Session 3 Readings

What Brings Us to Communities?

The paper “Virtual Community Attraction: Why People Hang Out Online” by Ridings and Gefen attempts to categorize the reasons why a person may join an online community.  Based on a literature review, they initially decided on four categories; information exchange, social support, friendship, and recreation. Then, they asked members of various message boards why they joined the community. In their results, they found that information exchange was the number one reason to join the community. This reinforces the concept of the internet as the “information superhighway”.  Social support and friendship were the next highest answers.

I’m a little skeptical of the responses that the judges have classified as “friendship”.  Here’s the first example response:

These 2 boards are responsible for many of my closest friends. Some say that couldn’t be possible, but it is. I have traveled all over the U.S. in the last 4 years hunting, shooting and just meeting my cyber friends and i can tell you that there is somthing magical about these boards. I have had friends that have opened their homes to me without any hesitation and call me friend. I also have friends that I have never met but trust them unconditionally……….it’s magic.

I understand that the reason you stay in a community is because of friends that you’ve made, but I don’t think that’s what brought you there in the first place.  It seems that this first respondent did not even answer the question “Why did you join this virtual community” and instead stated why he/she is still involved.  It’s far more likely that you joined a message board community because you were looking for something, had common interests, or needed social support.  In fact, in the second example response, the person said that they “joined the board to make friends who are experiencing the same emotions that I am.”  While the respondent does explicitly mention friendship, the fact that they’re looking for people who have similar experiences says that they are looking for social support. The second half of that response is not too different from the first social support example response, which starts off by saying “I joined for the support of families who are in the same situation as I am.”

The choice of message board communities is an interesting one, since they’re usually based on some common interests.  If we involved SNSs like Facebook and Myspace, where the community is not based on common interests or needs, then I think we would see a lot more respondents cite friendship as the reason for joining the SNS.  This paper was written in 2004, so SNSs were not nearly as common as they are now.  Also, sites like YouTube and Hulu have made communities where users join for recreation and entertainment.  Running a survey like the one found in the paper that involves SNSs would be difficult, but I think the results of it will be almost the opposite of what Ridings and Gefen found.  It really demonstrates how our usage of the internet has transformed over these 5+ years (although information exchange still plays a big part in our general use of the internet).

What Keeps Us Going?

In “Using Social Psychology to Motivate Contributions to Online Communities” by Ling et al, they attempt to motivate contributions to a movie rating site called MovieLens.  They conducted 4 experiments that test their hypotheses.  In each experiment, they came up with a set of hypotheses and then tested them by making groups of users and sending them emails.  Out of their 8 hypotheses, their experiments only strongly supported one, that people will contribute more when they feel that their contributions are unique.

Some of their results were to be expected. For example, it’s hard to contribute and discuss things when you are in a group of people with similar opinions.  The goal setting experiment would have been better if there was competition with other groups or something they could win.  That would provide more motivation to complete the goal than just setting it.  This is something that Answerbag does well in that they prominently display your level next to your user name.  Hence, you want to ask, answer, and comment on more questions in order to boost your rating.  The authors mention that they have reached their limits as to how much they can motivate people via email.  I would like to see implementations on their web application instead.  They could have a leaderboard of top raters or a list of movies that need rating on their website rather than having to communicate with the users via email.  Different versions of the website could be presented to each group of test subjects.  While this would be more work than simply sending out emails, it will make benefits and goals more clear to the users.

The New Kid On the Block: Why We Tweet

When you first sign up for Twitter, you’re faced with a mostly blank page with a text box and text that says “What are you doing?” Its minimalist approach has made it so appealing, as we are no longer obligated to write a novel in our blog or to share our personal information with other users. While Twitter seems basic on the outside, there are still different types of communities within Twitter itself.  The paper “Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities” by Java et al attempts to analyze the groups that are found within Twitter and how users interact with each other.  The end result is that people use Twitter not only to report on their daily events, but to share links, chat with other users, and to even report on news.  The authors mention improvements that can be made to Twitter, many of which are already being considered. While Twitter itself has remained relatively simplistic, applications built on the Twitter API have the potential to address most if not all of Twitter’s weaknesses.  Some desktop Twitter clients, like TweetDeck, allow you to create groups of Tweets.  Sharing news is made easier with mobile clients and URL shortening services (so that the address takes up fewer characters in your Tweet).  There are many other companies that are creating applications based on Twitter because of its versatility.

The Answerbag

Joining Answerbag.com was easy enough. I (like some others) jumped in before finishing the readings. I lurked for a bit and came up with a few random questions to gauge how difficult this task was going to be. The first few random questions I threw out did not get very many answers or points, which was pretty discouraging.  The questions ranged from food related (“What’s the secret ingredient in a good hamburger?” ) to computer related (“What don’t you like about your operating system?”).  The first question got all of two responses while the  computer one didn’t get any.

After looking at the front page questions, I noticed that most of them were dating related. Of course, at the time, Valentine’s day was coming up. I decided that since I needed to make that quota of points and responses, I’d ask a few questions relating to Valentine’s day and dating. My first question was “How do you ask out someone when you feel they’re out of your league?”. As people responded, I commented on the responses to keep the thread going. Most of the responses were along the lines of “You need to have better self esteem” or “Just ask”.  I felt that I needed to develop a persona where I was a little insecure and unsure of myself. I’m not sure it helped generate more responses, but I tried my best to not only portray the role, but to provide feedback to all responses in order to make them feel like their responses mattered.

Sadly, this question died out fairly quickly. My other question, “What’s a good non-traditional Valentine’s gift (meaning it doesn’t involve chocolate, roses, or jewelry)” got 8 answers fairly quickly. However, the question only got about 25 points or so.  At least I finished 1/2 of the assignment, and it seemed like others were having lots of difficulty getting points on their questions and/or responses.  Fortunately, with the help of some classmates, my first question about dating was boosted to the front page again.  There, it received points from members of the community and reached 38 points before stalling out again. I’m ashamed to admit that I did ask a few others for a rating or two to fill out those last two points.

Thank you Amanda, Junie, Mike, BJ, and whoever else!

Link to my profile

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1 Response to “Session 3 Readings”


  1. 1 jmastin February 22, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    I think you make a great point about friendships. I think it’s the same way we attend socials versus join organizations like AA or work. We don’t begin involvement with those groups because we seek friendships, rather we have some needs to meet like support for quitting an ailment, or to get paid in order to sustain ourselves and our families. More than likely, we create relationships in those groups as a “residual” affect of the membership in the first place. My group of friends do extend to some of those I work with because we have common interests and are able to talk a common language. I’m sure if I didn’t have great relationships at work, I’d be thinking of leaving that community sooner than later.

    Regarding Twitter – could this be the way we’re evolving in the way we communicate? Short bursts. Only give someone an x number of words to respond?

    It’s interesting to me that you felt like you needed to create a persona for Answerbag.com in order to get more responses to your question about dating. I suppose that’s the point of some of the articles that we’re reading for class; that it’s easier to get responses from people (if that’s the motivation) if people portray themselves as someone other than what they are. Perhaps that’s why people find it easy to be a certain way online rather than themselves.

    You’re motivating me to think more deeply about what I’d like my topic to be for the project. Thanks.


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