With the advent of the Internet, there has been an increase in interest in examining how information and communication technologies might support distributed communities of practice (Wenger, 2001). However, empirical studies of online communities of practice (CoPs) are sparse. Moreover, the majority of these studies are conducted within organizational context and only a few recent studies of CoPs crosses organizational boundaries. To address this disparity, this panel will compare and contrast different types of online CoPs that cross organizational boundaries.
The panelists will present four case studies of online CoPs: College students, frequent flyer mileage collectors, virtual reference librarians, webmasters, and open source software developers. Each presenter will share findings from their empirical studies of specific online CoPs and will discuss implications and challenges for research and practice. Noriko Hara and Pnina Shachaf will aim to empirically ground a typology of online CoPs (Debé, Bourhis, & Jacob, 2003), which was used to analyze leadership in online CoPs (Bourhis, Debe, & Jacob, 2005). They will use this typology to analyze variations of each of the dimensions of two online CoPs. Thomas Haigh will present a study of frequent flyer online communities and how they share informal knowledge and empower themselves. Thomas Mackey will present a study of students using blogs in a class setting and discuss the impact of social software on authorship and collaboration in online communities. Robert Sandusky will present a study of knowledge sharing in an open-source software project's bug report repository. The panel moderator, Elisabeth Davenport, is an expert in social informatics and has published in the area of online communities of practice. The panel as a whole will demonstrate how the five cases that are described in the four presentations represent variations of formality of CoPs-how formal and informal CoPs are created and institutionalized. In addition, the panelists will discuss how a typology of CoP is influenced by formality and sources of power.