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H809 – Online communities – Jones & Preece (A7.6)

April 2, 2011

The article from Jones & Preece about online communities was interesting  and easy to read, which definitely helped to manage the more than 20 pages.

The article introduce a framework that supports the analysis, development and maintenance of online and blended communities. The authors also compare their framework with other frameworks and models, like e.g. Wenger’s communities of practice. Blended communities are communities that meet face-to-face and online to a more or less degree. The framework was applied to two community case studies. Bob’s knee community and the Dublin teacher’s  community.

Definition online communities (by Preece, 2000)

  • group of people
  • meet for a particular  purpose or to satisfy particular needs
  • guided by formal and/or informal policies
  • supported by computing technology

Sub-category of online communities

  • Wenger’s communities of practice (COP)
  • Communities of Interest (COI)

Wenger (1989) communities of practice is a key term I encountered in H800. The H800 course material describes Wenger’s  community of practice as follows. ‘The idea of a community of practice has been applied to groups who interact to achieve a common purpose or enterprise and share a common repertoire’ and displays at least two components of Preece framework – the people and the purpose, supported eventually by technology. However, Jones & Reece argue that Wenger see community development and activity through the lens of learning that leads to the development of the communities identity and subsequently shape the identity of the individual. That stands in contrast to Preece & Jones who state that the individual characteristic of the people who form the community, contribute to the collective character of a community, not vice versa.

Wenger also claims that successful community of practice is developing, COPs cannot be created or legislated into existence, because they ‘are not reified designable units’ (Wenger, 1998, p.229 cited in Jones & Preece (2006). It is a social process of sharing and exchanging knowledge which leads to a shared repertoire of stories, styles of doing things and vocabulary. Yet, ‘taking part’ and ‘being part’ of a certain community requires the ability to communicate, to adopt belief systems and to gradually start to act in accordance with its norms. Brown (1998) describes that as enculturation .

I don’t see such a big difference in the definitions of communities given by Jones and Preece and Wenger, yet Jones & Preece framework can be used to analyse communities, whereas Wenger’s model is more a well-know saying, a description, but cannot really be used for detailed analysis and evaluation. However, contrary to Wenger’s claim that COPs cannot be created, the Dublin teacher community was created as part of a European project, and teacher from 200 local schools in Dublin were invited to participate.

The framework

The sociability and usability framework (Preece, 2000) identifies important issued for the analysis and development of online communities.

Sociability – is concerned with the social interactions that community’s members have with each other via computing technology or face-to-face

Usability – concerned with feature and functions that enable user to interact successfully with technology across the human-computer interface.

The sociability section fo the framework has three components:


  • form community
  • bring their own set of characteristic
  • that contributes to the collective character of a community
  • that also influences how community members respond to the communities purpose and policies and their reaction to the usability design of the supporting software


  • communities vary depending on their purpose – e.g. information and support, improve students understanding of a certain subject, develop a pool of resources, etc.


  • characteristics of a community’s membership and its purpose in turn influence the type of governance structure that is adopted and how this is implemented in formal policies and by informal norms of behaviour.
  • may vary between few policies, little moderation and self-governing towards hierarchical governance.

It is a clear and abstract way to represent information, but is very general and does not provide much detail. Examination how the sociability factors operate is needed to get more fine-grained information. Provides a deeper understanding of the community’s people, purposes and policies, while still enabling us to abstract these. The framework helps us to characterise and describe the community, but can be also used to analyse an existing face-to-face community, or for identifying sociability problems in existing online communities (de Souza and Preece, 2004). The framework enables to identify key criteria in different online or blended communities and to highlight differences and similarities.

The technical context in which the community operate influence in turn usability and sociability. However other factors have an impact on the community’s people, purposes and policies as well, and hence on the community’s character.

Factors that influence the community

  • participation, non-participation (lurking) and reciprocity
  • Empathy and trust – to understand what another people is feeling and therefore, act compassionately
  • Etiquette – can develop supported by explicit rules, they are deeply embedded in cultural norms: forms of behaviour that are commonly understood and agreed
  • Social presence – developers provide avatars to give people an online graphical representation of users, helps to establish online identity
  • Communication and common ground
  • collaboration and competition



Below a comparison of the two case studies/online communities.

Please click to enlarge the images or download the A7.6_Jones-Preece, 2006 pdf-file.


Jones, A. and Preece, J. (2006) ‘Online communities for teachers and lifelong learners: a framework for comparing similarities and identifying differences in communities of practice and communities of interest’, International Journal of Learning Technology, vol. 2, no. 2–3, pp. 112–37.

From → H809

  1. Great post. I learned a lot. Thanks.

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