Columbia, Mo. - Open online communities (OOC), such as Wikipedia or free and open source software (FOSS) development projects, have emerged as significant drivers of innovation, economic activity and social well-being. The National Science Foundation has awarded $300,000 to the University of Missouri Informatics Institute to develop principles, systems and detailed methodological approaches for sharing OOC data and explaining OOC research results across disciplines.
"A good majority of open online community research focuses on a particular online community, like Wikipedia or a Facebook group," said Sean Goggins, assistant professor in the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies at MU. "What's missing is an understanding of the common characteristics of behavior across open online communities."
In response to this gap, NSF will fund the US component of an international virtual research institute (SAVI) on open online communities to the University of Missouri and the University of Maryland, who are partnering with Télécom Bretagne Institut Mines Télécom in France and University Rey Juan Carlos in Spain on a this two year data science project. The advisory board includes leading researchers and OOC's in Europe and North America.
With support from both American and international funding agencies, scholars from diverse disciplines, including computer science, sociology, mathematics, economics, physics, anthropology, organization science and communications, have been studying OOCs to build disciplinary understanding. However, differences in data and methods impede the development of coherent understandings across disciplines.
The study of OOCs is growing, and as yet not much attention has been paid to these differences in systems and approaches for sharing data, gaps which limit scientific progress around OOCs even as they are increasing in importance for organizing and accomplishing work. The goal of this Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI) project is to build an international inter-disciplinary community of scholars who can collaborate to overcome disciplinary differences. The supported collaboration will enable synthesis of OOC research, which in turn will increase the coherence of scientific and public knowledge across disciplines that study OOCs, making OCCs more productive and effective.
"Our aim is not to become a giant repository of data, but to facilitate the transparent collection, description and processing of OOC data," said Goggins. "A principle issue for research on open online communities is that every study is different; its own methods, its own data, its own site. We are trying to build up a foundation for big OOC data infrastructure like exists currently in the biological sciences, for example."
The project begins in October, 2014.
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