Via Marc Smith's Connected Action blog, I learned about Jenny Preece and Ben Sheniderman's paper in a new journal:

Preece, Jennifer and Shneiderman, Ben (2009). The Reader-to-Leader Framework: Motivating Technology-Mediated Social Participation, AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction (1) 1, pp. 13-32. (link)

Drawing on a huge amount of prior research, the paper develops an interesting model of the progression of participation in online collective action (although they don't call it that). Actually, I would say the references in this paper are almost entirely must-reads for anyone interested in online participation, and the manner in which Preece and Shneiderman go through them is almost like the syllabus for a good course on understanding online participation.

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The figure above highlights the paper's main model. I like that the authors include all those arrows to indicate that it's not a step-wise progression from one stage to the next. I think this is a key point. Preece and Shneiderman talk a bit about Lave and Wenger's notion of Legitimate Peripheral Participation. One of the key misconceptions of that work is that it suggests a linear path from periphery to center. But Lave and Wenger go out of their way to argue that although there are some activities that are peripheral (yet legitimate) there are many paths from them towards others types of participation. They also argue that 'central' is not the right idea since communities are constantly in flux, and suggest 'full participation' is a better term. I think Preece and Shneiderman are on board with all of this.

I am thinking about another way to conceive of this model which highlights another key point: progressing in participation usually means supplementing participation with new knowledge, activities, and social interactions, but not supplanting the previous forms. A 'leader' on Wikipedia is certainly still a 'reader,' and though she may spend less time fixing typographical errors (as a 'contributor' might) and more time arbitrating disputes, the progression is often about growth rather than a substitution. An alternative way of visualizing this progression is below.

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This is not a perfect way either, more of a straw man. Gain some things, lose some things. One thing lost in this new visualization is the progression of thick green arrows that indicate the path that Preece and Shneiderman argue many users follow.

I don't think this alternative way of looking at the progression of participation fundamentally alters Shneiderman and Preece's argument. From one point of view, this is just a quibble about visualization. But actually I think the venn-style highlights that reading is a starting point, and the progression from there goes in many directions. At the same time, deeper forms of participation each share much in common with others, but some new activities as well. For me, even though the more linear style is common for visualizations of conceptual models, it's important that the model not imply separations that might not exist, and that it emphasizes that increasing participation is often a process of learning and growth which allows deeply embedded participants to experience more and share more with a diverse array of others.