Openness as an Asset. A Classification System for Online Communities Based on Actor-Network Theory

Track: Open Collaboration Track
Authors: Annalisa Pelizza

There exists a lack of consensus among scholars about the definition and categorization of technology-mediated communities. If these divergences hamper the possibility to devise a unique definition of online communities, some principia divisionis can nonetheless be found, in order to handle heterogeneity.

Drawing upon case studies selected from Ars Electronica’s Digital Communities competition, this paper analyses the limits of the categorization variables traditionally used to classify online communities, and proposes a new classification system made of two variables measuring the “openness” of the community. The first variable enacts Actor-Network Theory’s distinction between mediators and intermediaries, while the second considers the degree of openness of the regimes of access and visibility enabled by groupware architectures.

On-field evaluation of this classification system shows three
advantages: since it is based on the abstract criterion “openness”, it does not arbitrarily reduce the richness of the techno-social world, but rather allows researchers to cluster few types of online community. In addition, it is of some merit in tracking innovation in techno-social assemblages.