Designing Online Communities

Course Number: 
05-810
Semester and Units: 
Intermittent: 12 units
Course Description: 

Home Overview Online groups and communities are increasingly important in the ways we work, play, learn, conduct commerce, organize politically, and receive social support. To be successful online communities must overcome challenges common to off-line groups: e.g., recruiting and socializing new members, developing members’ commitment, eliciting contributions, regulating behavior and coordinating work. Online communities are socio-technical systems. As such, their success depends on social engineering – how the technology and rules that constrain participants’ behavior match “human nature,” i.e., the principles that describe the way people normally behave. This research-oriented seminar is intended to help students analyze communities, to understand what makes them succeed or fail, with an eye toward designing and improving them. For computer scientists and designers the course will introduce relevant theory and empirical research on small groups and organizations, which should underlie design decision. For behavioral and social science students, it will introduce online communities as platforms to test and extend theory in groups and organizations. The course will cover such types of communities as open-source software development projects, Wikipedia, health support groups, and massively multi-player games. It will deal with such conceptual issues as the basis of commitment to groups, free riding and other motivational problems, communication, coordination, control and recruitment, socialization and retention. Students will read recent research papers focusing on online communities and relevant empirical studies and theory describing behavior in groups and organizations more generally. Students will plan and execute a relevant research project, either individually or in small groups.