The Forums on Ubuntu

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Posted on 08 Mar 2013 01:44

I was trying to install an operating system on my computer called Ubuntu, and I was looking up tutorials for installing it. It's a very complicated process that many beginners would give up on, but I found a forum that discusses Ubuntu and clarifies the installation process. Just as Swale's conditions for a discourse community state, this forum has a shared goal: to discuss many things — including projects and tutorials — regarding the operating system on a computer called Ubuntu. It's mechanisms of communication and feedback are all organized in the website in forum form — which has multiple sections. The article that I am analyzing was in a subsection of the community — the Absolute Beginners Community; it allows users to ask questions surrounding Ubuntu, and other users to respond to these questions. Most of the people in this particular subsection are actually mostly “outsiders” trying to understand the system, while the other sections involve support for other “insiders”. Either way, the fact that different sections, or genres, exist within this forum further prove that it is a discourse community defined by Swale.

In the article, a member asked a question, and other members answered by giving him lines of commands that the person should try; this implies that they are “insiders”. Membership is open to everyone in this forum, but being an “insider” is related to the basic knowledge of computer concepts and terminology that one possesses. Since this is the Absolute Beginners Community, the language isn’t too advanced, but it can still be hard for other people to follow. The members in the forums use lexis such as “GRUB, BIOS, EFI”, and “partitions” to describe systems, or they could talk about computer commands — a whole other language — and the concepts behind them. In the article, the people who replied to the asker’s question are “insiders” because of their knowledge of the Ubuntu system and computer commands — the fact that they replied makes them “insiders” as well. The presence of both “insiders” and “outsiders” in this forum supports the Swale’s idea that this community is a discourse community.

The black and white notion of “insiders” and “outsiders” doesn't necessarily dominate the classification in this forum, however. The people who participate in the Ubuntu Forums are almost specialized when it comes to this system, but not all advice is given from complete “insiders” (probably known as the moderators?). People are potentially “apprentices” when they look for support about something, but they can also know and learn more terminology as they give advice to others. The “apprentices” can know terminology but not understand the concepts — vice versa also applies — thus making them almost “incomplete insiders”. Nevertheless, Swale’s criteria of a threshold level is still met by the unspoken requirement of basic computer knowledge.

Ubuntu Forums is a community which, I believe, fits the criteria that Swale lays out for a discourse community because of its own unique characteristics: the “insider, outsider” dynamic, its division of genres, and its method of communications.

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