From Social Networks to Virtual Communities of Practice. Beyond e-Inclusion through Digital Literacy (I): the Case of the Crafting Community

In a conference on Friday 24th October 2008 — Accesibilidad e Inclusión Digital: el papel de la Alfabetización Digital — I used the crafting community as a flagship of a community or network enhanced and empowered to a higher level by the Internet at large and by Web 2.0 applications specifically.

Marc Botella kindly suggested that I made clear the reasons for choosing such a community, so to avoid falling into stereotypes about crafting in particular and women in general. I hadn’t even thought about this: the online crafting community is so rich that, only if you do not know it, could you be thinking on stereotypes. Though, just because not everybody knows it, I agree with Marc that some explanation might be due.

Main characteristics of the online crafting community:

  • Solid existing “real world” community.
  • Long tradition of learning by doing.
  • Long tradition of sharing among peers. It is a institutionless and hierarchyless community.
  • Shops, workshops and coffee shops are a meeting point rather than a place where to make businesses.
  • Broad range of socio-economic, education profiles and age (i.e. very far from the “bored housewife” topic).
  • Non-geek and usually low-tech profile. In any case, technology is definitely not a goal, or something you discuss, but a tool and something to forget about. But,
  • Intensive and broad use of a wide range of applications, most of them web 2.0 and/or cloud applications.
  • Expert use of rich media production, edition and diffusion tools: rich text, photography, audio, video…
  • Use of social networking sites and social networking tools in other sites to strengthen community links.
  • Use of social networking site not as an alternate world or community — in opposition to the offline world — but as an extension of the existing communities and networks.
  • Use of social networking sites to enlarge the community, and benefit from the low transaction costs of communicating through the Internet to build a critical mass of minority interests (the “long tail”), be it to buy and sell or just to exchange knowledge and practices.

Summing up: a very heterogeneous community that gathers around a common interest (crafting), and intensively uses technology to deal about this interest, proving a high and practical digital literacy level, which normally comes not from a technical background.

A second derivative is that digital literacy and virtual community building act as a driver against exclusion — because of the stress in networking — and for e-inclusion — because of the intensive use of ICTs.

NOTE: definitions and statements come from direct observation. An accurate research should be performed so to statistically validate their significance. Sincerest gratitude goes to Mercè Guillén who led me by the hand into the world of “e-crafting”.

(Continued: From Social Networks to Virtual Communities of Practice. Beyond e-Inclusion through Digital Literacy (II): the Case of the Catalan e-Justice Community)