Towards a sustainable knowledge sharing environment for online research communities
Sustainability of online knowledge-sharing communities is a major challenge at the present time. Many approaches to knowledge-sharing communities have suffered from the lack of active user participation. To explore this problem it is necessary to study both social and technical issues. In this thesis, social and economic theories have been employed to investigate users' demand and behaviour in an online knowledge-sharing environment. An empirical study was carried out using the Virtual Knowledge Park (VKP) to analyse the relationship between the level of users' participation and their perceived cost and gain. The results show that individual activity of participation was inversely proportional to his/her perceived cost over gain and the level of participation significantly correlated with the factor of mutual benefits among the users. The results suggest that the promotion of the mutual benefits may lead to increased active participation and thus a more sustainable online community. In addition, it was found from user feedback that the users were not satisfied with the flexibility and the lack of autonomy in the VKP. To improve users' flexibility and autonomy, a decentralized approach was explored. A peer-to-peer Virtual Knowledge-sharing Environment (VKSE) was developed to support knowledge-sharing in an online journal club (OJC). The application of the OJC and another decentralized VKSE (Groove) were evaluated in a set of user scenarios. It was found that decentralized VKSEs can provide the users with more flexibility, sense of ownership and control over their shared knowledge resources. However thsi approach was not as good in managing and coordinating the online community as the VKP. Drawing from the studies above, a novel infrastructure was designed. It adopts a community based knowledge market paradigm with two main concepts: agreements and transactions. The infrastructure applies a hybrid-decentralized approach, where the agreements are handled by centralized servers, and the transactions of knowledge resource are carried out in a peer-to-peer model. It is expected that the market paradigm would encourage the provision of mutual benefits to online community members thus enhancing active participation. This should improve the sustainability of online knowledge-sharing communities. Given the novelty of the technical platform and concepts required for this approach, this research has shown that it is significant to carry out further work to assess its effectiveness.