Virtual community attraction: Why people hang out online
Catherine Ridings and David Gefen provide an interesting open-ended survey based answer to the question, Why do people hang out online? The papers definition of virtual communities -- the setting for the work (see Bruckman (2006) for a paper complicating the use of this term -- are essential forums and and chat channels.
The authors go to the literature on motivation and online communities and build a set of theoretically or empirically derived reasons that include: information exchange, social support, and friendship with a number of subcategories in each.
The sample seems is essentially arbitrary in its construction but attempts to include a number of example forums or bulletin boards on a variety of topics that fall into the following broad categories:
- Personal interest
- Sports and recreation
The authors built a sample 27 communities, essentially evenly spaced between these groups, and then asked the question: Why did you join this virtual community? within each community. They received 399 responses that listed 569 different reasons.
They find support for each of three explanations listed above but find that they tend to be correlated with the type of communities. They essentially find that there are two major groups with health and wellness being grouped with professional and the rest being grouped together. They found that information exchange was the major reason for participation in the second category and that in the more serious or personal first group, social support was more important.
Theoretical and practical relevance:
The paper has been cited 140 times. Most of these citations have come from the literature on the design of communities for communication and chatting and on social experience in virtual spaces.