CoP In Digital Scholarship

Communities of Practice (CoP) in Digital Scholarship: evaluation of digital communities and scholarly collaboration, and the impact of digital tools in research, under the direction of the staff of the Digital Humanities Dept. at University College Cork for 2018/19

‘Communities of Practice (CoP) for me is the backbone of digital humanities. It opens your thought process on how you are seen in the online world. It can give you the skills to understand online communities and how you can express your passion(s) amongst like-minded people. A community can be a powerful tool for you to make a change and challenge the status quo. This module was a challenge for many people, including myself. I say this because I had to communicate with people from backgrounds that have little or no common interests with each other Practitioners have an identity defined by a shared sphere of interest that distinguishes members from other people. They develop a shared collection of resources from their experience, knowledge and points of view.


Social scientists Anne Etienne (see figure above) & Jean Lave coined the term (CoP) when developing a learning model in learning theory. It has evolved today away from learning theory and now appears in mainstream organisations like government, education the social sector and more relating to this course as online communities on the Web.

This course provides you with the digital tools to explore and evaluate the emerging digital communities and collaborations among academics and review the collective writings and debates on the changing nature of scholarship within the Digital Humanities discipline.

Collaborative work within this module gave me an understanding of the benefits and limitations of communicating within a diverse group of people. As a researcher, I tend to work alone, so this type of approach opened me up to the thought processes of how to better my research and gain more knowledge through collective experiences.

I did enjoy the ideas of Seth Godin’s TED Talk (2009) and found the concept of ‘Tribes’ very interesting.  He advises how society needs to be mindful of how we portray ourselves online and as individuals that by being part of a group or ‘tribe’ (online community) that portrays your ideas and/or beliefs, that you will be judged. He describes how we can cause a change and make a tangible difference by coming together as a ‘tribe’ which can mature into a movement. This power can really cause change positively but conversely can be destructive. Tribe leaders can be good organisers of people that can challenge the status quo within our society. Furthermore he states that we really need to commit to our ‘tribe’ to ensure change can occur.

Forum Post on Crowdsourcing

Howe (2006) defines crowdsourcing as representing “the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call. This can take the form of peer-production (when the job is performed collaboratively), but is also often undertaken by sole individuals. The crucial prerequisite is the use of the open call format and the large network of potential laborers.”

In a good article the New York Times discusses the advantages of crowdsourcing when improving on ‘applications’ like a weather ‘app’ where your device becomes a ‘mini weather station’.

“Crowds are a hit. Millions of people, connected by the Internet, are contributing ideas and information to projects big and small. Crowdsourcing, as it is called, is helping to solve tricky problems and providing localized information. And with the right knowledge, contributing to the crowd — and using its wisdom — is easier than ever.”

The first machine capable of beating a human at chess (which was a hoax in the 1760s) was called a ‘Turk’. A machine was not used as a human was actually moving the ‘machine’. Amazon developed a ‘Mechanical Turk’, a marketplace which is described on its website “requires human intelligence”. This is crowdsourcing on a colossal scale. It allows companies to avail of on-demand workers 24/7, to complete their tasks called ‘Human Intelligence Tasks or “HITS”. As it states on their website you can “make money in your spare time”.

Jeff Howe’s Wired article (2006) discusses (negatively) the knowledge a ‘crowd’ performs is worth a lot more than what they are paid. Designers earn far less than professional clothing designers would make if design work were outsourced to them. iStockphoto members earn a small amount for their photography, where professional stock photographers could expect hundreds or thousands of times more for the same work. InnoCentive solvers win very large awards, but the rewards are watered down in comparison to what the equivalent of that intellectual labour would cost the company’s in-house Research and Development. Highlights the disadvantages for the ‘crowd’ as they are exploited by those that need the information and expertise they possess.

Academic Crowdsourcing in the Humanities organizes the foundations for a theoretical framework to understand the value of crowdsourcing. Stuart Dunn and Mark Hedges study looks at methodology for crowdsourcing and its typology, generally as well as specifically for research in the humanities. Improving accuracy in crowdsourcing using ‘Collaborating Tagging’ which can be used in conjunction with ‘Transcribing’ complex material such as letters/manuscripts (Transcribe Bentham). It discusses other ideas/methods to consider.

Crowdsourcing has not always been successful;

Sometimes listening to the "wisdom of the crowd" just isn't smart.

A humorous look at the biggest failures of crowdsourcing;



There is always a danger of manipulation by your competitors, just like reviewer sites which frequently pay fake reviewers to review their clients’ products, to increase sales etc. Some good crowdsourcing sites include, Flickr, Utest, Airbnb and 99 Designs.

I really liked Nick Stanhope’s’ HistoryPin crowdsourcing idea at the Arts Humanities Research Council (UK) presented at their workshop in 2012.

Daren C. Brabham’s 2008 interesting article concludes with: “Crowdsourcing is not just another buzzword, not another meme. It is not just a repackaging of open source philosophy for capitalist ends either. It is a model capable of aggregating talent, leveraging ingenuity while reducing the costs and time formerly needed to solve problems.”


Howe, J. (2006) ‘Crowdsourcing: A Definition’, Crowdsourcing: Tracking the Rise of the Amateur (weblog, 2 June), URL (accessed 04 October 2018):









Networks - Hierarchy to Wirearchy

Hierarchy to Wirearchy

Mass adoption of the Internet is driving one of the most exciting social, cultural and political transformations in history, and unlike earlier periods of change, this time the effects are fully global according to Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. Never in history have so many people, from so many places, had so much power at their fingertips.

Nichols discusses the forces trying to destabilize the authority of experts and the relationship between experts and citizens in a democratic society (USA), and investigates why it is collapsing and if we can do anything to halt this demise. This certainly resonates with me as we are constantly bombarded through media channels on topics these days. There seems to be a deterioration in our ability to have productive, optimistic and constructive public debates. Increasingly disagreements seem to mean conflicts rather than debates.

President Trump has said “nobody really knows” if climate change is real. What? Despite several environmental agencies stating that human activity was directly involved in the changes to our climate. This anthropogenic approach has been proved by countless peer-reviewed scientific journals. In the same vain Nichols mentions GMO’s which people believe are dangerous yet like climate change it has been proven to be the opposite and totally safe.



I would say the same for free-from products these days, predominately gluten-free products which are for people with coeliac disease and yet the surge in purchasing does not match those suffering the disease within the population. So why has all this expert knowledge?, when society will just dismiss it and form their own opinion/view/conclusion.

Journalism and the news are treated as such too. Most people do not read newspapers comparable to the past and instead refer to posts, blogs, and social media feeds which tend to follow only things they are interested in, so they are digesting misinformed information. That is not to say that everything is correct or accurate from the more traditional news agencies, but you do have to be mindful of the quality of information you are reading. The younger generations tend to watch a comic approach to politics in media channels, as Nichols points out when his students referred to watching The Daily Showa satirical news television programme, 17% of respondents saw it as their “most trusted source” of news. Celebrities are also influencers, most notably recently Taylor Swift who told her fans at a concert to “vote based on who most closely represents your values” This started a heated debate online with some in support and some in condemnation of her actions. Nichols also comments that political scientist Anne Pluta found that “uninformed citizens don’t have any information at all, while those who are misinformed have information that conflicts with the best evidence and expert opinion.” Yet those that are misinformed according to the political scientist James Kuklinski also “tend to be the most confident in their views and are also the strongest partisans.” When a misinformed citizen is told that their interpretation of fact is erroneous, they often hang on to their opinions with even more vigour.




Communities of Practice (CoP) can help in the transition from hierarchy to collaborative networks or as Jon Husband describes it as ‘Wirearchy”. He contributes to the e-Book Hierarchy: Sketches for Future Work, which discusses organisation principles in our connected world. Husband’s definition or Wirearchy is that it is “A dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology”. Interconnectivity is accelerating an evolution from ‘Hierarchy to Wirearchy’

The pillars of Wirearchy are: (Hierarchy: Sketches for Future Work)

  • Knowledge, which is” freely shared” (p. 5);
  • Trust, which “emerges through transparency and authenticity” (p. 5);
  • Credibility, which is “earned through collective intelligence” and “developed through active questioning of all assumptions, including our own” (pp. 5-6);
  • Value-creation, which is enabled through “collaboration and cooperation”, including “the furthest possible distribution of authority” (p. 6).



Gurri a political theorist and former CIA analyst discusses the impact of the digital on political authority. Early modern political institutions resided in government, universities, the scientific establishment etc., which was very much more controllable than now. In the 21st Century, this landscape has dramatically changed with technology and the tsunami of information and the political use of social media has created passionate negation.

The ‘Public’ as used in the title to Gurri’s book, is not what we see it as traditionally. It is not the crowds, masses or even an individual. It is these groups (e.g. Anarchists) that have created a political force by using the dynamics of the Web to develop a network of their ideologies. Digital networks are not hierarchical. What people stand for or against, they are espousing a system of ideas by creating another system of ideas to fit their beliefs. People are not looking to cause a revolution but just want to be against something or the status quo. Online communities can be obsessive and have a tendency to not generate coherent ideologies. This negation is there to attack against and to destroy the egalitarian spirit of the Web. The rage on the Web is creating political nihilist groups. The cultural flow of these groups is built on the culture of the Web which is based on the need for attention. President Trump has adopted this nihilist style of the Web which separates him from the pack and he uses language that mocks and attacks. He is the product of what we have created is he not?

In Susskind’s book, an example of this nihilist behaviour could be found during “the 2016 US presidential election and UK Brexit referendum, was rancorous even by the usual unhappy standards, with opposing factions vying not just to defeat their rivals but to destroy them. Both were won by the side that promised to tear down the old order.” Perhaps in the future, we will just see this time as the good old days!!









How we perceive the world could be shaped by what is disclosed and hidden by social media, artificial emotional intelligence and virtual reality. Cyberspace and real space are merging, and social media is creating a fragmentation of this space. Susskind states that tech firms hide their algorithms which “will decide vital questions of social justice, allocating social goods and sorting us into hierarchies of status and esteem, their data policies obscure, and their values undefined, they cannot possibly claim these forms of legitimacy.” He demands transparency “to make sure that those who have the power to affect our core freedoms, or to affect the democratic process, or to settle matters of social justice, are never allowed to operate in darkness” and that those in power are unable to monopolise the digital system they control.

The greatest debates of the 21st century will include how our digital systems are controlled. Susskind ends on “We cannot allow ourselves to become the playthings of alien powers subject always to decisions made for us by entities and systems beyond our control”.



Gurri, Martin. The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium. , San Francisco, CA: Stripe Press, 2018.

Husband, J. Wirearchy. Sketches for the future of work. E-book, 2015.

Nichols, Thomas M. The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017

Pluta, Anna. “Trump Supporters Appear To Be Misinformed, Not Uninformed.” FiveThirtyEight, FiveThirtyEight, 7 Jan. 2016, Accessed 18th October 2018

Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business. Knopf Publishing Group, 2013.

Susskind, Jamie. Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech., Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2018


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