Session 3: Motivation for participation

by richgazan

Some outstanding work in Session 2, and I’m already looking forward to seeing what you guys come up with for your final projects.  A few of you ran into problems with site registration delays that prevented you from investigating your questions—when something like that happens, the best strategy to maximize your grade is to post what you can by the deadline, then edit your post with any missing information as soon as possible.

Session 3 is all about why people participate in social computing sites.  That’s a different question than why you think they participate, and in this session you’ll be investigating that difference.  You’ll be doing some observation, data collection and analysis about user motivation, and hopefully finding evidence that your initial conceptions change as a result.  Your choice of social computing site for this session’s assignment isn’t committing you to any community or topic for your final projects, you’re just getting practice to ground whatever project you do propose in real data, and make sure you’re asking the right questions.

By Sunday, Feb 17, 11:59pm

1) Complete the Session 3 readings.  On your blog, briefly summarize and evaluate aspects of three of the five readings you found most interesting, then provide two examples from your own social computing experience: one that supports a claim about user motivation in one of the readings, and another that challenges or extends a claim in another.  An example of the latter might be some reason you participate in an online community that you did not find covered or adequately explained.  Some of you have mentioned that you don’t participate in online communities, but hopefully the examples provided by your fellow students in their Session 2 posts illustrate that an extremely wide variety of sites fit this description, and that it’s pretty easy to participate.  Plus, it’s required :).

2) Observe at least 50 posts on a social computing site or online community that’s new to you.  For the purposes of this session, a post is defined as content that draws a response.  The canonical example is the first post in a forum thread.  Don’t count responses as posts.  Provide a brief description of the site, a link where people can see at least a few of the posts in your sample, and address the following questions on your blog:

  • What modes of participation are there? For example, you may be able to post content of your own, comment on others’ posts, rate posts, flag posts, friend people, send private messages etc.  Provide a complete list of every participation action the site allows you to take.  No need to explain or elaborate (unless a participation function isn’t obvious from the name), just a list is fine for this section.
  • How is participation encouraged? Describe the 3-5 most common ways participation is encouraged with examples from your sample.  Consider types of encouragement from both the designers of the site and its participants.  Evaluate how well you think each of the 3-5 motivators you identified actually encourages participation, and suggest at least one improvement.
  • Which types of content draw the most responses? Careful: this part of the question is not asking you to group posts by the name of the forum in which they’re posted.  You’ll need to review the posts in your sample in depth, and create your own descriptive scheme that accurately distinguishes the five most common content types posted in your sample.  For example, in a social site for people trying to lose weight, content types might include posts dealing with temptation, announcements of weight loss milestones, rants about skinny people, confessions of backsliding, and healthy options in restaurants.  Present your descriptive scheme, include a raw count of the number of times each kind of content you describe is posted, and (importantly) add up the number of responses each post receives, in any mode you can detect, to arrive at a total response count for each content type.

3) Discuss and evaluate your findings.  Focus specifically on anything you found surprising or unexpected.  Your goal in this section is to evaluate whether your observations support, challenge or extend concepts from the readings, which may be different than the conclusions you drew from your own experience.

By Friday, Feb 22, 11:59pm

Comment substantively on at least five other students’ blogs.  Again, try to choose students with whom you haven’t already engaged in conversation.

By Sunday, Feb 24, 11:59pm

Conclude your discussions.  Continue to consider questions you’d like to investigate for your final projects–feel free to contact me to discuss possible topics, but next session’s blog will have more concrete guidelines on that.