I have long been a subscriber to, first, the old TR-DEV listserv and its revised format as a moderated Yahoo group. While the site shows 4,000 members, I would guess that truly active membership -- lots of posting, interaction, some argument -- is in the range of 50-100. Debates have been long and often spirited, and while I have not always found it all useful (too much parsing of semantics, too many side visits to politics last fall) it did keep me informed about current interests in the training field and what practitioners were really working on (as opposed to what the media often report). While a true community of practice is usually characterized by its lack of formal oversight, the moderators did a good job of blocking out blatant marketing attempts and people phising for email addresses, and refocusing/refereeing discussions when needed.
ANYWAY, the announcement came from the moderators this week that the site will be shut down effective Tuesday, and they will not be entertaining any further discussion or answering responses about it. They did provide a long explanation, including acknowledgement of new social media technologies that did not exist back when the listserv was started. And, really, they said, they're tired. It is an often thankless job, with anyone with a beef about anything taking it out on the moderators who were doing this voluntarily in the first place. The moderators have already deleted all the materials in the archives, things like handouts and whitepapers and tools submitted by members.
The response has been, not unexpectedly, dramatic and emotional. People are shocked at the swiftness of the decision; comments on the board this week tend to alternate between "thanks for all the years of service" and "how dare you?" The conversations have raised some points to ponder on the matter of CoPs. Let's cogitate:
1. Who "owns" a CoP?
2. To whom does the material shared by, created by, and stored in a community repository belong?
3. Does the life of a community have such a definite end point? What will happen next?
While I am sad to see TR-DEV go I admit I have been fascinated at watching the drama play out this week. For those really interested in the philosophical side of all this, there is a small body of academic literature on power issues in CoPs; authors include Huzzard; Pemberton, Mavin, & Stalker; and Roberts.