Evolution of an online forum for knowledge management professionals: A language game analysis

Written by Anne-Laure Fayard and Gerardine DeSanctis, 2005.

Prezi use for the presentation

This article is about the evolution of language use by forum users in a professional forum and how a forum can be considered as a success.  

According to Herring, a professional development forum can be considered "successful" if participation is "continuous and self-sustaining". The development of the forum, how rules of linguistic interaction emerge and help to shape the social order in the forum.   They are using Wittgenstein’s language game framework to analyse this forum.  

1. Definitions 

-Online forum: It is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They differ from chat rooms in that messages are ofter longer that one line of text.

-Moderators: The moderators (short singular form: "mod") are users (or employees) of the forum who are granted access to the posts and threads of all members for the purpose of moderating discussion (similar to arbitration) and also keeping the forum clean (neutralizing spam and spambots etc) 

- Administrator: The administrators (short form: "admin") manage the technical details required for running the site. 

- Facilitator: is someone who engages in the activity of facilitation. They help a group of people understand their common objectives and assists them to plan how to achieve these objectives.

- IT: Information technology: Information technology (IT) is the application of computers and internet to store, retrieve, transmit, and manipulate data, or information, often in the context of a business or other enterprise.
- Wittgenstein's language game framework is used because it has been used by scholars to understand development and actin within formal organisations and its applicability to online groups has not yet been explored. 
  •  The notion of “game” highlights the idea that communication is a system of representation and action on the part of the players (speakers). 
The interest of the study is in the language game of an organising entity. And games involve different players who take on roles which, in turn, help to define the types of interactions and behaviours in an organisation. 

2. Study 

They analysed a professional forum named KM forum,  first, by times (15 months of messages content = 5 Time period with 3 months) and then by dimensions: roles, social identity and linguistic style.

Figure 1: Historical Timeline of the development of KMforum
 GV is the founder of the discussion. He is the most active contributors in the discussion, he played the role of moderator and facilitator during Time 1 (T1) and T5. T5. He diminishes in his facilitating role. Role of moderator is discussed in T2
PP, another contributor tried to create a role for himself in the forum, but the others are not willing to play the game because he’s only referring to himself and its work and there is no new language game even if he was the second most active contributors. 

There is a Small group that shares the facilitation role with GV especially when the participation of GV declines in T5. This group is interesting because they are involved in creating a lively atmosphere and “setting the stage” so they enacted a discourse pattern and allow participants to enter and quickly know how to behave and play the language game of the forum. 

Figure 2: Slide Roles
 Social Identity: 
Languages games related to social identity are enacted during the all five periods. 
All the contributors referred to the social group of the forum ("Dear KM-ers", "I am interesting for this e-group" ...) 
But in T4 and T5, there are more and more references to India and potential face-to-face meetings such as conferences etc. 
This shows us, that because the forum is in India, it permitted to aid social identity on the forum. They would more easily identify with one another than with other people around the world.

Figure 3: Slide Social Identity
Linguistic Style:  
In the forum, most of them use an informal and friendly style of interacting. 
They are using greetings such as "Hello",  "Hi friends" or they are using personal addresses closing with "Cheers", "best regards",  "ciao” and expressions of politeness and gratitude.
The language game of style permitted to create and maintains the “link” across the five periods and gave some sense of stability and cohesion to the group. Participants also tend to forward others' messages in T1 to T2 ("As X said in his previous message...") 
 The fact that they are using friendly style allows newcomers to enter and participate in the forum and that make the forum more dynamic.
Figure 4: Slide Linguistic Style 

3. Result:

What about the evolution of the forum

 First: the moderator/facilitator orchestrated the activity of the forum
Second Small core group acted to launch the language game of the forum and keep it in play over time.
 Third – was the discourse related to the group’s social identity. group social identity,
 Final important aspect of the forum: Evolution of discourse style: Friendly environment, expression of politeness and gratitude were evident in the language game of the forum

What are the step for a forum to be a success?

The first key to development an online forum is to build a conversational Rhythm Early On is key to develop an online forum. The first-period is critical to established patterns of group conversation.  Efforts have to be made right at the beginning, not only to get the discussion going but set the context and behaviours and it will become the basis for the forum’s life. 
Two roles who can help in the process: The facilitator/moderator and the small core of very active members. 

The second key is to create a context to facilitate and support interactions. The forum’s context provides a linguistic model of behaviour for the new members, it’s like rules for participating in the language game.  That assures the success of the forum.

The third key is to develop Strong Sociability Criteria. The discourse style and the level of sociability it's crucial to the forum because if you see that there’s a forum with mean contributors, people don’t want to join them because you don’t want arguments with other etc.  People will be more attracted to a forum with a friendly style and positive tone.  And they’ll have a sense of the forum’s style and behaviour. 

The fourth key is to know how to avoid conflict escalation. The analysis faced a conflict between PP and another contributor but the others didn’t play his game. And it they made a good choice. because you have to “take the conflict outside” the forum.

The last key is to support Embodiment. The study shows the importance of locale place as a source for a strong social identity over time.  As I mentioned before in the social identity dimension, at the beginning of the forums life, there’s no mention of any physical place in India and at the end, the forum became a facilitator for face-to-face interactions.  

4. Conclusion

The development of the forum needs to follow different steps in order to be sustainable. It's important to build and maintain a discussion and set up a pattern of a group at the beginning of a life forum thanks to the moderator and the small core group. Social Identity and linguistic style also play a dominant role in allowing people to have a social identity, refer to other and create a link with positive messages to allow new people to enter and participate. 

5. Class discussion

Do you use any forum, which one and why? 

- French people tend to use Yahoo to search for any solution to their question and they never participate in a forum. 
- Taiwanese people use more forum for games or for sports such as ppt to share their idea and search for knowledge.  
They use a lot of university forum such as the National Central University Forum. 


  1. How do you use the concept of language games to analyze the comments on your You Tube comments? How do the roles of social identity and linguistic/discourse styles play in their comments? Do you observe "evolution of discourse style: friendly environment, expression of politeness and gratitude were evident in the language game of the forum"?

    what is the level of sociability or conversational rhythm? Do you play a role of facilitator or moderator for the comments?


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