Expanding the Academic Research Community: Building Bridges into Society with the Internet

Below the slides of the honors lecture I just gave at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The slides can be downloaded here.

The talk is based on a book chapter with the same title that will be published by Monash University Publishing in the fall.  A preprint of this chapter can be downloaded here. Thanks to the students for all your great questions. If there’s any more, feel free to post them here as comments.

Research Communities 2.0

Deze presentatie laat zien hoe research communities door goed gebruik te maken van Internet het academisch onderzoeksproces kunnen helpen hervormen. Ik heb deze gegeven in het kader van de Masterclass Research Support die het Avans Leer- en Innovatiecentrum op 20 juni jl. heeft georganiseerd. De presentatie is gebaseerd op een hoofdstuk voor een boek (“Expanding the Academic Research Community: Building Bridges Into Society with the Internet”) wat binnenkort door Monash University Publishing gepubliceerd zal worden. Binnenkort zal ik dit hoofdstuk via deze blog beschikbaar stellen. Ook zal ik op 29 augustus een bewerkte versie van de presentatie geven als Honors Lecture op de University of Alabama in Huntsville.

[NB This presentation is in Dutch. An English version will be presented as an Honors Lecture at the University of Alabama in Huntsville on August 29 and made available through this blog afterwards]

“It’s the Conversation, Stupid!” – Social media systems design for open innovation communities

On November 5, the Swedish Open Innovation Forum organized a “Managing Open Innovation Technologies” workshop at Uppsala University, to present and discuss state-of-the-art research insights into open innovation & social media and for authors working on an anthology on this topic to get feedback on their draft chapters. It was a very lively meeting, generating lots of ideas for new research. Concluding, it was clear there’s still a very long way to go for social media to realize their full potential in this domain.

At the workshop, I gave a keynote on social media systems design for open innovation communities:

After that, my good friend and co-author Mark Aakhus (Rutgers University, USA), reflected upon what I said.  Mark wasn’t physically present, but participated from his study at his home in New Jersey, 6000 km away. Of course, I have been in many videoconferencing sessions, but normally these are cumbersome events, requiring lots of high tech, special rooms, microphones, cameras and what not. However, this time none of this was needed. All we used was a Mac and Skype. As Mark was presenting, he was displayed larger-than-life on the main screen using the projector:

Mark Aakhus presenting

Reception was crystal clear, he could hear everything being said, even in the back of the room. Things really got weird after he was finished.  The laptop was left on the table, and Mark’s image removed from the screen when other people used it to present their Powerpoints. However, once in a while, suddenly, the laptop started speaking, as Mark commented on something being said. The funny thing was that we all quickly got used to that situation, looking at and talking to a laptop as if it were a human being. Still, sometimes, Mark/the laptop would suddenly make a sound, and the whole flow of the conversation was disrupted, nobody quite sure what to make of it. A very strange and powerful experience of, literally, “extreme computer-mediated communication”!

Using Collaboration Patterns for Contextualizing Roles in Community Systems Design

On October 28, I presented my paper “Using Collaboration Patterns for Contextualizing Roles in Community Systems Design” at the Community Informatics Research Network  2010 Conference (CIRN 2010) in Prato, Italy. Here are the abstract of and link to the paper, as well as the presentation.


Activation of collaborative communities is hampered by the communicative fragmentation that is at least partially caused by their distributed tool systems. We examine the role of domain, conversation, and functionality roles in modelling community activation. We show how collaboration patterns can be used to design appropriate socio-technical solutions.  These patterns contextualize the various types of roles by linking them to the (1) relevant usage context (2) communicative workflow stages and (3) functionality components across the tool system.


What’s up with the Pragmatic Web?

On September 1, I was a member of the Pragmatic Web track panel of the I-SEMANTICS 2010 conference in Graz, Austria, after having given the keynote earlier that day. The Pragmatic Web is a newly emerging field,  still in the process of being defined. Its main focus is not Web technology per se, but the contexts and communities in which these resources are developed and used to accomplish goals, develop mutual understanding, and create and realize commitments. For background see the Pragmatic Web community site, and my blog posts Patterns for the Pragmatic Web and The Growth of the Pragmatic Web.

The Pragmatic Web should not be seen as separate from, but instead as building on and feeding into the Semantic Web, which concentrates on knowledge representation and reasoning approaches. One can try to formally represent “everything necessary” in a context but (1) this overformalization often kills the necessary human interpretation of any situated context and (2) still does not answer what relevant context factors are. Mainstream Semantic Web research does not deal with the subtleties of communities, goal setting and negotiation, human interaction, and myriad other context factors. For this, you need research perspectives different from those provided by the Semantic Web field itself.  Of course, there is no precise dichotomy between the Semantic and the Pragmatic Web, instead there is a grey zone between the two fields, like the “Social Semantic Web”.

In the panel, we discussed the status and future of the Pragmatic Web. Other panel members included Alexandre Passant (DERI),  Hans Weigand (Tilburg University), and Adrian Paschke (Freie Universität Berlin).

Alexandre covered the budding field of the Social Semantic Web, which examines how social interactions on the Web lead to the creation of explicit and semantically rich knowledge representations. Hans discussed another  research area that is a major contributor to the Pragmatic Web, the Language/Action Perspective, as is its sibling Organisational Semiotics. Adrian focused on the Corporate Semantic Web, and the Pragmatic Agent Web, which represent some of the more applied research areas.

My own presentation was about what’s up with the Pragmatic Web as an area of research. I placed it in the Web 3.0 era we are entering, covered some of its fundamental questions and theories, and presented a socio-technical conversation context perspective that can be used to organize and position Pragmatic Web research (the framework is further explained in the paper and presentation of my invited talk.) I showed how the number of research publications addressing or referring to the Pragmatic Web is growing rapidly (with a small dip in last year’s number of publications). The high turnout at the panel discussion, especially given the competition of many high-quality parallel tracks, should also be a sign of the growing interest in the field. Finally, I positioned some contributing and related research fields shaping and being influenced by the Pragmatic Web. Core contributing fields in my view are Community Informatics, the Language/Action Perspective, Organisational Semiotics, Web 2.0/social media and the Semantic Web. See slide 7 of:

The discussion following the presentation, as well as many personal responses later, indicate that the Pragmatic Web as an area of research seems to be viable. One criticism is that much of the research is still very conceptual and needs to materialize much more into concrete applications and projects. This criticism is justified, but can be partially explained by the early stage the field is in and the still small number of researchers and organizations involved. However, there is also a more fundamental reason for this lack of applications: the Pragmatic Web studies context, and context by its very nature is extremely wide in scope and is always context of something else. Still, by fruitfully cooperating with more technology-driven and application-oriented R&D areas like the Social Semantic Web and Web 2.0, fundamental research insights about relevant contexts generated by the Pragmatic Web community should descend into the real world and become much more visible  in the years to come.

Conversations in Context: A Twitter Case for Social Media Systems Design

On September 1, I gave the invited talk for the 5th AIS SIGPrag International Pragmatic Web Conference Track of the I-SEMANTICS 2010 conference in Graz, Austria. Here are the abstract of and link to the paper, as well as the presentation.


Conversations are the lifeblood of collaborative communities. Social media like microblogging tool Twitter have great potential for supporting these conversations. However, just studying the role of these media from a tool perspective is not sufficient. To fully unlock their power, they need to examined from a sociotechnical perspective. We introduce a socio-technical context framework which can be used to analyze the role of systems of tools supporting goal-oriented conversations. Central to this framework is the communicative workflow loop, which is grounded in the Language/Action Perspective. We show how socio-technical conversation contexts can be used to match the communicative requirements of collaborative communities with enabling tool functionalities. This social media systems design process is illustrated with a case on Twitter.


Collaboration Patterns as Building Blocks for Community Informatics

From 4-6 November 2009, the 6th CIRN Community Informatics Conference was held in Prato, Italy. As in previous years, the conference brought together an interesting mix of researchers and practitioners from North and South, discussing ways to effectively use information and communication technologies to foster community building. This year’s theme was “Empowering Communities: Learning from Community Informatics Practice”.

I gave a keynote address at the conference. Title of my talk and the accompanying paper was “Collaboration Patters as Building Blocks for Community Informatics”. Below the slides of the presentation and the abstract of the paper.


Community Informatics is a wide-ranging field of inquiry and practice, with many paradigms, disciplines, and perspectives intersecting. Community informatics research and practice build on several methodological pillars: contexts/values, cases, process/methodology, and systems. Socio-technical patterns and pattern languages are the glue that help connect these pillars. Patterns define relatively stable solutions to recurring problems at the right level of abstraction, which means that they are concrete enough to be useful, while also sufficiently abstract to be reusable. The goal of this paper is to outline a practical approach to improve CI research and practice through collaboration patterns. This approach should help to strengthen the analysis, design, implementation, and evaluation of socio-technical community systems. The methodology is illustrated with examples from the ESSENCE (E-Science/Sensemaking/Climate Change) community.