AR: Features of Online Communities and Their Effects on Intent to Participate

Fair enough, the complete title of the article by Wise, Hammand and Thorson is “Moderation, Response Rate, and Message Interactivity: Features of Online Communities and Their Effects on Intent to Participate” (JCMC); which seems to prove that they did not mean this article for online publication.

Anyhow, if the title is too long for the finicky self-proclaimed publisher like myself, it also sums up quite well what the piece is about. The authors measured in controlled experiments how the presence or absence of moderation, the speed of the publication of messages (response rate), and message interactivity affect users’ involvement in an online community.

Interactivity here is a feature of content: it measures the extent to which messages relate to one another; i.e. if messages follow each other in a logical fashion – as in a more or less coherent conversation -, that is interactive, whereas “write-only”, ignorant messages are: not.

First, all three features do have an effect on “intent to participate”.

Second, the most obvious influencing factor seems to be moderation:

The participants who viewed the moderated community reported significantly higher intent to participate than [those] who viewed the unmoderated community. (p24)

The article doesn’t forget to mention that “moderation” might take various forms, and – this is probably the most important for me – it also refers to a previous study:

Sundar’s (2001) finding […] suggests that peer reviews or some other collective form of moderation might serve online communities best.

…which is another reason why social news sites should be worthy of our attention. (Although perhaps we need to introduce a two-tier system of moderation, when it comes to social news sites, to distinguish between community-moderation (eg. the rating of comments or the articles themselves), and “supra-community” moderation, or the filtering of submitted items by powerful, probably unknown, lurking moderators of the site (eg. removing illegal or offensive articles). NOTE TO SELF, NOTE TO SELF!

As for the response rate and the interactivity of the messages, the article concludes that there was no clear significant connection between intent on participation and these features. So, just because new comments / messages appear fast, and just because messages are interactive (referential, coherent, see above), that won’t be reason enough to participate (or to NOT participate).

However,

there seems to be still some kind of a connection: if messages are interactive, AND the message response rate is slow, then there is an increase in intent to participate. I guess this makes sense: we like to participate in conversations that we can, at least to some extent, handle or manage. There shouldn’t be an overwhelming, rapid-fire succession of messages, and, surely, the conversation should be that – a conversation -, and not a bunch of non-related messages.

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