Participation issues in commons-based peer production communities

(This post is by the UCM (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) team: Samer HassanPablo Ojanguren, Antonio Tapiador and Antonio Tenorio)


Commons based peer production is an emerging and innovative production model in which the creative energy of large numbers of citizens is coordinated, usually through a digital platform, outside of the parameters of the traditionally hierarchical and mercantile organisation, resulting in the public provision of commons resources. Some well-known examples are Linux, Wikipedia, Open Street Maps and Couchsurfing.

Participation is a crucial point in commons-based peer production (CBPP) communities. Participation is voluntary; there are neither contracts nor hierarchies. Therefore, it is very important to understand how participation works.

Some studies show how participation in CBPPs follows a power-law statistical distribution: about 10% of users perform 90% of contributions, and 90% of users perform only 10% of contributions.

According to this, we have grouped users into three groups (splitting up the 10% group), and have identified and analysed their specific needs and issues performing ethnographic studies.

Following are the findings on every group in the participation curve.

Lurkers (90% of participants, the long tail of the power-law curve, usually come to the community only to consume what is produced, in order to get a personal benefit – to read Wikipedia articles, or to rent or offer a room on AirBnB.  Additional reasons to keep consuming are mainly because they feel aligned with the ideals of the community and their members, they trust in them, the good quality of the community outcomes and the opportunity to meet people who share the same interests.

Active members (9% of participants) are those who make some occasional contributions – writing articles in Wikipedia, for example. Their participation is driven by different causes, among them to help others, to improve the community using their personal skills and knowledge – or learn new ones – and even to seek the appreciation and recognition of others. But they do not take responsibility when there is some urgent problem to solve.

Finally, core members (1% of participants) are those who are pushing the community and its sustainability forward by all means. They are ready to take on all the responsibilities and to face any problem without hesitation or doubt. They are always busy, and they think about new possibilities for the community. Founders are part of this group.

Groups are not static, and changes over time can harm the sustainability of the community. Every group is important: if the community has no participation – consumers or contributors – it will become useless. Also, if the same people always struggle with problems and making things happen, they can become burnt out.

The purpose of the P2Pvalue project is to help CBPP communities to overcome these issues through an online decentralized collaboration platform, and to experiment with new value and reward systems within it. A description of this platform will be introduced in a forthcoming post.

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