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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Networks and Topic Hubs

I recently read a very interesting post by Terry Anderson, Edublogers as a Network of Practice.

Network of Practice - a distributed aggregation of members who share some common interests and values, but their correspondence and especially face to face meetings occur much less often or not at all. Leadership and activities in a NoP are emergent and usually informal. NoP members interact sporadically and develop their network in an informal and spontaneous manner that is occasioned through blogs, social software based communities, perhaps a face-to-face or online conference, newsgroup, mailing list or other shared social networking interactions. Membership in a NoP is voluntary, usually open, often transitory and likely many of the NOP members are strangers to each other.

There are some good discussion in the comments about whether or not you would consider Edubloggers to be a Network of Practice (NoP). I must say that I don't know enough to really comment on whether it is or isn't.

The realization I had as I read it is how complex networks become. They are incredibly rich and often there is no clear boundary. Is someone or something like a blog part of the network – often it's not at all clear.

This is both a good thing and a challenge for Topic Hubs. I think it's good because for many people, they cannot easily understand this complex network. As I say in that post –

It's hard to understand a single blog. It's even harder when you try to understand a network of bloggers.

The discussion that goes on in Terry's post really points out how it's so hard to that you can't look at an individual blogger and neatly put them into a network and especially not a Network of Practice. Scott Leslie says -

there is no singular “network of edubloggers,” indeed what I find constantly amazing is when I come across another self-styled edublogger with whom I share absolutely NO points of connection.

Of course, that's the claim of Terry in his response to Scott Leslie -

edubloggers do have ONE thing in common - they all are interested in education - else they wouldn’t describe themselves as EduBloggers. Now it could be that their conception of education and likely the larger ideas of learning are very different from yours, but I still argue they do NOT “share absolutely NO points of connection” with yourself.

My personal experience is really someone who tries to define Topic Hubs. Topic Hubs are based on networks and require a defined topic with a particular lexicon or way to make sense of what's being discussed. There's a real challenge to find the edges and define who should be consider inside or outside the network. The reality is that the complexity of networks don't really work that way. When I looked at creating a Topic Hub around edubloggers, I gave up because the network and topics are so big, diverse and messy. There likely are many good Topic Hubs within the space, but most edublogs blog about all sorts of topics. If you try to define a more narrow topic, it doesn't seem to work.

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