The provision of online public goods: Examining social structure in an electronic network of practice

Academic Article


  • Electronic networks of practice are computer-mediated social spaces where individuals working on similar problems self-organize to help each other and share knowledge, advice, and perspectives about their occupational practice or common interests. These interactions occur through message postings to produce an on-line public good of knowledge, where all participants in the network can then access this knowledge, regardless of their active participation in the network. Using theories and concepts of collective action and public goods, five hypotheses are developed regarding the structural and social characteristics that support the online provision and maintenance of knowledge in an electronic network of practice. Using social network analysis, we examine the structure of message contributions that produce and sustain the public good. We then combine the results from network analysis with survey results to examine the underlying pattern of exchange, the role of the critical mass, the quality of the ties sustaining participation, the heterogeneity of resources and interests of participants, and changes in membership that impact the structural characteristics of the network. Our results suggest that the electronic network of practice chosen for this study is sustained through generalized exchange, is supported by a critical mass of active members, and that members develop strong ties with the community as a whole rather than develop interpersonal relationships. Knowledge contribution is significantly related to an individual's tenure in the occupation, expertise, availability of local resources and a desire to enhance one's reputation, and those in the critical mass are primarily responsible for creating and sustaining the public good of knowledge. Finally, we find that this structure of generalized exchange is stable over time although there is a high proportion of member churn in the network. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Wasko MML; Teigland R; Faraj S
  • Start Page

  • 254
  • End Page

  • 265
  • Volume

  • 47
  • Issue

  • 3