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Paper Week: Social Psychology Applied to Online Communities

Today is the second day in a week of HCI-related research papers, together with new comic strips. Today’s paper proved to be a popular one in the HCI class I took last semester. Give it a search on Google Scholar when you have a chance!

Paper: Using Social Psychology to Motivate Contributions to Online Communities (reference at the bottom of this post)

What in the world did they do?

The authors of this paper tried to apply some social psychology theories to MovieLens, an online community where users rate movies. The goal was to see if they could motivate users to rate more movies by:

- letting them know their contribution was unique
- letting them know their contribution was beneficial (to others and to themselves)
- giving them specific goals (rate X number of movies)

What’s so cool about that?

These guys took a bunch of theories from one field and brought them over to HCI. It was cool how some of them stood their ground and others just didn’t cut it. It’s also pretty cool to find out what makes us contribute more or less online.

Did anything worthwhile come out of it?

They confirmed that when you let users know that their contributions are unique (not redundant with other users’ contributions) they contributed more. They also confirmed that giving users specific goals (not just “do your best!?), they also contributed more.

Interestingly, not telling users that their contributions were beneficial to others or to themselves made them contribute more than telling them. Also, users contributed more when assigned to groups than when working individually. This was not expected according to social psychology theories.

Why should I care?

Online communities are everywhere. From Wikipedia to Flickr to YouTube. We all like to use them, but we don’t always contribute. Yet these communities only work because of the people who contribute to them, not because of the people who just use them. Community designers must therefore look for ways to get more of us to do something of value for sites like these. In the end, we all benefit. The more people contributing, the better content we all get.

Now, to today’s comic strip. Enjoy!


Reference: Gerard Beenen , Kimberly Ling , Xiaoqing Wang , Klarissa Chang , Dan Frankowski , Paul Resnick , Robert E. Kraut, Using social psychology to motivate contributions to online communities, Proceedings of the 2004 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work, November 06-10, 2004, Chicago, Illinois, USA


It’s hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic however you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks