Understanding Participation in Online Communities

Study by:
Loren Terveen - University of Minnesota
Mark Snyder - University of Minnesota
Paul T. Fuglestad - University of Minnesota
Patrick C. Dwyer - University of Minnesota
Jennifer Filson Moses - University of Minnesota
John S. Kim - University of Minnesota
Clelia Anna Mannino - University of Minnesota 
Online communities derive great value from the contributions of their users. For example, Wikipedia editors have created the largest encyclopedia in history. Yahoo! Answers users have provided over one billion answers. And contributors to open source software projects have produced operating system, web browser, and web server software that rivals software produced by the largest software companies in the world.
Nevertheless, online communities have significant problems of contribution. Many communities fail. Only a small percentage of users contribute content, and only a small proportion of these contribute significant amounts of content. Thus, administrators of online communities face the crucial issue of understanding and developing their user communities. Will new users become committed members? What types of roles are particular individuals most likely to take on? 
We report on a study that investigates these questions. We administered a survey (based on standard psychological instruments) to nearly 4000 new users of the MovieLens film recommendation community from October 2009 to March 2010 and logged their usage history on MovieLens. We found that general volunteer motivations, pro-social behavioral history, and community-specific motivations predicted both the amount of use and specific types of activities users engaged in after joining the community. These findings have implications for the design and management of online communities.
A report of this research appears in the Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery 2012 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2012)
This research has been supported by the National Science Foundation.