PAPER NUMBER: 74
Towards a Framework for Social Web Platforms: The Neurovation Case Alexander Stocker, Gisela Granitzer, Patrick Hoefler, Viktoria Pammer, Reinhard Willfort, Anna Maria Koeck and Klaus Tochtermann
Abstract—Social web platforms have become very popular in the so-called Web 2.0, and there is no end in sight. However, very few systematic models for the constitution of such socio-technical infrastructures exist in the scientific literature. We therefore present a generic framework for building social web platforms based on the creation of value for individuals, communities and social networks. We applied this framework in the Neurovation project, aiming to establish a platform for creative knowledge workers. This paper describes work in progress and the lessons we have learned so far. Index Terms—Community, Social Network, Web Platform, Knowledge Management, Knowledge Work, Creativity, Open Innovation
EB PLATFORMS are more popular than ever, not least due to the Web 2.0 hype . Most of these platforms generate value for their individual users in one way or another, many of them facilitate communities and networks. Even though plenty of literature on design principles, success factors and challenges for communities and social networks is available (,,,,), a procedural approach for building a social web platform, starting with the very acquisition of users, is lacking. Driven by a concrete project that aimed to build an online community and a respective technical platform, we faced the need for an approach that would help us to establish a sustainable, social web platform. Neurovation is a registered trademark of the Neurovation GmbH, Nikolaiplatz 4, 8010 Graz Alexander Stocker is with the Know-Center, Inffeldgase 21a, 8010 Graz, Austria (phone +43 316 873 9275, e-mail: [email protected]
). Gisela Granitzer is with the Know-Center, Inffeldgase 21a, 8010 Graz, Austria (e-mail: [email protected]
). Patrick Hoefler is with the Know-Center, Inffeldgase 21a, 8010 Graz, Austria (e-mail: [email protected]
). Reinhard Willfort is with the Neurovation GmbH, Nikolaiplatz 4, 8010 Graz and ISN innovation service network, Hugo-Wolf-Gasse 6a, 8010 Graz (e-mail: [email protected]
) Anna Maria Koeck is with the Knowledge Management Institute at Graz University of Technology and the Neurovation GmbH, Nikolaiplatz 4, 8010 Graz (e-mail: [email protected]
) Klaus Tochtermann is with the Know-Center, Inffeldgase 21a, 8010 Graz, Austria, the Knowledge Management Institute at Graz University of Technology, Inffeldgase 21a, 8010 Graz, Austria and Institute for Networked Media at Joanneum Research, Elisabethstraße 20, 8010 Graz, Austria (e-mail: [email protected]
The main goal of this project called Neurovation was to set up a web platform that supports knowledge workers with respect to creativity and open innovation. The project also incorporated research from the fields of neuroscience, creativity and innovation (,). This paper introduces a generic framework for the development of a social web platform that takes into account the underlying social fabric and technological infrastructure and describes the provision of services for individuals, communities and social networks, thereby increasing the total utility of the platform. We apply the framework developed within the Neurovation project to constitute a social web platform for creative knowledge workers. The following chapter II introduces findings about design principles, success factors and challenges for communities and social networks, which are the relevant concepts of our study. These findings laid the foundations for the development of a procedural approach, which we describe in chapter III. In chapter IV we show the application of this approach with regard to the Neurovation platform. Thereby we outline the motivation for the Neurovation platform as well as the concepts related to our project. We conclude with our lessons learned in chapter V. II. RELATED LITERATURE In order to develop a general approach for building a sustainable social Web platform, existing literature was reviewed. In the following we discuss findings relevant for the project purpose, concentrating on the topics of communities and social networks. The establishment of a platform focusing on people and social interactions poses a challenging task: Kim  presents nine design principles covering purpose, people, gathering places, evolving roles, leadership, rules and policies, events, rituals and the support of sub-groups and a variety of technologies for each strategy. Designing for growth and strength, creating and maintaining feedback loops and empowering members over time make three underlying design principles. Preece  presents two design principles, designing for usability and supporting sociability. Good usability allows people to interact and perform tasks effectively and efficiently. Sociability focuses on social interaction and the elements of sociability which are purpose, people and roles as
PAPER NUMBER: 74 well as policies concerning membership, governance, privacy and security. She draws her principles from a humancomputer interaction perspective of understanding individuals, groups and their environments when designing web-based systems. Kollock  attributes the greater impact to the sociological challenges, due to the fact that there is little understanding of how they influence the success of online communities. His principles derive work from cooperation and social dilemma research (,) focusing on fostering social interaction, cooperation and collective action. He emphasizes the need for repeated social interaction, an identity built on the information about person and behavior, defined group boundaries, norms and rules regarding collective resources and monitoring and sanctioning members’ behavior. Also Leimeister et al  analyzed which success factors are important for virtual communities from user and provider perspectives. Sensitive handling of data, a stable and fast website, rules of behavior, and support for new members by more experienced ones played an important role for the users. From a provider perspective, the same factors except for mutual member support were among the first five. Instead, they found the provision of up-to-date content very important. Along with reading the related literature on online communities, we intensively studied current successful social Web platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, XING, studiVZ, and Del.icio.us. Our intention was to derive design patterns which could guide our own developments respectively. To achieve this, we analyzed features and services provided to the users. However, we were not able to identify a systematic model describing how these platforms had been constituted, because descriptive documents and publications are not publicly available to the best of our knowledge. As it can be seen from the literature reported so far, there are numerous findings which provide guidance for making existing communities work better and empowering them. However, nothing is reported about how to initiate a social Web platform, starting with the attraction of users. For that reason we present a generic framework.
resulting in a series of arising questions. According to the Web 2.0 philosophy  and during our initial investigation phase, we were given the impression that Web platforms would either be fast-selling items or would never be successful at all. Our motivation was to counteract this impression with a more concrete systemic framework to the establishment of platforms built around user-generated content. A critical mass of users seems inevitable for the survival of a platform . To our perspective, most publications analyze Web platforms which have already reached or even exceeded that barrier but never quantify it. We were not able to detect how to deal with empty platforms, which are the nature of every finished software implementation process. The burning question for us – and for most other platform operators on the web as well – is how to attract first users and motivate them to stay on the platform in order to eventually reach a critical mass that is required to sustain the service. Since our investigations did not lead to sufficient answers concerning both the establishment and the adoption of the socio-technical platform, we decided to design a generic framework for social networking platforms incorporating the research presented. Our intention was to present a model allowing for a more methodical and therefore manageable conceptualization of a socio-technical infrastructure in a respective domain, utilizing services demanded by representatives of this domain.
III. A FRAMEWORK FOR SOCIAL WEB PLATFORMS The development of a framework for vibrant sociotechnical Web platforms meeting the specific needs of industry cases was enjoying the highest priority for our researchers. The information gathered from both literature research and careful investigation of current social Web platforms and trends led to a number of parameters which have to be considered. Though the respective literature provided many insights into online communities and their practices, the literature was neglecting concrete models to systematically establish sustainable communities. Rather literature focused on the presentation of somewhat ambiguous design principles, patterns and guidelines, dealing with the social dynamics of users, but omitting a clear and well-structured approach,
Figure 1: Social entities of a social Web platform Individuals, communities and social networks establish the social entities of the Web 2.0 . From a business view, we propose that vibrant social Web platforms have to be constituted in a way that they offer services on individual, community and network levels. They are obliged to generate incentives in the shape of perceptible benefits on all three levels, thereby raising the total utility of the platform. To cope with this, we propose a very generic three-level model applicable for developing social Web platforms based on user
PAPER NUMBER: 74 generated content and community integration, custom-made for industry projects. Our model was inspired and motivated by research in online communities (,,,) and knowledge sharing (,). We afterwards applied our model within the Neurovation platform. A. Step 1: Development of Services with Respect to Individual Users We expect one major challenge for platform developers dealing with the motivation and barriers with respect to first potential platform users: The attraction of first customers with a newly designed product is essential for the survival of all types of businesses. When establishing a web-based platform as an essential part of a company’s business model, it is crucial to develop a mechanism that attracts first users to this platform. The utility of a social platform without any users is very low. It needs a vibrant user base to come alive. We assume that a user will have a high motivation to visit and apply a platform in a certain context, when at first the usage of the services provided within the platform is sufficiently beneficial on an individual level. Platform developers have to assure the provision of services in this regard to both attract and sustain first users, reaching out for the proposed critical mass. B. Step 2: Development of Services with Respect to Communities People usually work together to achieve better results. Platform providers must establish mechanisms to enable group-based collaborative efforts. At this stage, the platform itself as a means of support for domain-specific communities comes into play. The allocation of virtual spaces, where community members meet and take on their shared purpose, according to Preece  is crucial for community support. The individual is able to invite trusted co-workers to generate results which outrival results purely achieved on an individual level, generating more value for all participants. Facilitating knowledge exchange between members of differing communities is not part of this step. We assume that services beneficial on both individual and community level have to be provided. This will accelerate critical mass achievement. C. Step 3: Development of Services with Respect to Social Networks Current Web 2.0 platforms are based upon the social networking practices of their users. According to Metcalfe’s law we establish a (social) network of the platform users. To summarize Metcalfe’s law  in a nutshell, the value of a (communication) network grows by the square of the number of people it connects. Laying the foundation for community establishment in step 2, we are able to apply Reed’s law consequently increasing the utility of the network. According to Reed’s law , the value of a network may grow faster, even exponentially, if the design of the network supports the construction of sub-groups. Applying Reed’s law for platforms implies that platform operators have to provide services to establish so called group-forming networks. The
total value of the network will rise with the number of possible group-forming networks, which are nothing else than communities. Community members will bind themselves stronger towards the platform. Moreover individuals are able to achieve higher benefits if they can establish connections with communities that meet their interests, which are usually found in large heterogeneous social networks. The development of a domain-specific network allowing subgroups of people for achieving benefits on individual, community and network level is the overall goal of our presented framework. Services which tap the unused potential of online social networks may increase the total value for their respective users. IV. A SOCIAL WEB PLATFORM FOR CREATIVE KNOWLEDGE WORKERS As it was stated in the introduction, the project goal was to develop a social Web platform which goes beyond organisational boundaries – even though it might also be realised in a closed environment – providing services for the creative knowledge worker. We applied the framework presented before to the Neurovation platform to constitute the social Web platform. Before describing both the application of the framework and the platform in detail, knowledge work, creativity and open innovation will be introduced for a better understanding as they represent the relevant concepts for the Neurovation platform. A. Related Concepts 1) Knowledge Work Since the beginning of the digital age and especially since the Internet became a common way of providing and exchanging information, we observe a drastic information increase, additionally intensified by the recent Web 2.0 developments. Various studies show impressive numbers about information growth (,). The permanent growth brings about an ever-changing world to which we have to adapt immediately and flexibly. This is especially true for knowledge-intensive work, briefly knowledge work, which is characterized by a situation where the task description and the results to be reached are not clearly defined. In addition, the sequence and method of operation is left to the knowledge worker, a term which was first used by management consultant and university professor Peter Drucker . Knowledge work is different to clerical and manual work where tasks, activities and operational procedures are largely defined and deviation is not required or even possible. In order to maximize productivity, knowledge workers must be supported with information that is provided on demand and tailored to their current context. Here, technology can help to make available the required information, which is of different types and usually spread across sources. 2) Creativity Knowledge workers are often, even though this is no
PAPER NUMBER: 74 defining characteristic of knowledge work, required to be creative. Especially fast-developing disciplines and domains with heavy competition depend on creative performance of their employees in order to develop innovative products and services. While creativity is the process of generating new ideas on an individual or group basis, innovation is the process of converting these ideas into processes, products or services. Since one of the first stages in the innovation process is the generation of ideas, creativity organizations have an interest in supporting and facilitating this first step. Research shows that a supportive atmosphere free of criticism can optimize the process of idea generation. Moreover, it helps to be familiar with the goals of idea generation and the relevant knowledge domain. It also helps to know about the ideas of others as the so called “idea sharing” (i.e. expanding and playing around with ideas of other persons) has proven to be an effective means for getting inspiration for new ideas. Moreover, humor or positive affect can stimulate the idea generation process. As stated in  a current study shows how different interventions apart from idea sharing and humor affect creativity. Without going into detail, it should be mentioned that results of this and one further empirical study about creativity training  found their way into the design of the subsequently described platform. 3) Open Innovation Since the generation of creative ideas can be understood as one of the very first steps within the innovation process and we talk about creativity across organisational boundaries, the concept of Open Innovation hast to be introduced. Knowledge that is beneficial for the development of new products and services is widely diffused today . Knowledge monopolists like IBM in the 1960s in computing or Bell Labs in the 1970s in communication do not exist anymore. Idle knowledge is available in companies of all sizes, in universities and other research institutions as well as in the minds of individuals. The new rationale for businesses is to realign their innovation efforts towards these new knowledge structures for accessing, building upon and integrating external knowledge into their existing or new products and services. Furthermore, individuals’ ideas have to be utilized instantly in order to prevent their diffusion to the wider environment, a process that has been accelerated by emerging new media technologies. Open Innovation is a term coined by Berkeley Professor Henry Chesbrough . The central idea behind this concept is the fact that in a world of distributed knowledge, it is hardly affordable for companies to merely focus on their own inhouse research staff. They have to go beyond their boundaries by, for example, buying services from external sources or by licensing patents. This means that companies have to open up their innovation process to the outside world. Open Innovation combines internal and external knowledge to enhance the innovation performance. The traditional vertical innovation model termed “closed innovation” described innovation as a process where in-company resources are the one and only way
to effectively develop new products and services. According to Chesbrough, closed innovation is no longer effective enough due to the huge number of mobile knowledge workers who are intentionally shifting their jobs regularly or starting new enterprises. A lot of talent lies idle outside companies and has to be integrated to generate value. Going beyond organisational boundaries is facilitated by the Web 2.0 movement  which is characterized by a participative culture, providing a variety of applications for communication and collaboration. A very common descriptive study in this respect is the Goldcorp case  dealing with gold mining. Goldcorp Inc. broke with tradition in the mining business when making secret geological data about its mine available to the public on the Web. Though going public with these most valuable source of data was a gamble, 1000 prospectors from 50 countries accepted the Goldcorp Challenge. 110 possible targets for gold veins were identified and the challenge was estimated to have found gold worth about $3 billon from an investment of $0,6 billion – the prizes money for the winners. From this follows that placing the emphasis on external knowledge was the key success factor for Goldcorp. This case study clearly describes how and why the mass can be motivated to share their insights, creating value through participation. Neurovation is built on the concepts of knowledge work, creativity and open innovation combined with technologies enabling the Social Web. In the following, the three building steps are introduced in detail. B. Application of the Framework to Neurovation 1) Step 1: Development of Services for Creative Knowledge Workers At the beginning we considered the entity of a creative knowledge worker as described before as well as its specific requirements. We assumed that creativity is to some extent part of every work task that is not of a routine type. Our intention was to support creative tasks of knowledge workers with Web technology by providing a series of services for creative people. Currently, the personal creativity environment offers two different services: (1) The idea generator constitutes a service which supports the creative knowledge worker in the generation and refinement of ideas. To achieve this goal, current research from neuroscience  as well as experiences from innovation and knowledge management have been applied. The immediate benefit for the knowledge workers applying the idea generator lies in the support of their unstructured working processes. The tool provides guidance for two different working practices: By interventions and visual stimuli the idea generator allows persons with a structured thinking style to think broader. By contrast, the more chaotic type is assisted in achieving more structure in his process when applying the tool. These facets can lead to more creative and unconventional ideas. (2) A creativity test that incorporates research from psychology has been implemented to assess users regarding
PAPER NUMBER: 74 their level of creativity. After finishing the creativity test, the creative knowledge worker receives a machine-based feedback on his level of creativity and may consider further training of his creativity skills. 2) Step 2: Development of Services for Creative Knowledge Communities We emphasize a steady but controlled development of groups of creative knowledge workers handling both ideas and challenges. To achieve this, we added collaborative functionality including profiles, forums, invitation functionalities and many more to the platform, which enable small groups to effectively work together in teams on the creation of ideas or the development of challenges. Our intention was to connect creative knowledge workers who already got to know each other within an entity, be it a team, a department, a whole company or a shared domain. We label the established entities creative knowledge communities. People usually get useful knowledge from those with whom they have strong ties, because they trust them to be benevolent and competent . With respect to that finding, we assume that knowledge presented by a sender who is ‘closer’ in terms of operational figures of social networking analysis to the beneficiary is valued of being more trustworthy. In contrast to that we further assume that someone who demands knowledge will rather trust a person to whom he has stronger ties. In general, communities differ from social networks by displaying a higher level of communality  and a stronger sense of community . This can help to explain phenomena such as free provision of personal resources to assist other community members, thereby generating immediate benefits for all. If anybody generates an idea which he considers to be a breakthrough, he might rather share it with people who are like himself who he considers to be dignified co-workers. Second, if someone posts a challenge describing a problem that he tackled during his work tasks, we assume that people with stronger ties will more likely offer their help, which is exactly the case in communities. Beyond the generation of further benefits on an individual level, teams of all shapes and sizes may use the platform for working together on challenges and ideas, thereby establishing a series of benefits on a community level. Furthermore, the specific support of creative knowledge communities attracts additional users to the platform, which enables the initialization of step three of the presented framework. 3) Step 3: Development of Services for Creative Knowledge Networks In step 2 we provided the basis for applying Reed’s law when we intentionally started to foster the establishment of creative knowledge communities. Enabling connections between isolated communities creates a group-forming network. In step 3, we provide social networking functionality to enable individuals and communities to connect with third parties. By doing this, we will raise the total value of the network and lay the foundation stone of a creative knowledge network. The overall goal of step 3 is to foster the development of a
large heterogeneous network for creative knowledge workers. To achieve this, we are planning to expand our Web platform for creative knowledge workers from all over the world, regardless of affiliation, company or knowledge domain. In theory, we apply both Metcalfe’s law  and Reed’s law  to the platform to increase the level of benefit the individual gains from actively participating in the creativity network. Besides incorporating functionalities of current social networking platforms, we will provide additional services which deal with open innovation issues. Motivated by the current Web 2.0 movement, we provide services which allow people to establish connections around ideas and challenges. By using these services, authoring teams of ideas and challenges may share their created objects with the public, utilizing the wisdom of the crowds  for further idea refinement. This will lead to more sophisticated ideas and highly innovative solutions for challenges. Moreover, Neurovation users are able to get in touch with likeminded people to build new relationships. They instantly draw value from the network of creative knowledge workers.
Figure 2: Connecting the social entities V. CONCLUSION AND LIMITATIONS To our perspective, the Neurovation platform is one of the first to converge knowledge, creativity and innovation within a social networking platform. To manage our intention, we established a generic framework to constitute social Web platforms in terms of benefits created on individual, community and network level based on the provided services. We applied this approach in the Neurovation platform to establish a social network for creative knowledge workers. The framework described in this paper constitutes a valuable contribution for any company aiming to establish a Web 2.0 platform. With the help of our framework, we were able to conceptualize all services required for Neurovation. By the end of 2007 we find ourselves in stage 2 of the implementation phase while the platform is available since mid of 2007. However we must admit that our framework has been applied only once in practice and the respective project is still work in progress. Though we could test our framework to platforms including for example del.icio.us or flickr, limitations in terms of generalization of the concepts underlying our framework to other cases occur. Flickr as well as del.icio.us provide services
PAPER NUMBER: 74 on the individual level at first, since users store their bookmarks or photos, receiving sufficient benefit on the individual level to use the platform. Second, they share their created objects with family and friends, thereby forming bookmark and photo sharing communities. Third, both platforms became larger raising the total value for the users benefiting from a social network of bookmark or picture sharing individuals and communities: Consequently one is able to investigate popular sites on flickr measured by the number of linking bookmarks, due to the critical mass of users in a large scale network of bookmarking people. Likewise, users are able to access photos from all over the world on a wide variety of topics, benefiting from the huge size of the social network of photo sharers. We were able to draw a series of interesting insights from Neurovation which we don’t want to withhold: Studying best practices of successful social Web platforms such as Xing, Spreadshirt, Flickr or del.icio.us led to the assumption that Web 2.0 platforms are by definition fast-selling items. However, we were not able to observe this within our context. Contrary to what the corresponding literature suggested, the establishment of communities is a very complex task and far away from machinable, even in the times of Web 2.0 dynamics. We managed a series of both online and offline activities to attract users to the Neurovation platform. We further highlight the impact of the selected technology to the success of such projects. We suggest the adoption of a non-proprietary technology which has already been utilized in a critical mass. To avoid reinventing the wheel, the selected technology must be capable of incorporating available domain-specific modules which deal with features for the support of communities and social networks. Flexible and well documented interfaces within the utilized technology constitute a necessity and save both time and cost. From this perspective we chose Drupal as the underlying platform. Describing the vision of the project initiator at a more tangible level to derive use-cases for the software developers was a challenging exercise. The formulation of strict use cases was especially demanding since they sometimes became obsolete after documentation. We assume this is precisely the case whenever implementing Web 2.0 based platforms because of the underlying dynamics and social complexity. Even at level three within our model, we feel a slight dissatisfaction when trying to comprehensively describe what users of Neurovation are able to accomplish. By the application of our framework, we underline the relevance of services and benefits on each level – be it individual, community and network. The particular characteristics of ideas and challenges afford a different and more sophisticated approach when dealing with these resources on the Web, compared to dealing with physical goods or sharing videos and bookmarks. The latter are already well understood by the potential audience, whereas limited experiences exist for handling ideas and challenges.
The Know-Center is funded within the Austrian COMET Program - Competence Centers for Excellent Technologies under the auspices of the Austrian Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology, the Austrian Ministry of Economics and Labor and by the State of Styria. REFERENCES 
  
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