I’ve just been watching this seminar from Robert Kraut, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University. I found it very interesting, especially his research looking at behaviours of newcomers and their interaction with other members. They tested a hypothesis of expected contributions by members of the community, the interactions, influence of those interactions and their resulting commitment of lack of commitment.
“Online communities are the fastest-growing portion of the Internet and provide members with information, social support, and entertainment. While a minority, such as Wikipedia, MySpace, Facebook and the Apache Server project are highly successful, many others fail. To be successful, online communities must overcome challenges common in almost all groups, organizations and voluntary associations. They must handle the start-up paradox, when early in their lifecycle they have few members to generate content and little content to attract members. Throughout their lifecycle, they must recruit and socialize newcomers, encourage commitment and contribution from members, solve problems of coordination and encourage appropriate behavior among members and interlopers alike.
The social sciences can tell us a lot about how to create thriving online communities. Social science theories can inform choices about how to get a community started, integrate newcomers, encourage commitment, regulate behavior when there are conflicts, motivate contributions, and coordinate those contributions to maximize benefits for the community.
This talk focuses on ways to build members’ commitment to online communities, based on theories of social identity and interpersonal bonds. It provides an overview of the relevant theory, describes results of a 6-month field experiment in which an existing site was redesigned based on principles derived from social identity and interpersonal-bond theories, and describes the results of an agent-based model that examines how different approaches to moderating the content in a group influence social identity and interpersonal bonds. Finally, it illustrates a number of design claims that translate the abstract principles from the social sciences into concrete design choices.”
He says that the interactions influences the contributions of the newcomers, if e.g. constructive criticism, then it was more likely that they will contribute over time. They have tried to use agent-based modelling to try and see how multiple variables could all fit together – i.e. not just one social theory examined at a time, online communities are too complex.
I’m going to explore this further in relation to conflict in another post.