Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What is the difference between a community and network?

Researchers who study how people learn and act in socio-cultural settings use the terms "community" and "network". While some researchers use the terms interchangeably, others aim to distinguish them.

Some definitions of "network":

  • Rogers (2003) suggested that networks are comprised of homophilous (strong) and heterophilous (weak) links. Homophilous links are where the exchange of ideas occurs most frequently while heterophilous links invigorate rapid diffusion of ideas.
  • Cardon and Granjon (2005) did a case study on young internet users in France. They identified three different types of networking, which they classified as specialisation, distribution, and polarisation.
  • Watts (2003) argued that networks were a type of contagion, which is driven by cascades and thresholds. A threshold can be described as the degree at which point an influence or action is triggered. A cascade occurs when others rapidly or concurrently adopt the said action. A cascade is usually the result of propagation, which the author refers to as the concept of percolation.

Some definitions of "community":

Wenger et al. define community (of practice) as “community” as "a learning partnership among people who find it useful to learn from and with each other about a particular domain". By "practice"  Brown  and  Duguid  mean “undertaking or engaging fully in a task, job, or profession” (Brown and Duguid 2001, p. 203) (also see Jones & Esnault, 2004).

Wenger et al. (2011) aim to distinguish communities and networks:
- "The network aspect refers to the set of relationships, personal interactions, and connections among participants who have personal reasons to connect. It is viewed as a set of nodes and links with affordances for learning, such as information flows, helpful linkages, joint problem solving, and knowledge creation.
-The community aspect refers to the development of a shared identity around a topic or set of challenges. It represents a collective intention - however tacit and distributed - to steward a domain of knowledge and to sustain learning about it." (p. 9).

Based on Wenger et al., I create the table below to compare networks and communities:
Communities (of practices) can be networks (and vice versa), but not necessarily.

>Brown, J.S., and Duguid, P. (2001) Knowledge and Organization: A Social-Practice Perspective. Organization Science. Vol 12 (2) pp198 - 213.
>Cardon, D., and Granjon, F. (2005) 'Social networks and cultural practices. A case study of young avid screen users in Frances' in Social Networks 27, 301- 315.

>Jones, C., & Esnault, L. (2004). The metaphor of networks in learning: Communities, collaboration, and practice. Networked Learning Conference 2004.
>Rogers, E. (2003) 'Diffusion networks' in Cross, Rob, Andrew Parker and Lisa Sasson (2003) Networks in the knowledge economy, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 130- 179.
>Watts, D. (2003) 'Thresholds, cascades and predictability' in Six degrees:the science of a connected age, New Yok and London: W. W. Norton, pp. 220- 252.

>Wenger, E., Trayner, B., & de Laat, M. (2011). Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: A conceptual framework. Ruud de Moor Centrum: Open Universiteit.

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