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05 October 2010
Common sense and experience would suggest that people are more creative when they work together in a face-to-face environment. But, as remote working and online interactions become more and more commonplace, there is growing evidence that working in virtual communities and using online tools together can be even more effective in some areas than face-to-face cooperation.
Piet Kommers of the University of Twente, in The Netherlands, is a specialist in advanced learning tools such as concept mapping, virtual reality and mobile learning, and has focused much of his research on trying to eradicate preconceptions about learning models and scepticism about how members of online networks interact. Writing in the International Journal of Web-based Communities Kommers answer the question, "How can if virtual participation contribute to creative solutions?" in answering the question he emphasises once again that in the so-called web 2.0 era, the only way for movements and even whole industries to survive is to make the user a co-creator.
Communications that are not face-to-face, whether they involve commenting on a web blog, using a chat client, debating on a forum, or even attempting to get help from a call centre, all involve some kind of transience. The people involved may be anonymous, they may be disguising their identity or simply not revealing their true location or intentions. However, virtual meetings have the unique opportunity of bringing together like-minded or even dissimilar people who would never normally meet in the "offline" world and so open up endless possibilities for collaboration, learning and creativity.
In his research, Kommers hopes to reveal how web 2.0 can emphasise such opportunities by linking people in new ways and creating larger than life social and working networks. As web etiquette evolves over the coming years it will, he suggests, move from the precocious experimentation to fully fledged participation. Tools, such as chat, which are built into the likes of well-known online networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as in web link sharing tools, such as Iosurf and Delicious, make it easier to extrapolate one's web and email behaviour into establishing a social network.
"The emergence of web-based communities has revitalises us to consider social problems as issues for social participation and for social creativity," Kommers says. He adds that, "There are now real prospects for online communities to promote human values such as cooperation, altruism, open-mindedness and tolerance."