Technology and Online Communities: Relationship for Success

Throughout my career I’ve had to constantly adjust to newer technologies and adopt new methodologies to complete an assignment in the workplace. I’ve also been required to do the opposite; learn an older piece of tech to support an existing process. This week I want to concentrate on the reliance that online communities have with technology and how newer technologies can significantly change the way people interact within the community.

Online communities are significantly impacted by the software that is supporting them. According to Preece, Maloney-Krichmar and Abras in “History and Emergence of Online Communities”, online communities can vary greatly depending on their purpose, size, duration of existence and the software environment that supports them. Originally, communities were limited to such technologies as List-servers and e-mail (originating back in the ‘70s), but with the constant innovation in technology, users now have the ability to easily communicate with potentially millions of people across the world.

This relationship between technology and online communities is mutually beneficial and enables technology to further advance through the collaboration of developers, designers and other IT professionals. One of the greatest examples in the use of online communities to further the development of software is the open source movement. Open Source software development relies heavily on volunteers that have experience with creating and testing various forms of programs. These can range from Operating Systems such as Linux to Web Browsers (Mozilla Firefox).

During his address at OSCON 2012, David Eaves described the importance of online communities to the development of open sourced software. David concentrated on the aspects of “Social Capital” and bug resolution, both of which are important to the creation of a quality software product that is free for users. Social capital is value that is generated through the online community that supports your software product by testing and reporting various bugs they find. These communities also add direct value through developing the product itself.

I found David’s address interesting because it showed how communities can be tracked and monitored to improve the continuing development of a product. He detailed a unique tool that shows how many members of the community reported bugs, added fixes, and was active on the various support forums that they host. The importance that these members have on the innovation of a product is quite astounding and can be seen not only in the open source sector, but in proprietary solutions as well.

Oddly enough, Microsoft has developed a large community of developers through their Microsoft Developer’s Network (MSDN) service and has begun to embrace open source-like methodologies with some of their own proprietary technologies. An example of this is Microsoft’s “Openness” service, which supports multiple open source technologies such as PHP, Drupal, Python and Java. The company has also migrated some of their solutions to an open source platform, such as the Entity Framework, allowing developers to see the source code and modify it as necessary in an effort for various improvements in the architecture.

Overall, I think it’s important to remember that technological innovation and online communities have a mutually beneficial relationship that will continue to exist for the foreseeable future.

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