Member directory tools

From [[ CPsquare]], the community of practice on communities of practice.
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... part of the technology for communities project,
started off by the authors of [Digital Habitats], Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John D. Smith.


A member directory displays information about community members in a roster format. It provides a broad overview of the membership, as well as some key information about each member. This information is either provided by members themselves or generated automatically; some is "required," and some may be optional. The contents may overlap with and link to a personal information page. The directory may also represent some of the community's demographics or internal structure, such as distinct types of members, roles, or subgroups.

Uses in communities of practice

A community that grows beyond a few dozen people needs a roster of members. As people join and leave, members need to be able to keep track of who currently considers themselves members. Having a directory that is specific to a community also makes it possible to use "local" terminology that makes sense only inside the community. Members may share information about themselves inside the community space that they would not want shared outside. What’s useful depends on the needs, interests, and composition of the community. More information can be included in personal pages. A member directory should reduce the effort involved in visualizing the community as a whole and in contacting specific subgroups or individuals. System administrators and community leaders may find this tool and associated features to be essential to their work.

Tool Polarities

  • Together/apart, Synch/Asynch: Some peripheral members of the community may only be "present" or "together" with the rest of the community in a Member directory.
  • Participation/Reification: a Member directory represents the membership of a community at a given point in time. Part of its value depends on the extent to which it permits further participation (e.g., by affording contacts with individuals).
  • Individual/group: a Member directory represents the group and individual members. How it is made available to individuals members may affect access by specific subgroups.

Key features

Information acquisition features

  • Shows automatically generated information such as level of activity, role or access. Augments what’s provided by members with information gleaned from the system’s record of activities (e.g., number of posts or page revisions) or roles (e.g., security privileges). Who else has access to a particular page can generate useful subsets for a member directory.
    • Access privileges or activity statistics can be useful indicators that frame social interaction. The diversity within a community can be a resource if it can be visualized without extra effort. This kind of information can provide context when connecting an individual, or with a group, so it’s most useful in a community roster.
  • Integration with other sources of personal information such as existing directories and HR databases.
    • This feature is useful for communities in organization. It is often difficult to motivate people to enter their information and keep it up to date. Some of this information may already be maintained in an organization database, and can be extracted automatically.
  • Hand entry of offline members: Allowing information about members to be entered for members who are not active online.
    • For communities that interact online (and depend on a member directory but have members who are not active online, having a mechanism so that someone can enter information on their behalf enlarges and extends the community.

Information content features

  • Provides or links to personal information provided by members that helps community members connect easily. This can include photos, email addresses, IM handles, phone number, country, time zone, etc.
    • To encourage contact and make it easy, the most important contact information from a profile page such phone, email address, or location is provided in a community directory in a form that invites members to connect with each other. Giving members the choice as to what is displayed is in line with the voluntary nature of communities.
  • Sub-group membership allows the membership directory to be narrowed down to specific sub-groups.
    • When a community is complex or very large, sub-groups may exist or be encouraged to form and it is then useful to be able to have a sub-directory that shows the members of a specific group.

Information display features

  • Sorting allows the membership directory to display the information in a specified order according to a specified field.
    • This feature allows one to discover categies of members. For example, sorting people according to geographic location, organizational affiliation, or interest can be useful for finding members to join local sub-communities or projects.
  • Ability to show specified fields. Users are able to control which fields are displayed in their view of the community directory.
    • If directory entries have more than a few fields, different people will be interested in seeing different fields displayed in the community directory.

Availability in different forms

  • Print / online access. Careful design of Member directory, so that it is available in print as well as electronic form extends access and utility.
    • An ILO community makes a practice of sending a printed version of an online Member directory to its members by "regular mail" each year to connect people who are not usually connected via the Internet because of access limits or personal habits.


Related tools

See also: