Monday, April 20, 2009

Who Owns Information?

A 'social learning' theme keeps kicking dust in my direction, first when the TR-DEV Yahoo group folded (see post below from January 24), and again the other night. Clark Quinn, Marcia Conner, and others have begun a wonderful Thursday-night Twitter gathering (8pm EST; #lrnchat). Conversation turned to the willingness to share information, and I noted that it is often management that is reticent to share data. My grad school research on communities of practice included an interesting 2000 article on communities, why people freely participate in them, and why they are willing to share.

In the virtual communities under study, Wasko and Faraj (2000) found that people participate because they feel knowledge is a public good and should be shared out of a sense of moral obligation and community, rather than self-interest. This is positioned in contrast to the organizational view that knowledge is a private good owned by the organization or individual members. Wasko and Faraj interpret their findings to indicate that self-interest (to include organizational control or institutionalized CoPs) “denigrates” (p.171) the community. Essentially, members share from feelings of doing the right thing, and engage in intellectual exchange for its own sake.

Additionally, Wasko and Faraj found that community members act out of community interest, not self interest, and concluded that knowledge is owned and maintained neither by the organization nor by the individual, but by the community itself.

Your thoughts?

The full citation is Wasko, M. & Faraj, S. (2000). “It is what one does”: Why people participate and help others in electronic communities of practice. Journal of Strategic Information Systems 9(2-3), 155-173.


Sreya Dutta said...

Jane, fully agreed. Information is owned by a community and not an individual.

Excellent point. See this video i shared on my blogSreya

Anonymous said...

Going through your old blog posts, Jane. As far as the community owning information and people sharing out of community interest, not 100 percent sure about that as a blanket statement. In the age of Facebook and Twitter (and this is just my opinion), seems that you're an anomaly--someone who shares for the purpose of sharing what you know. Most people seem to want to promote themselves or their businesses. Example--someone whom I met 10 years ago at a conference found me on Facebook, then asked me to become a "fan" of the Facebook site for her company. She posted 3 other posts the same day--2 about her company (and one of those, inviting people to listen to her on some obscure radio program). She's an example, but not an isolated one.

I also find that, in the university, where we're paid to make knowledge available in the public domain, people only share "so much" with one another. We have our reasons, but knowledge sharing isn't as widespread as one might hope.

Last, not sure if information is always owned by a community. I think we forget about copyrights. And i'm not thinking of companies that own copyrights and being protective of them.

I'm thinking about those of us who create copyrighted materials for a living, but because there seems to be a general ambivalence about the economic value of content, people don't think twice about using copyrighted material without paying for it.

As a result, people who work in fields that depend on those sales are being laid off in large numbers, especially in news gathering organizations, advertising, and corporate communications.

This is probably a rambling post but it's something that's on my mind.

Saul Carliner

Jane Bozarth said...

Hi, Saul. Maybe you didn't read through the whole post? This was referencing an online community that set up a site, asked people to contribute to discussions and share files, data, etc. After existing for years the moderators shut it down without giving those who had participated the chance to save things they wanted (and had assumed would always be there). The question was whether the moderators had the right to shut it down and remove the community-contributed information without warning.

Also, if you're interested, there's a good deal of literature on the matter of communities and sharing. My dissertation covers this at length ( but if you're not up for 350 pages, there's a good article by Wasko & Faraj in which they report community members feeling that knowledge is a matter of the public good, not "owned" by organizations. See Wasko, M. & Faraj, S. (2000). “It is what one does”: Why people participate and help others in electronic communities of practice. Journal of Strategic Information Systems 9(2-3), 155-173.

Thanks for the comments,