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16
DigiCULT
Moelands
was concerned about justifying time,
effort and money only to have virtual communities
die out for lack of interest. Dr Karp wondered:
`What is the inter-relationship between a community
of libraries acting on the Internet and a community
of libraries acting in the physical realm.'
Ms Moelands, a team member on the National
Library's language, history and culture knowledge
domain Alfa@ned, had an answer: `I think a digital
library can serve inter-disciplinary activities more
than a physical library.'
I
NTER
-
DISCIPLINARY
H
OPES
M
oderator Nyíri grasped delightedly at that
concept. `Trans-disciplinarity is enhanced by
the digital environment much more than the pre-
digital one, so that is one of the valid answers to
your question "what can the digital world do
better?",' he said.
`Trans-disciplinary research is much better done in
a digital environment because the physical walls do
not intrude.Whatever the nature of a physical library,
there is a classification scheme and that works against
trans-disciplinary approaches.'There was, he said, a
new flow towards unification and unity in the scienti-
fic field. A virtual scientific community could achieve
better trans-disciplinary results than a physical one
because of this environment and because it was less
hierarchically structured.
He added: `Disciplinary differences are to a great
extent political ones.The influential professor wants
to keep the disciplinary field to herself and so a
disciplinary wall is erected. It is much more difficult
to be an anti-democratic scientific manager on the
Web than in the physical world.'
The talk of walls struck chords right around the
Forum. Susan Hazan wanted to know: `Are we
creating walled gardens just by professionals for
professionals or do we allow other people in to
share the beautiful attributes of our work?' Hazel
Hall saw tensions between committed communities
that lived and thrived through their members'
obsessions and exclusive, gated groups of experts
reluctant to admit outsiders for fear of diluting the
expertise that kept their interest live. Margariet
Moelands remarked dryly: `What we have found is
that a professional community does not want lurkers.'
There was talk of digital platforms, mergers, bridge
building, but Mr Nyíri was not happy about it. In the
real world, is was difficult for non-philosophers to
address questions to a professional group but, the histo-
rian of philosophy added darkly, `In the digital world,
alas, sometimes I must say, it has become very easy.'
Open University's Dr Mulholland was more
optimistic. He expressed it: `There are methodologies
for how to design online communities and how to
support and moderate online discussions, by how
many people you have and so on.They have to be
"fit for purpose".'
The university had, over years, developed processes
such as how to seed questions for the first people
who joined. He explained: `When people try to
create a virtual community, they create discussion
software and say "There you go.There is your
discussion software, go discuss".The result is that
nobody discusses anything because they go there and
there are no roles, no rules, no-one knows who they
are supposed to be talking to and the purpose is not
clear. But, if you take a discussion space and seed it
with some questions, answers and dialogue from
previous years, then people get an idea of what it
is for and how they can benefit.They say "I see the
rules of the game and this has to be established".
I think this is the key.'
Dr Tomes had another concern: costs.Was the
community adding something or substituting for
something? she asked. `It is going to cost something
to run a community in effort or other resources. So
are you going to spend more to get a community or
what are you going to stop doing in order to sustain
that community?'
K
EY
T
ERMS FOR
V
IRTUAL
G
ROUPS
D
r Tomes introduced yet another angle: `These
are really a set of learning communities that we
are part of.' Not everyone agreed this was always so,
but learning could be another element to add to the
list of key terms the Forum then drew up to describe
the structure of a virtual community:
| Communication / Sharing
| Commitment / Passion
| Trust
| Interactivity / Inter-dependence
| Hybridity / Inter-mediation
| Authenticity
| Identity and
| Sustainability
The Forum was still anxious about the `authenti-
city' aspect. DigiCULT Project Manager John Pereira
felt there were risks in creating a public access plat-
form without controls although these would limit
`synchronous communication possibilities'.
Moderator Nyíri reassured the Forum with a story
about the massive virtual encyclopaedia project the
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