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WHY DO SOMETHING FOR NOTHING? Explaining User Motivation to Participate in Online Communities

Keith Conway

Why are people motivated to participate in online communities?

This thesis uses information culled from Internet users’ participation patterns to explore why individuals are motivated to take part in online communities. By viewing this data in conjunction with traditional sociological and psychological theories of group participation, I attempt to extrapolate the elements necessary to create online communities that optimize user participation and creativity and improve quality of life.

The impetus for this thesis began as an exploration into the motivations of user participation in online communities. Social software is a “hot” area of inquiry today with many designers in pursuit of creating the next YouTube or MySpace. Why are some online communities successful where others fail? I decided it would be useful to look at the characteristics of vibrant online communities and elucidate the necessary elements that might be predictive of success. The goal was to identity the necessary elements that motivate participation, and create a set of heuristics that would predict if similar efforts would fail. There is no best “one size fits all” solution to community design because social compromises need to be established in order for the community to effectively cooperate and socialize. The key to successful communities is to define a framework of necessary components, and understand how to optimize the “social compromise” around participation and quality of life.