The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

The motivation to contribute

I can’t believe it has been almost two weeks since I’ve posted anything new. new hans mugThankfully, my fellow Cyberbrains have more than picked up the slack. I think their posts are always much more insightful than mine anyway. I’m the doofus who talks about video games .

But I thought I would write today because I stumbled on something as I asked myself why it had been so long. I ended up examining my motivation for participating online with the Cyberbrains in the first place and realized that what motivates online contribution is a question that anyone who studies or promotes user-generated content online needs to ask.

The reasons for contributing to an online community may be as individual as the posters themselves, but one thing our research has found time and time again is online participation fulfills most of the same socialization goals as real world interaction does. The level of social interaction a person perceives in a Web site may, in fact, may be the strongest predictor of whether he or she will continue to contribute.

Like so many other researchers, I wondered whether online contribution was a facet of egotism. Do people like Brookers make silly videos of themselves because they think they are talented? Or like MiaRose or the Nobody’s Watching guys do they hope to jumpstart an entertainment career? Or do they have such conviction in their expert opinions they just have to share them, like Rony Abrovitz?
I tried to answer some of those questions in a study I recently completed and hope to publish soon.

A good friend of mine started, a Web site where people can talk about University of Missouri sports. I surveyed its more than 16,000 members to examine why they participated on the site and what role their ability to influence the media, influence others, share their sports or Web expertise played in that decision. What I found surprised me. Even though most of the 350 or so people responded to my survey thought they were sports experts, that had little to do with why they contributed. Neither did the ability to influence those in power. Overwhelmingly just the opportunity to make and interact with friends determined whether and how often they would contribute.

This is just one study of one site, and I realize it needs replication. But it bears out what we have found on and mirrors my personal reasons for contributing. Maybe I write about games so much because they are part of who I am and part of who I’d like to interact with. Maybe I’d be more stoked about contributing if our site received more comments or more mentions. Ultimately, I contribute because I really like Clyde and Jeremy and others in the industry that I’ve met, and I want to hear what they have to say about my thoughts.

It’s a question I’m going to continue pursuing with my research, and hopefully, I’ll have more definitive answers soon. Even before then, however, it’s important that those who offer or plan to offer a forum for user-generated content don’t discount the social power of the Internet. Sites such as YouTube, MySpace and Facebook haven’t succeeded just because they use technology, but more because they use technology to bring people together. A news site can do that just as effectively.

July 17, 2007 - Posted by | Hans Meyer

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