Expressing territoriality in online collaborative environments

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Expressing territoriality in online collaborative environments is a 2010 doctoral thesis written in English by J. Thom-Santelli and published in Cornell University, New York.

[edit] Abstract

Territoriality, the expression of ownership towards an object, can emerge when social actors occupy a shared social space. In this research, I extend the study of territoriality beyond previous work in physical space in two key ways: (1) the object in question is non-physical and (2) the social context is an online collaborative activity. To do this, I observe the emergence of characteristic territorial behaviors (e.g. marking, control, defense) in 3 studies of social software systems. Study 1 describes a qualitative interview study observes the behaviors of 15 Maintainers, a small group of lead users on Wikipedia. Findings suggest that The Maintainers communicate their feelings of ownership to other editors by appropriating features of the system, such as user templates and activity monitoring, to preserve control over the articles they maintain and communicate their knowledge of the article editing process to potential contributors. Study 2 describes a qualitative interview study observing the behaviors of 33 users of social tagging systems deployed within a large enterprise organization. Findings suggest that self-designated experts express territoriality regarding their knowledge and their status within the organization through their tagging strategies. Study 3 describes a field study of expert and novice users of a mobile social tagging system deployed within an art museum. Findings suggest that compared to novices, experts feel more personal ownership towards the museum and their tags and express territoriality regarding their expertise through higher levels of participation and are more likely to vote down novice-generated tags in a defensive manner. My dissertation draws from observations from these three studies to construct a theoretical framework for online territoriality to provide researchers and designers of groupware with guidelines with which to encourage ownership expression when appropriate. Topics for discussion and future work include clarifying the characteristics of non-physical territories, closer study of the possible reactions to territoriality, and describing the potential of territoriality as design resource for motivating experts to contribute.

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