Homesteading on the web: The proliferation of sites, tools, and links coupled with the multiplicity of places for any topic form emergent patterns of meaning and interrelatedness.
- Dynamic boundaries: These are boundaries that are defined by activities and their traces, including the tools that rank locations and direct traffic.
- Individualization of access: RSS, personalized aggregation, customized search, and personalized access to sites allow users to individualize their online experience.

4. Toward a socially active medium (Polarity: Ability to find each other and to see the social fabric)
- Social Computing: This is the phenomenon that includes social relations and interactions as data, "folksonomies" and tagging, networking services, distributed decision making processes, reputation computing, and socially directed search all have a role.
- Semantic web: Meaning-based representation, intelligent agents, and new-generation search is changing online interaction in fundamental ways.
- Digital footprint: All this comes together to create a trail of web activities that become an expression of an online identity.

These reconfigured polarities present the tech steward a variety of challenges and opportunities, including overwhelming volume, falling into groupthink, vulnerable systems, and stretching our relationships. All must be considered as digital habitats move into the future.

Chapter 12 is also oriented to the future in that it proposes a learning agenda for technology stewardship that is an invitation to explore three areas where technology stewardship will matter:

- Serving existing communities: This includes the concepts of connectivity and proximity, shifting boundaries and peripherality, new modes of engagement, creative reappropriation and community voice, transparency in a socially active medium, and dealing with multiplicity.

- Making new communities possible: Digital habitats have the potential to enable the formation of new groups and communities. They do this by allowing people to find each other on a wider scale (size and meaningful engagement), being catalysts for communities, allowing access to living practice through virtual presence, creating complex geographies of identity and domain-based relationships, and seeing the social in the technological.

- Stretching our very notion of community: The interaction of community and technology affects both to the point of challenging our assumptions about them. The evolution of Proto-communities (emerging patterns of communities and networks) is an excellent example of this. Also, the emerging practices of stewardship that allows for balancing network and community processes is important. Finally learning between the old and the new will keep everything in perspective.

The text goes into more detail on each of these concepts.  

Supporting all of this is a literacy of technology stewardship that includes a strong understanding of the concepts of technology configuration, community polarities, and community orientations that have been covered in previous posts.  In fact, technology stewardship is on its way to becoming a community of practice in its own right as it becomes more central to the learning experience of a growing number of communities. This practice of enabling learning with technology will become increasingly widespread and the stewardship of these digital habitats an important part of the success of the communities that inhabit these virtual spaces.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of posts on a very important book. Thanks again for reading, and I invite you to post comments and questions below.

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