Knowledge Collaboration in Online Communities

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Authors: F. Samer, L.J.Sirkka, M. Ann

Publication Year: 2011


Journal: Organization Science

Volume: 22

Issue: 5

Categories: Information Management, Innovation, Technical Innovation


Online communities (OCs) are a virtual organizational form in which knowledge collaboration can occur in unparalleled scale and scope, in ways not heretofore theorized. For example, collaboration can occur among people not known to each other, who share different interests and without dialogue. An exploration of this organizational form can fundamentally change how we theorize about knowledge collaboration among members of organizations. We argue that a fundamental characteristic of OCs that affords collaboration is their fluidity. This fluidity engenders a dynamic flow of resources in and out of the community—resources such as passion, time, identity, social disembodiment of ideas, socially ambiguous identities, and temporary convergence. With each resource comes both a negative and positive consequence, creating a tension that fluctuates with changes in the resource. We argue that the fluctuations in tensions can provide an opportunity for knowledge collaboration when the community responds to these tensions in ways that encourage interactions to be generative rather than constrained. After offering numerous examples of such generative responses, we suggest that this form of theorizing—induced by online communities—has implications for theorizing about the more general case of knowledge collaboration in organizations.