Social Networks on Knowledge Sharing Websites

To solve the most critical intellectual and social problems, teams need to be made up of the best possible people, linked to the best possible resources. While there is growing awareness of the socio-economic consequences of team collaborations, there is little socio-technical understanding of how teams are assembled or how a given mode of assembly impacts its effectiveness.

This project seeks to address this limitation by developing a theoretical framework to understand the socio-technical dynamics shaping the assembly of teams in virtual communities. These multidimensional networks include a variety of links that exist not only among individuals, but also with documents, datasets, workflows, analytic tools, and concepts. With these new configurations in mind, this project addresses two main research questions: First, what are the socio-technical motivations that explain the assembly of teams in virtual communities? Second, to what extent do the assembly mechanisms of teams influence their effectiveness? Empirically testing such models poses formidable data collection challenges. However, this project has access to six major initiatives serving diverse scientific virtual communities including nanoscience, environmental engineering, earthquake engineering, chemical sciences, media research and tobacco research.

Increasingly researchers participate in cyberinfrastructure-enabled virtual collaboration environments where they log in to portals that provide access to other users, data, analytic tools, and documents. In these cases, the digital traces reveal information about all activities a user carried out within the portal. This project is one of first few to harness the digital traces left by large scale virtual scientific collaboration supported by information technology and demonstrats the rich opportunities to capture work processes as work is done, enabling future actors to learn from past work.

The technology available in the nanoHub community offers an infrastructure to analyze this relationship’s dynamics through iterations of applications, development teams, and user needs. With a greater understanding of these team assembly strategies and user participation practices, virtual scientific communities may better model and implement applications to support productive collaborative work. The findings can guide team assembly decision-making for stakeholder communities such as individual researchers, especially students and those not in elite institutions, leaders of virtual communities, and funding agencies.