Common sense and experience would suggest that people are more creative when they work together in a face-to-face environment. But, as remote working and online interactions become more and more commonplace, there is growing evidence that working in virtual communities and using online tools together can be even more effective in some areas than face-to-face cooperation.
Professor Piet Kommers of the University of Twente in The Netherlands, is a specialist in advanced learning tools such as concept mapping, virtual reality, and mobile learning, and has focused much of his research on trying to eradicate preconceptions about learning models and scepticism about how members of online networks interact. Writing in the International Journal of Web-based Communities, Kommers addresses the question, "How can virtual participation contribute to creative solutions?"
Communications that are not face-to-face, whether they involve commenting on a web blog, using a chat client, debating on a forum, or even attempting to get help from a call center, all involve some kind of transience. The people involved may be anonymous, they may be disguising their identity, or simply not revealing their true location or intentions. However, virtual meetings have the unique property of bringing together like-minded or even dissimilar people who would never normally meet in the "offline" world, and thus open up endless possibilities for collaboration, learning, and creativity.
In his research, Kommers hopes to reveal how Web 2.0 interactions can leverage such opportunities by linking people in new ways and creating larger-than-life social and working networks. As web etiquette evolves over the coming years, Kommers suggests it will move from the precocious experimentation phase (which we now find ourselves in) to fully fledged participation. Tools such as chat capabilities (which are built into well-known online networks like LinkedIn and Facebook), as well as in web link sharing tools (such as Iosurf and Delicious), make it easier to extrapolate one's web and e-mail behavior into establishing a social network.
"The emergence of web-based communities has revitalized us to consider social problems as issues for social participation and for social creativity," Kommers says. He adds that, "There are now real prospects for online communities to promote human values such as cooperation, altruism, open-mindedness, and tolerance."
The premise of Kommers paper, Creativity in Web-Based Communities, is as follows; "The first priority is to understand skepticism on the additive nature of human creativity. The second priority is to understand why vicarious and mediated communication [ie., via the Web] can achieve even better than face-to-face cooperation."