Explaining Participation in Online Communities

Explaining Participation in Online Communities

Petter Bae Brandtzæg (SINTEF and University of Oslo, Norway) and Jan Heim (SINTEF, Norway)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-264-0.ch012
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Abstract

The last few years have seen a substantial growth in online communities such as MySpace and Facebook. In order to survive and increase in size, online community systems must enhance social interaction and participation. This chapter analyzes participation in new online communities, using a combination of the socio-technical perspective and the human-computer interaction perspective. In 2007, both qualitative and quantitative data was collected from questionnaires from five sample groups in Norway—four popular online communities and one national sample of Internet users. The results show that online communities attract like-minded people, but vary in terms of different user types. Most visitors have a clear social purpose, but the level of participation differs with respect to user types and community characteristics. Participation in terms of user-generated content (UGC) differs greatly, depending on the medium used. Most users do not contribute audio-visual UGC, and text is still the main UGC. Possible future research and socio-technical design implications are discussed.
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Introduction

By combining the socio-technical perspective with the human-computer interaction perceptive (HCI), the aim of this chapter is to broaden our understanding of how non-professional users participate in online communities. In particular, this chapter will try to close the socio-technical gap (e.g. Ackerman, 2000) by addressing both the community level and the user perspective—thus identifying social user requirements and how these can improve participation in online communities. This will be done by analyzing and discussing empirical data about community usage within several Norwegian online communities. (Access to and the uses of online communities are high in Norway compared to other countries in Western Europe, and are therefore a particularly interesting area when investigating community usage). Finally, this chapter suggests some socio-technical design principles of this analysis.

The background of this chapter is the growing body of research that demonstrates an exponential increase in online communities and user-generated content (UGC) (Brandtzaeg & Heim, 2007; Li et al., 2007; Bishop, 2007; Horrigan, 2007; Wunsch-Vincent & Vickery, 2006). Unfortunately, this research fails to account for why and how users participate or engage in social networking settings and UGC. However, this is critical knowledge, since online communities are increasingly becoming an established part of the Internet and have changed the nature of online user participation (Bishop, 2007).

Several Internet services have been designed to draw upon voluntary active participation among non-professional users in terms of both UGC production and social interaction. The core condition of all online communities is the active participation of community members. However, at present, the general ambition about user participation, creation and sharing of UGC in online communities is far from being fulfilled, while only a few users actually are participating actively (Bishop, 2007; Geerts et al., 2007). Several online communities pays little attention to the complexity of community interaction and the need to support and guide it. This may explain why many online communities are more or less ghost towns (Preece & Maloney-Krichmar 2003). A number of studies (e.g Nonnecke & Preece, 2000; Nielsen, 2006) indicate that, in most online communities, there exists a “90-9-1 rule” for levels of participation, where 90 percent are defined as “lurkers”, 9 percent are occasional contributors of UGC, and only 1 percent are active contributors. Kollock and Smith (1996) describe lurkers as free-riders, i.e., non-contributing, resource-taking members. This is also referred to as the “free rider problem”.

Therefore, this chapter aims to understand who the typical participants are, why and how they participate, and what types of participants that exist in terms of different user types characterized with their particular usage pattern inside the community. This coherent approach will determine what level of participation different user types or user groups are ready for, and how designers should adapt to a diverse population of users. Nevertheless, rapid changes in users’ habits and technological advances are continuously reshaping the new media landscape (Brandtzæg, 2007), and the situation regarding user needs and “participation” in online communities poses some important design challenges:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Online communities: A group of people interacting via communication technologies in a virtual environment rather than face to face, for social, professional, educational or other purposes. These communities have a purpose, are supported by technology, and are guided by norms and policies.

Non-Professional Users: Internet users that are amateurs or not professional in producing content. Not engaged in a profession in producing media content.

Sociability: Communities with good sociability have social policies that support the community’s purpose and are understandable, socially acceptable and practicable.

Person-Oriented Communities: Communities where social interactions between individuals are in focus. Examples are MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, Bebo, Orkut, Windows Live Space, and Hi5. See also Social networking sites

User-Generated Content: The production of content by the general public rather than by paid professionals and experts in the field. Mostly available on the Web via blogs, online communities and wikis, user-generated content refers to material such as the daily news, encyclopedias and other references, movie and product reviews as well as articles on any subject, all of which have been traditionally written by editors, journalists and academics in the past. Also called “peer production.”

User Types/User Typology: User types can be described as user profiles associated with different categories of user groups. Each user type is characterized with a particular usage pattern reflecting a certain type of user participation inside the online community. The user types are also reflecting different kinds of user skills, user preferences or motivations. The goal in defining user types is to understand how different users behave when using the community.

social networking sites: A Web site whereby individuals describe themselves in a personal profile, reveal themselves through participation in communities, and form networks of interactions by declaring one another to be ‘friends’. See also Person-oriented communities

Lurker: Is one who mainly consume others information online community, but does not participate actively with own user generated content. Lurkers are often referred to as free riders.

Social Networking: The process of connecting individuals via friends, relatives, and acquaintances—a person’s social network.

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Foreword
Ben Shneiderman
Preface
Brian Whitworth, Aldo de Moor
Acknowledgment
Brian Whitworth, Aldo de Moor
List of Reviewers
Prologue: General Socio-Technical Theory
$37.50
Chapter 1
Brian Whitworth
A socio-technical system (STS) is a social system built upon a technical base. An STS adds social requirements to human-computer interaction (HCI)... Sample PDF
The Social Requirements of Technical Systems
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Chapter 2
Matti Tedre
This chapter introduces the reader to some social research characteristics that are central to the social study of computer science. It introduces... Sample PDF
The Social Study of Computer Science
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Chapter 3
Ann Borda, Jonathan P. Bowen
This chapter introduces the concept of a Virtual Organization (VO), using the Internet to link geographically separated participants in an efficient... Sample PDF
Virtual Collaboration and Community
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Chapter 4
David Davenport
This chapter analyses the effect that social values have on the design of technical systems. Beginning with an examination of the role technology... Sample PDF
The Social Derivation of Technical Systems
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Chapter 5
Ken Eason, José Abdelnour-Nocera
This chapter sets the traditional focus of socio-technical systems theory on primary work systems in a modern context where information and... Sample PDF
Socio-Technical Theory and Work Systems in the Information Age
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Chapter 6
Peter Day
This chapter introduces the community engagement strategy of the Community Network Analysis (CNA) project and considers its significance to research... Sample PDF
An Engagement Strategy for Community Network Research and Design
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Chapter 7
Cleidson R.B. de Souza, David F. Redmiles
This chapter reviews the socio-technical relationship between organizational and software structure. It describes the early theoretical work about... Sample PDF
On the Alignment of Organizational and Software Structure
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Chapter
Ronald K. Stamper
Prologue: Socio-Technical Perspectives
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Chapter 8
Catherine Heeney
The chapter discusses the traditional expectations about privacy protection and argues that current models for the governance of data do not... Sample PDF
Privacy and the Identity Gap in Socio-Technical Systems
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Chapter 9
Ronald Leenes
Second Life can be seen as a social microcosmos in which fairly normal people lead a social life and where social needs develop. Privacy is one of... Sample PDF
Privacy Regulation in the Metaverse
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Chapter 10
David Tuffley
This chapter introduces a process reference model of leadership for integrated teams operating in virtual environments. Geographically dispersed... Sample PDF
Leadership of Integrated Teams in Virtual Environments
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Chapter 11
Monique Janneck
For a technology use to be successful, the circumstance of its introduction into a use context—or recontextualization— is crucial. The users of a... Sample PDF
Recontextualising Technology in Appropriation Processes
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Chapter 12
Petter Bae Brandtzæg, Jan Heim
The last few years have seen a substantial growth in online communities such as MySpace and Facebook. In order to survive and increase in size... Sample PDF
Explaining Participation in Online Communities
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Chapter 13
Malcolm Shore
This chapter is about the way in which computer hackers invoke social networking paradigms to support and encourage their activities. It reviews the... Sample PDF
Cyber Security and Anti-Social Networking
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Chapter 14
Wilson Huang, Shun-Yung Kevin Wang
This chapter examines the gaps that arise between reactive social control systems and proactive technology systems. The authors further link these... Sample PDF
Emerging Cybercrime Variants in the Socio-Technical Space
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Chapter 15
Elayne W. Coakes, Peter Smith, Dee Alwis
This chapter presents the argument that service innovation is promoted by supporting divergent interpretations, enlarging the scope of employee and... Sample PDF
Developing Innovative Practice in Service Industries
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Chapter
Mark Aakhus
Prologue: Socio-Technical Analysis
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Chapter 16
Hans Weigand
Often socio-technical systems are designed simply on the basis of what the user asks, and without considering explicitly whether the required... Sample PDF
Using Communication Norms in Socio-Technical Systems
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Chapter 17
Jonas Sjöström, Göran Goldkuhl
This chapter introduces the theoretical framework of Socio-Instrumental Pragmatism (SIP) and illustrates how it has been used as an analytic... Sample PDF
Socio-Instrumental Pragmatism in Action
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Chapter 18
Paul J. Bracewell
Analytics provides evidence for objective corporate decision-making. Lack of understanding of analytical techniques can create confusion amongst... Sample PDF
A Framework for Using Analytics to Make Decisions
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Chapter 19
Mikael Lind, Peter Rittgen
Setting up co-design processes involving several stakeholders is a complex task. In this chapter the authors have looked upon experiences from... Sample PDF
The Challenges of Co-Design and the Case of e-Me
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Chapter 20
Harry S. Delugach
Automated tools are often used to support software development workflows. Many of these tools are aimed toward a development workflow that relies... Sample PDF
Formal Analysis of Workflows in Software Development
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Chapter 21
Dorit Nevo, Brent Furneaux
This chapter reviews the significance of expectations to information systems development with particular emphasis on the process of requirements... Sample PDF
The Role of Expectations in Information Systems Development
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Chapter 22
Jeff Axup
With mobile technologies increasingly weaving themselves into the fabric of our communities, it would be beneficial to increase our understanding of... Sample PDF
Building a Path for Future Communities
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Chapter
Thomas Erickson
Prologue: Socio-Technical Design
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Chapter 23
Thomas Herrmann
Socio-technical systems integrate technical and organizational structures and are related to various stakeholders and their perspectives. The design... Sample PDF
Systems Design with the Socio-Technical Walkthrough
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Chapter 24
Anders I. Mørch
This chapter presents a translational approach to socio-technical design, as a new approach to the theorybased design of user interfaces, supported... Sample PDF
Applied Pragmatism and Interaction Design
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Chapter 25
Manuel Kolp, Yves Wautelet
Information systems are deeply linked to human activities. Unfortunately, development methodologies have been traditionally inspired by programming... Sample PDF
A Social Framework for Software Architectural Design
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Chapter 26
Designing for Trust  (pages 388-401)
Piotr Cofta
Designing for trust is a methodology that attempts to design our perception of trust in information systems, in the long-term expectation that such... Sample PDF
Designing for Trust
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Chapter 27
Dan Dixon
Three decades ago the concept of pattern languages were introduced in the field of architecture and they have since become widely used in... Sample PDF
Pattern Languages for CMC Design
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Chapter 28
Anton Nijholt, Dirk Heylen, Rutger Rienks
In this chapter the authors discuss a particular approach to the creation of socio-technical systems for the meeting domain. Besides presenting a... Sample PDF
Creating Social Technologies to Assist and Understand Social Interactions
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Chapter 29
Jos Benders, Ronald Batenburg, Paul Hoeken, Roel Schouteten
This chapter sketches an Organization Design perspective called “Modern Socio-technical Design”, and subsequently discusses the implementation of... Sample PDF
A Modern Socio-Technical View on ERP-Systems
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Chapter 30
Mary Allan, David Thorns
The chapter introduces the Bourdieuean habitus and field theory as a framework for an alternative way of investigating how perceptions of Media Rich... Sample PDF
Being Face to Face: A State of Mind or Technological Design?
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Chapter 31
Rebecca M. Ellis
This chapter introduces the work of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and his concepts of “the field” and “capital” in relation to eBay. In any given... Sample PDF
Applying Bourdieu to eBay's Success and Socio-Technical Design
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Chapter 32
Christopher A. Miller
This chapter focuses not on technology mediation of human relationships, but rather on human-like relationships with technology itself. The author... Sample PDF
Relationships and Etiquette with Technical Systems
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Chapter
Anton Nijholt
Prologue: Socio-Technical Implementation
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Chapter 33
Laura Anna Ripamonti, Ines Di Loreto, Dario Maggiorini
The necessity of supporting more and more social interaction (and not only mere information sharing) in online environments is the disruptive force... Sample PDF
Augmenting Actual Life Through MUVEs
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Chapter 34
Mohamed Ben Ammar, Mahmoud Neji, Adel M. Alimi
Affective computing is a new artificial intelligence area that deals with the possibility of making computers able to recognize human emotions in... Sample PDF
The Role of Affect in an Agent-Based Collaborative E-Learning System Used for Engineering Education
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Chapter 35
Pernilla Qvarfordt, Shumin Zhai
Eye-gaze plays an important role in face-to-face communication. This chapter presents research on exploiting the rich information contained in human... Sample PDF
Gaze-Aided Human-Computer and Human-Human Dialogue
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Chapter 36
Licia Calvi
The chapter presents and combines the results of two case studies dealing with online communities1 in order to understand under which conditions... Sample PDF
How to Engage Users in Online Sociability
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Chapter 37
Ivan Launders
The UK National Health Service (NHS) provides the opportunity to undertake local socio-technical system design to help staff maximize the... Sample PDF
Socio-Technical Systems and Knowledge Representation
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Chapter 38
Claire de la Varre, Julie Keane, Matthew J. Irvin, Wallace Hannum
This chapter describes the design of a sociotechnical system to support rural high school students in an online distance education (ODE) course. The... Sample PDF
Social Support for Online Learning
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Chapter 39
Jeremy Birnholtz, Emilee J. Rader, Daniel B. Horn, Thomas Finholt
This chapter uses the theoretical notion of common ground to explore remote participation in experimental research. On one hand, there is a desire... Sample PDF
Enabling Remote Participation in Research
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Chapter
Starr Roxanne Hiltz
Prologue: Socio-Technical Evaluation
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Chapter 40
John M. Carroll, Mary Beth Rosson, Umer Farooq, Jamika D. Burge
Socio-technical systems are social systems that incorporate technological infrastructures. At the group level of analysis, the most important... Sample PDF
Community Collective Efficacy
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Chapter 41
Tanguy Coenen, Wouter Van den Bosch, Veerle Van der Sluys
This chapter views social networking sites as supporting social capital and the advantages which derive from it, namely emotional support... Sample PDF
An Analysis of the Socio-Technical Gap in Social Networking Sites
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Chapter 42
Olga Kulyk, Betsy van Dijk, Paul van der Vet, Anton Nijholt, Gerrit van der Veer
This chapter addresses awareness support to enhance teamwork in co-located collaborative environments. In particular, the authors focus on the... Sample PDF
Situational Awareness In Collaborative Work Environments
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Chapter 43
Janet L. Holland
This chapter deals with research on the development and use of an assessment instrument for measuring affective satisfaction in online learning. The... Sample PDF
A Scale of Affective Satisfaction in Online Learning Communities
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Chapter 44
David Hinds, Ronald M. Lee
In this chapter, the authors suggest how measures of “social network health” can be used to evaluate the status and progress of a virtual community.... Sample PDF
Assessing the Social Network Health of Virtual Communities
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Chapter 45
Bertram C. Bruce, Andee Rubin, Junghyun An
This chapter introduces situated evaluation as an approach for evaluating socio-technical innovation and change. Many current evaluations simply... Sample PDF
Situated Evaluation of Socio-Technical Systems
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Chapter 46
Heike Winschiers-Theophilus
Communities all over the world have established their own value systems which do not necessarily correlate with the intrinsic values of technology.... Sample PDF
Cultural Appropriation of Software Design and Evaluation
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Chapter
Charles Steinfield
Prologue: The Future of Socio-Technical Systems
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Chapter 47
Peter J. Denning
Wicked problems (messes) are tangled social situations that are too costly to stay in and too intransigent to get out of. Collaboration is essential... Sample PDF
Resolving Wicked Problems through Collaboration
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Chapter 48
Rachel McLean
As a social activity, the shopping experience can not be recreated or improved through technical design alone. This chapter proposes that there is... Sample PDF
The Myth of the e-Commerce Serf to Sovereign Powershift
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Chapter 49
Theresa Dirndorfer Anderson
This chapter explores the challenges associated with teaching the principles of socio-technical systems in the dynamic climate that characterizes... Sample PDF
Teaching the Socio-Technical Practices of Tomorrow Today
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Chapter 50
Isa Jahnke
The chapter describes an empirical study of a socio-technical community—as an extended part of an institution— with the aim of revealing its... Sample PDF
Socio-Technical Communities: From Informal to Formal?
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Chapter 51
Laurence Claeys, Johan Criel
This chapter introduces the concept of critical user participation as a means to see the socio-technical gap in context aware applications as an... Sample PDF
Future Living in a Participatory Way
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Chapter 52
Paul Hodgson
This chapter analyses the formation and generation of social trust through communications technology in postmodern society, and presents some... Sample PDF
The Impact of Communications Technology on Trust
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Chapter 53
Kenneth E. Kendall, Julie E. Kendall
This chapter explores the social, organizational, and individual impacts of emerging information technologies using the advent of recent... Sample PDF
Good and Evil in the Garden of Emerging Information Technologies
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About the Contributors