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2.5 How community relates to "work"

Connections between the notion of community and the notion of work are not always clear-cut. The literature on situated learning and communities of practice provides something of a bridge. If one accepts that part of work involves participation in a community of practice and one accepts a rather broad definition of work, then it seems possible to think of the role of Everything2 and Perlmonks in supporting work by establishing a learning community.

Successful network communities provide both technical mechanisms and social practices that allow for learning (Mynatt etc, 1997). Learning is recognized as a social phenomenon constituted in the experienced, live-in world, through legitimate peripheral participation in ongoing social practice; the process of changing knowledgeable skill is subsumed in processes of changing identity in and through membership in a community of practitioners; and mastery is an organizational, relational characteristic of communities of practice (Lave 1998) . Although the community participation is declining in recent decades of years (Putnam, 1996), the widespread Internet connection seems to connect the society in a new way, which people can participate in broader virtual communities of interests and overcome the time and geographical constraints. The virtual communities such as BBS, mailing groups and MUDs offer people opportunities to learn new skills, gain experience and obtain insights from it. Everything2 and Perlmonks are designed for supporting such a role. With both technical and social sustainability, both sites offer newcomers opportunities to learn and practice. In Perlmonks, users from all over the world post questions and discuss problems while they are learning the Perl programming language. In the words of the users, gathered from survey responses:

"I learned perl a lot faster than I would have on my own. And I've met other people with interests similar to mine who don't get bored when I want to talk about programming."

"My skill in Perl is greatly increased by having my material reviewed. I also have a sense of community by helping others."

"I cited submissions to Perlmonks during a recent job interview which helped me get the job."

"By replying to things I feel I am learning more about Perl. Sometimes I read questions and challenge myself to find the answer."

Everything2 offers writers an ideal place to organize ideas and thoughts, where they can benefit from quick feedback, comments or critiques. Users read to learn more information and insights about life. They make friends and learn things beyond the scope of their work and families. In the words of the users, taken from their survey responses:

"E2 has awakened a writing gift. I used to write a lot and submit to print media, but only got rejection. Now I can submit and get immediate feedback. This has strengthened my gift, and I now find myself writing publishable material (which is not put on E2) a great deal more."

"I've certainly improved my writing ability. And I've met some new people. I have learnt some information of varying practical value, and also an immeasurable amount about how an online "community" can function successfully. The Everything technology is a powerful enabler. I look forward to seeing new uses that canny people put it to."

"A place where I can learn or research information. More importantly, a place where I can contribute to such a project." "I'm constantly learning things, and I'm able to connect with so many other people in the deeply personal way that the pseudo-anonymity of text provides. A sense of companionship and of community. Fun. A pleasing sense of mutual ownership since I became an editor - maybe no one knows what e2 is for, but it's ours, damnit."

In addition to learning, there is some evidence that community can help foster work processes. As mentioned above, a crucial aspect of communities is the emotional involvement of community members. Moore et al found that group affiliation and emotional involvement enabled people to more smoothly coordinate distance communication over a network.

Barker et al argue persuasively that it is important to study group work in a relational context. They go on to claim that often minorities and women are not represented in typical research on small groups. Some of the propositions of this article would indicate that work not only is affected by emotional content, but is largely influenced by affect.

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