So far, I have mainly introduced thoughts and theories related to community evolution. However, the new year is a good time to start sharing some of my (dirty) hands-on process experience of making these communities work in practice.
One of the important processes in community building is collaborative sense making. This helps community members to develop the conceptual common ground on which they can build successful collaboration. I have tried many mind mapping, conceptual modeling and other concept mapping tools, but not many of them have really stuck so far. One application that I have been using to my great satisfaction for many years is MindManager. I especially use it to organize my research notes and to draft papers. However, for collaborative purposes it is less suitable, first of all because it is expensive, and second because it uses a tree or taxonomy as its basic knowledge representation metaphor, whereas real concept mapping requires the power of full semantic networks, which use graphs as their basic representation.
I was therefore very excited to learn about the CmapTools developed by IHMC, the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition affiliated with the University of West Florida. The Cmap tools are free for anybody to download and use. What really makes them very useful for community building is not only their many functionalities to build concept maps, but also their strong support for collaborative editing and publishing of maps. Public Cmap servers allow communities to make maps available with various rights for accessing, annotating, and modification. Maps can be edited concurrently, compared , linked to each other and other resources on the Web, and so on. In short, Cmaps plus their servers deserve to become an important enabling knowledge infrastructure for communities of practice.
In future posts, I will report on my experiences with trying to apply CmapTools for one of the research communities I am involved in, the Conceptual Graphs community. In the over 20 years of its existence, a lot of very good research has been done on the theory and application of this powerful knowledge representation formalism. However, one complaint is that the research results are scattered and hard to access. As a community, we have decided to experiment with CmapTools to see if it can help facilitate our research process. To be continued.