It’s interesting to get different perspectives or definitions to do with online research communities (MROCs). Everyone has a slightly different take on what an MROC is; what it isn’t; whether they’re qualitative; whether they’re quantitative; whether they are heavily moderated and so the list goes on.
A recent blog about the continuum from online focus group to “true” online community suggests that online research communities may lean towards the spectrum of a heavily facilitated research tool.
It is a fine line, or balancing act, to make sure an online research community (MROC) is not over-managed or ‘heavily facilitated’. And by this I mean that they are not too ‘tightly controlled’ and ‘guided’ by the moderator.
However, some involvement is needed. I don’t believe any ‘community’ (online or other) can exist without some sort of ‘input’. All communities need someone (whether it be moderator or member), or even a group of people, to keep the momentum going. Otherwise, the community would naturally ‘peter’ out.
Think about any group you may have been part of, or any community you’ve been involved in (and not necessarily online), the chances are that if it was just ‘left to itself’ it would run out of steam. Or look at it from another angle, if you have a Facebook page for friends and family and never put anything on it or never use it, do you think any of your friends and family will keep visiting?
So going back to communities and MROCs, there needs to be someone (or even some people) in any community who takes a ‘leadership’ role and breathes life into the community.
And that’s what a moderator’s role is – to keep the community alive. That doesn’t mean ‘over facilitating’ but it does mean some involvement. Members still develop their own content and do ‘their own thing’.
While some facilitation is necessary, I think we need to be mindful of how we talk about online research communities so that people who have less experience with them don’t get the wrong idea, don’t you think?