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Participation Lifecycles in Online Communities
Online communities come and go, as do the people in them. However, little is known about how these processes occur. Supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, TOIL researchers are looking at issues that include why people leave sites, motivations to contribute between anonymous and registered users, whether asking for specific contributions will cause people to contribute more and a host of other issues looking at lifecycles on membership in online communities, and then the lifetimes of the communities as well.

Our researchers currently employ methods of server log analysis, surveys, and interviews to explicate the character, quantity, and rate of contributions by members of online socio-technical systems. This approach of examining micro-level user motivations combined with the technique of assessing group-level data is allowing direct inquiry to how firms can incentivize positive contribution and retain valuable individuals that improve the community as a whole.

Furthermore, TOIL researchers are partnered with industry groups to access longitudinal data and examine nearly a decade-long record of interaction between thousands of users; this partnership allows examination of ways to best nurture new communities, maintain them, and prevent decay of large or established groups.

The Role of Social Network Sites in Facilitating Collaborative Processes
Although traditionally conceived of as a purely “social” outlet, social network sites (SNSs) such as Facebook contain a number of social and technical affordances that enable users to engage in both organizing and collaboration. Recently, many people have been using social network sites like Facebook to seek information from their friends and colleagues. Advice on products, childcare, career, and education have all been popping up in newsfeeds and Twitter streams. In work funded by the National Science Foundation, TOIL researchers are looking at issues related to collaboration that are emerging in social network sites.

TOIL researchers are not just interested in how SNSs can be employed for collaborative purposes, but also who is engaging in activities that move beyond the more standard uses of the site and why they use SNSs for collaborating. To answer these questions, the research team is engaging in both qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis across different populations of users.

One of the team’s current research projects is looking at college students’ opinions toward and use of Facebook to organize and collaborate on school projects through a series of surveys conducted in spring 2009, fall 2009, and spring 2010. A primary goal of this research is to understand how students engage in bricolage by repurposing Facebook as an academic tool (e.g., by using the site to set up a study group and organize a meeting time). A second project is examining the uses and motivations of older users (adults ages 25-55) to see how users outside the site’s original population (i.e., college students) take advantages of its various features.