Submitted by Pei Wei, Arjana, and Leah
Using the context of the Internet based upon the article “The Web is a Customer Service Medium” by Paul Ford, could the Internet be considered a community according to the writings of Wenger? Are there elements from Wenger’s Part 1 which speaks to this idea?
According to Wenger, community has three dimensions of practice: mutual engagement, a joint enterprise, and a shared repertoire. Do components of the Internet, or web as Ford calls it, have these three dimensions and could it be considered a community of practice?
Mutual engagement, simply stated on pg. 73, is people engaged in actions whose meanings they negotiate with one another. In the web example, it would be people actively engaged in a website in which together they are both engaged and negotiating meanings through online meetings. This interaction between users could occur in a variety of ways, eg. interacting synchronously or asynchronously, creating a shared and participating website of knowledge (Wikipedia), providing a website where questions on any topics are asked and answered or problems and solutions are posted, with the most popular answers compiled and even an area for people to upload music in which others can comment (Ask MetaFilter), or developing a website which members determine the “best of the web” by requesting members to not only post unique weblogs, but participate in discussion around them (MetaFilter). According to Ford, humans have a need to be consulted, as seen by these various sites such as Wikipedia, Yelp and many more. These web examples illustrate how many of the sites do create a platform in which mutual engagement, as described by Wenger, is occurring through members of the community participating and contributing to knowledge development.
Another element of community, according to Wenger, is the negotiation of a joint enterprise. A joint enterprise is the result of a collective process of negotiation that reflects mutual engagement and is defined by the participants in the very process of pursuing it (p. 77). This engagement creates behaviors of mutual accountability, that is communally negotiated, that become an integral part of the practice. A good example of this element is Ford’s description of Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange, a question and answer site for professional and enthusiast programmers. This site allows anyone to ask a question, anyone can answer, and the best answers are voted to the top. This is a good example of a joint enterprise, where the passionate users are negotiating the meaning of answers to programming questions. The goal of this web site is not in creating a chatting environment, but in encouraging people to build a library of detailed answers to every questions about programming. In this example, mutual accountability in answering these questions and getting best answers is a product of joint enterprise. Like most websites, this participation relies on voluntary contributions of the users in the community. Wenger states on p. 81 that mutual accountability is an important aspect of joint enterprise and is important in developing shared values and standards. Depending upon the website and community of users, we would argue that the community could self regulate and develop a mutual accountability through the ongoing process of practices.
The last community element Wenger describes is the development of a shared repertoire. This shared repertoire includes routines, words, tools, ways of doing things that the community has produced or adopted in the course of its existence and which has become part of its practice. As described in the previous examples, on the surface level it would appear the websites described have their own sense of what is acceptable and what elements are expected in regards to contributions. If this is true, then once again, these websites that generate products could be considered communities of practice.
In conclusion, while this example of the Internet as a community of learners is very different than the example of the claims department Wenger described, there are many similarities which can be found between the two. However, either the Internet or claims processing can only be identified as a community but not a community of practices if any one of the components is missing. Undoubtedly, not all Internet websites can be identified as community of practices, only if these three components are in play to create a context that engages users to negotiate meaning among it’s members.