The Reader-to-Leader Framework: Motivating Technology-Mediated Social Participation

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Citation: Jennifer Preece, Ben Shneiderman (2009) The Reader-to-Leader Framework: Motivating Technology-Mediated Social Participation. AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction (RSS)


Tagged: Computer Science (RSS) NatematiasGenerals (RSS), participation (RSS), motivation (RSS), online communities (RSS), design (RSS)


In this theory and review paper by Jennifer Preece and Ben Schneiderman, the authors put forward a model for describing the different kinds of engagement people have with online social activity, offering literature view of four different kinds of social participation online: reading, contributing, collaborating, and leading. For each of these kinds of participation, the authors review relevant literature and suggest interventions in the "usability" and "sociability" of socio-technical systems. They conclude the paper by outlining a research agenda for answering important questions related to these kinds of participation.

Why do these things matter? The authors point out that the passive participation of most Internet users is at odds with wider aspirations for the kinds of coordination and creativity that characterizes the most aspirational hopes for the Internet across many domains, from disaster response to civic life to collective creativity.

By linking theories of motivation, virtue, or social behavior to sociotechnical systems, might it be possible to derive lessons that could be applied across these domains? In particular, might theories of behaviour change be applied to the problem of moving people from just reading toward greater participation? The authors draw inspiration from Porter's Funnel Model (2008) (focused on interested, first-time users, regular users, passionate users)[1] and Li and Bernhoff's "social technographics profiling" approach to creating behaviour profiles[2] to put forward their own model that distills literature on the question.

The Reader to Leader Framework

The authors organize their literature review with the idea of "successive levels of social participation" that explains one "maturation" path that users might take from peripheral to core participation, as well as the relative numbers of participants at each level. The largest group, among the set of all users, are the readers, followed by contributors, collaborators, and leaders, who are the smalelst group. Within this model, the authors describe two kinds of maturation: greater skill within a stage, as well as a transition from one stage to another.

Reader:Venturing in, reading, browsing, searching, returning

In this section, the authors describe the wide range of reading activities that users can engage in, whether viewing content or following links. The authors focus on qualities of "good interface design" and "support mechanisms" that support reading, from inclusive design to clear, engaging content, and systems for discovery of content. The authors offer literature, mostly from the early 2000s, on "usability and sociability factors that may influence reading":

Usability and sociability factors that may influence reading
Interesting and relevant content presented in attractive, well-organized layouts Encouragement by friends, family, respected authorities, advertising
Frequently updated content with highlighting to encourage return visits Repeated visibility in online, print, television and other media
Support for newcomers through tutorials, animated demos, FAQs, help, mentors, contacts Understandable and clear norms or policies
Clear navigation paths so that users have a sense of mastery and control A sense of belonging based on recognition of familiar people and activities
Universal usability to support novice/expert, small/large display, slow/fast network, multilingual, and users with disabilities Charismatic leaders with visionary goals
Interface design features to support reading, browsing, searching, and sharing Safety and privacy


The authors describe contributors as people who take "an individual act that adds to a larger communal effort... when there may be no intention of collaborating, communicating, or forming a relationship." These acts could range from tagging, rating, uploading, or making an edit to a site like Wikipedia. The authors argue that the usability and sociability features that promote these kinds of contributions vary from those of the other categories. Here, the authors focus an extended section on reputation, rating, and status systems, offering an overview of system designs. The authors also consider requests for help and social obligations.


In the authors' model, "collaboration involves two or more contributors discussing, cooperating, and working together to create something or share information, where common ground and close collaboration may be foundational to a project's success [3]. The authors note that participants may switch quickly between acts of collaboration and contribution in a single session. They also identify factors that may shift people and projects into collaboration:

  • interesting discussions[4]
  • social capital[5]
  • absence of free riders[6]
  • trust[7]
  • altruism[8]
  • reciprocity[9]
  • generalized reciprocity[10]
  • collectivism[11]
  • principlism (following principles of virtue)[12]
  • identifiability within a group and affinity towards a group[13]
  • cycles of credit[14]
  • status


The authors identify leaders as the participants who might set longer range goals, define target audiences, and establish and enforce norms. Leaders might also be those who:

  • make the largest number of contributions
  • synthesize content and conversations
  • have the highest status and reputation

Drawing from the work of Brian Butler, the authors argue that "Systems that are designed to support the characteristics listed above, such as good editing and synthesis tools, will help effective leaders emerge." [15][16]

Research agenda

The authors offer a research agenda inspired by this model. As things stood in 2009 when this paper was published, they look forward to research that:

  • tests the framework empirically
  • new metrics to measure success of interventions for encouraging participation
  • metrics to gauge the effect of interventions
    • measures of contribution quantity
    • measures of contribution quality
    • measures of the wider effects on people's lives and communities
  • metrics of transitions between these stages
  • survey methodologies
  • large scale controlled experiments
  • large scale natural experiments
  • studies that take into account many sites

Theoretical and practical relevance:

This review article is one of the most widely cited in computer science on the topic of motivation and participation in online websites. Since it was published, we have seen a growth in research at the intersection of social science, social psychology, and behavioral economics in the design of socio-technical systems, research that explores these questions in greater detail and nuance. Other examples of works in this vein include Building successful online communities: Evidence-based social design

References of Note

  1. Porter, J. (2008) Designing for the Social Web. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.
  2. Li, C. and J. Bernoff (2008) Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review.
  3. Kittur, A. and R. Kraut (2008) “Harnessing the wisdom of crowds in wikipedia: quality through coordination,” in Proceedings of Computer Supported Cooperative Work, pp. 37-46.
  4. Sharratt, M. and A. Usoro (2003) “Understanding knowledge sharing in online communities of practice,” Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management (1), pp. 187-196
  5. Putnam, R. D. (2000) Bowling Alone: Collapse and Revival of the American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  6. Kollock, P. (1999) “The economies of online cooperation: Gifts and public goods in cyberspace,” in M. Smith and P. Kollock (eds.) Communities in Cyberspace. London: Routeledge, pp 220-239.
  7. Maloney-Krichmar, D. and J. Preece (2005) “A multilevel analysis of sociability, usability and community dynamics in an online health community,” ACM Transactions on Computer Human Interaction (12) 2, pp. 1-32.
  8. Vassileva, J. (2003) “Motivating participation in peer to peer communities,” in P. Petta et al. (eds.) Engineering Societies in the Agents World III (ESAW 2002), Lecture Notes in Computer Science 2577, pp. 141-155.
  9. Axelrod, R. (2006) The Evolution of Cooperation, Revised edition. New York, NY: Perseus Books Group.
  10. Wellman, B. and M. Gulia (1999) “The network basis for social support: A network is more than the sum of its ties,” in B. Wellman (ed.) Networks in the Global Village. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 83-118.
  11. Batson, C.D., N. Ahmad, and J. Tsang (2002) “Four motives for community involvement,” Journal of Social Issues (58) 3, pp. 429-445.
  12. Benkler, Y. and H. Nissenbaum (2006) “Commons-based peer production and virtue,” Journal of Political Philosophy (14) 4, pp. 394-419.
  13. Rashid, A. M., K. Ling, R.D. Tassone, P. Resnick, R. Kraut, and J. Reidl (2006) “Motivating participation by displaying the value of contribution,” in Proceedings of CHI 2006 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 955-958.
  14. Latour, B. and A. Woolgar (1986) Laboratory Life: The construction of scientific facts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  15. Butler, B., E. Joyce, E, and J. Pike (2008) “Don’t look now, but we’ve created a bureaucracy: The nature and roles of policies and rules in Wikipedia,” in Proceedings of 26th Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2008, pp. 1101-1110.
  16. Butler, B., L. Sproull, S. Kiesler, and R. Kraut (2002) “Community Effort in Online Groups: Who Does the Work and Why?” in S. Weisband, and L. Atwater (eds.) Leadership at a Distance. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. (March 21, 2009)