The Governance of Online Creation Communities for the Building of Digital Commons

* Working paper: Fuster Morell, M. (2013). Governance of Online Creation Communities for the Building of Digital Commons: Viewed through the framework of the institutional analysis and development. Madison, M. J., Strandburg, K., & Frischmann, B. Convening Cultural Commons. Oxford University Press. (Forthcoming)

From the Abstract:

Mayo Fuster

“This chapter addresses the governance of a specific type of constructed common-pool resource, online creation communities (OCCs).OCCs are communities of individuals that mainly interact via a platform of online participation, with the goal of building and sharing a common-pool resource resulting from collaboratively systematizing and integrating dispersed information and knowledge resources. Previous research of the governance of OCCs has been based on analyzing specific aspects of the governance. However, there has been a gap in the literature, one of lacking a comprehensive and holistic view of what governance means in collective action online. This chapter provides a set of dimensions that define the governance of OCCs. Particularly, most previous work did not consider infrastructure provision in their analysis. This chapter challenges previous literature by questioning the neutrality of infrastructure for collective action. The governance of OCCs is here analyzed through the institutional analysis and development (IAD) framework, building on Madison, Frischmann & Strandburg’s (2010) adaptation of this framework to constructing commons in the cultural environment. References to Schweik and English’s adaptation of IAD to free and open source communities will also be made. The empirical data are drawn from a statistical analysis of 50 cases and four case studies on OCCs (Wikipedia, Flickr, Wikihow& Openesf). The empirical analysis results in a set of models of OCCs governance. The conclusions provide an assessment of the utility of IAD in the analysis of OCCs, and Madison, Frischmann & Strandburg’s adaptation. Additionally, it ends by addressing the defining characteristics of digital commons.”

Mayo Fuster Morell writes:

“One of the more lively debates in contemporary organizational research concerns how the coordination and governance of distributed knowledge in globally dispersed settings – such as the case of OCCs – takes place, and how it can be accounted for. Unlike other types of online communities, OCCs must integrate individual contributions into a common pool, which can heighten interdependencies and the need for coordination and governance. Yet little is known about how OCCs which organize around production govern themselves.

The scant empirical research on OCCs governance is mainly concentrated on the case of Free and Open Software Projects (FLOSS), and more recently on Wikipedia.

These analyses focus on the community, particularly in terms of policy­making in the community, its decentralized character, and forms of conflict resolution. The nature of authority has also been analyzed, together with studies on modes of selection of administrators, their roles, (Burke and Kraut 2008) and leadership. Fuster Morell (2010) considered the institutional frame or, more specifically, the role of the Wikimedia Foundation as platform provider. Although the number of articles on community governance has increased, their range of topics remains limited. Previous research has mostly focused on analyzing the polic-y­making processes developed by the participants to govern their interaction. However, there was a gap in the literature, lacking a comprehensive and holistic view of what governance means in collective action online.

This chapter aims to move beyond the analysis of specific aspects of the governance of OCCs, to provide a comprehensive understanding of the diverse aspects that drive governance of OCCs. This chapter provides a set of dimensions that define the governance of OCCs. In particular, most previous work did not consider infrastructure provision in their analysis. In this regard, the chapter challenges previous literature by questioning the neutrality of infrastructure for collective action.”

* Resource characteristics of OCCs

“The pooled resources in OCCs are not given resources that need to be “preserved” as in natural commons­pool resources. Rather, they are resources that need to be built. OCCs, indeed, arise from the collective goal of building a specific resource. The building process is characterized by the pooling of dispersed information and cognitive capacities in evolving bodies of shared knowledge. The resource tends to be conceived of as a permanent work in progress, and in most of the cases, without a specific moment of definitive conclusion.

The OCCs are immaterial in nature, consisting of information and knowledge. As public goods, they are non­rivalrous and non­excludable. Madison, Frischmann, and Strandburg (2010) classify constructed commons goals as existing in a milieu of Intellectual Property (IP) 6Fuster Morell, M. Governance of online creation communities for the building of digital commons: Viewed through the framework of the institutional analysis and development. Working paper (Nov 2013). Madison, M. J., Strandburg, K., & Frischmann, B. Convening Cultural Commons. Oxford University Press. (Forthcoming) rights, that is existing only because of the IP rights, or mediating among communities with different default norms. Most OCCs, including the four case studies considered here, fall into the first category, as they exist as part of IP rights.

According to Madison, Frischmann, and Strandburg (2010) cultural commons are diverse in terms of the level at which their pooled resources are most easily identifiable or recognized. OCCs form a case where pooled resources are easily identifiable – an archive that gathers and coherently systematizes the contributions. Indeed, the construction of an integrated and identifiable piece of knowledge is what distinguishes OCCs from other online communities such as networking sites or communities of support or shared interest.

An encyclopedia is the main common resource in the case of Wikipedia, a picture repository in the case of Flickr, how to manuals in the case of Wikihow, and organizational information linked to a forum in the case of Openesf. However, beyond their principal resources, all the cases agglutinate other secondary “pooled resources” which deepen one another. For example, Wikipedia is not only an encyclopedia, but also hosts a repository of audio­visual sources as a commons. Additionally, even if the knowledge resource is the central goal around which OCCs interact, OCCs also depend on an infrastructure to support interaction, and so an infrastructure architecture also results from the process. However, this is considered in deep, “infrastructure,”, meaning something that sustains the main goal, but is not itself the central goal of the process. Schweik and English (2012) have previously attempted to apply IAD to OCCs in the specific case of FLOSS. Regarding resources characteristics, our approaches differ in two ways to Schweik and English. On the one hand, Schweik and English do not specify the type of resource. However, when analyzing diverse OCCs as is the case in this chapter, specifying the type of resource is appropriate. On the other hand, Schweik and English present as resources characteristics aspects, such as the participation platform design, that are integrated as part of governance, not as resources characteristics, in the present work.”

* Community attributes of OCCs

It was pointed out above that pooled resources in OCCs are easily identifiable but that the same cannot be said of their communities. In terms of communities of constituents, OCCs are complex. OCCs are open to participation, and it is difficult to identify their boundaries. For none of the four case studies or in the sample of fifty cases of OCCs looked at herein, were clear boundaries or membership established. The communities of OCCs may include any person potentially willing to contribute to the common­-pool resource or to use it.

Community size OCCs are generally open to participation, but such openness does not necessarily result in actual participation. The size of the community of participants depends substantially on the goal of each OCC, ranging from more broad to more restricted sets of interests. One rightly expects that an encyclopedia attracts more participants than a site organized around visualization techniques.

In terms of the participation in the four case studies, Wikipedia achieves a high level of participation. Almost 18 million registered users were part of Wikipedia in November 2012. Flickr also draws a large amount of participation. In 2007, one estimate put the Flickr community at 7.7 million users. (Negoescu and Gatica­Perez 2008) Wikihow has substantially fewer participants. As of April 2010, the number of registered Wikihow participants was around 213,204. The levels of participation at are low, with less than 1200 people registered at their highest point.

* Voluntary engagement

Participants in OCCs are volunteers. They do not have a contractual labor relationship with the community, even if some participants may make their contributions as part of their work outside the community. All four cases share this characteristic of voluntary participation. Notably, however, professional photographers who use Flickr as part of their work form a significant part of the Flickr population. (Burgess 2007)

As a consequence of the voluntary character of OCCs, each participant assumes the costs of participation. The participants are able to contribute according to their own resources of time, skills or money. According to the civic voluntarism model, (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995) resources are a key factor in understanding why some people participate whereas others do not. Resource-­rich participants with free time, connectivity, skills and money can contribute more easily than those without such resources. And so the resource­rich tend to be disproportionately represented among participants. However, a lack of resources may not be the only explanatory variable behind non­participation. Even people with the necessary resources may decide not to participate for a variety of reasons such as questions of identity or personality. People who identify themselves as creative, for example, and/or are more used to public exposure may be more likely to participate. This is the case for younger generations. According to Preece, Nonnecke and Andrews (2004), other reasons why people do not participate in OCCs are as follows: thinking that they were being helpful by not posting; wanting to learn more about the community before diving in; not being able to use the software because of poor usability; not liking the dynamics that they observed within the group; or feeling represented in what was said by other participants.

* Community heterogeneity

Several authors have pointed out that OCCs are very diverse in terms of the motivations and interest that drive their participation. (e.g., Benkler 2006; Weber 2004) However, Schweik and English (2012) point out that their surveys of participants in FLOSS show a high level of homogeneity in terms of social composition, in concrete, in terms of gender (predominantly male), age (predominantly young) and geographical origin (predominantly Europe and USA). Our own analysis of gender distribution at also shows that the predominance of male participation was also repeated in the case of, where 36% of active participants are women according to their name or/and presentation in their user page. In the case of Wikipedia, previous research has concluded that women accounted for around 12% of the editor community. (Glott, Schmidt, and Ghosh 2009) According to Wikihow Inc, the Wikihow community has a higher women’s participation rate of around 40%. (Interview, Wikihow founder, 2008)

* External relationships

Madison, Frischmann, and Strandburg (2010) suggest, with respect to community attributes, analyzing external relationships of community and common­pool resources regarding markets, industries or firms. For the specific case of FLOSS, several studies have pointed out how corporations and foundations engage with the common­pool resource, which Schweik and English (2012, 15) refer to with the label “open­source ecosystem”. The external relationships of OCCs may explain their capacity to mobilize participation. However, research in this area is very limited, and there is not a unique pattern of interaction with markets, industries or firms. In the cases presented here we can observe the development of “net districts” similar to an industrial district. OCCs that are part of a “net district” and cooperate with each other. This is the case of Wikipedia and Wikihow that adopt the same license or protocols to facilitate the flow of content and participation between their platforms.”

* Rules ­in ­use or governance of OCCs

Ostrom (2005: 3) defines institutions (referred to herein as bodies with governance or rules­in­use) as “the prescriptions that humans use to organize all forms of repetitive and structured interactions.” Institutions raise and channel interaction among participants. They provide direction, control and coordination of the collective action. Institutions are set by social norms and formalized rules, together with the forms in which those rules are created and enforced. (Ostrom 2005)

The governance, or the direction, control and coordination of a process, is embedded or operates though aspects or points/sources of power. According to the analysis reported here, there are eight main aspects that are in a complex juxtaposition or interaction which determine and drive governance in OCCs. The eight dimensions (that operate at the different operational, collective choice and constitutional levels) that give OCCs direction, control and coordination are:

i) Collective mission or goal of the process.

ii) Cultural principles/Social norms.

iii) Design of the platform of participation (where regulation is embedded in the code).

iv) Self­management of contributions: autonomous condition of participants in allocating their contribution to the building process.

v) Formal rules or policies applied to community interaction.

vi) License.

vii)Decision­making and conflict resolution systems with regard to community interaction.

viii) Infrastructure provision.

The eight dimensions are interrelated rather than narrowly discrete. Additionally, governance is not “static”, but dynamic and might evolve over time. It might not be linear in its evolution, with “incoherent” moves in the diverse aspects on occasion.

Governance is very much shaped on the basis of how and who decides and manages these dimensions. Each of the dimensions might be managed in a more open to participation or inclusive way or not. They may encourage involvement or consideration of the views and interests of the participants as individuals and/or community as a whole. Or they may be contrasted by the infrastructure provider. Another important dimension is whether it is more decentralized / fragmented / ad hoc or more centralized and established.

Some of these aspects are similarly present in other forms of collective action, while others are specific to the OCCs. This might be connected to the background environment within which OCCs operate, particularly the functioning of the digital environment. OCCs take place in an environment that shapes them in terms of technical and legal constraints. The emerging governance of OCCs in this environment cannot be qualified as simple. Indeed it is a highly complex system.”

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