Online Communities & Crowds

Foundations, Dynamics, and Challenges of Online Collaboration

Northwestern University
Comm Studies 378
Mon/Wed 2:00-3:20pm; Fri 2:00-3:00pm
Frances Searle 2-107
Fall, 2014

Aaron Shaw (Professor)
Office location: Frances Searle Building, room 2-142
Office hours: Mon/Wed 3:30-5:30pm and by appointment

Sneha Narayan (Teaching Assistant)
Office location: Frances Searle Building, room 2-419
Office hours: Thurs 2:00-4:00pm and by appointment

Course materials:

Objectives, requirements, assignments & grading

This Web site contains all the most up-to-date information about this class. Please feel free to download a PDF version of the syllabus, which contains useful things like a well-formatted bibliography for all of the readings. However, be aware that the PDF will not be as up-to-date as the information provided on this site!

Please email Aaron or Sneha with any questions and make sure to include [OCC] in the subject line. This will help us keep track of class-related messages and respond more promptly.

Course Description

The most innovative and ground-breaking organizations today are online "peer production" communities and crowds. Distributed groups collaborate over the Internet to write free encyclopedias (Wikipedia), launch social movements (Avaaz, MoveOn), create software (GNU/Linux), share music and films (the Pirate Bay), develop innovative products (CHDK), and conduct advanced scientific research (Zooniverse).

When and why do these efforts succeed? What motivates participants to join, contribute, and sustain these communities? How can online communities' and crowds' successes be harnessed and reproduced? What can be learned from their shortcomings?

This course presents an intensive and interdisciplinary introduction to the study of online communities and crowds, with a particular emphasis on how and why some of these systems are so wildly effective at mobilizing and organizing people in ways that seem to have been impossible a few decades ago. Throughout the quarter, we will analyze these and other conceptual puzzles, studying many different communities in the process. Readings and assignments will draw on current research in the social sciences (Communication, Sociology, Economics, Sociology), Human Computer Interaction, law, and social theory.

Please send questions, corrections, or concerns to Aaron Shaw and make sure to include [OCC] in the subject line.

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