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Visualizing reciprocity in an online community to motivate participation



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Online communities thrive on their members’ participation and contributions. Continuous encouragement of participation of these members is vital for an online community. Social visualizations are one of the methods to make members explicitly aware of their connections and relationships. There are numerous ways to visually represent information, current-status, power, and acceptance of members in an online community. In this thesis I present a design of a visualization representing the evolving reciprocity of relationships among users based on the comments they give to each other’s posts. The purpose of the visualization is to emphasize and hopefully trigger a common bond in the community and thereby increase their participation. We developed and deployed the visualization in an online community called “WISETales” where women in science and engineering share personal stories. We also deployed modified and improved versions of the visualization in two other communities, I-Help class discussion forums and the Vegatopia discussion forum for vegetarians. In this thesis we present the results of the evaluation in these three communities. The results unfortunately, were negative. Even though separate explanations for the lack of motivational effect can be found in each of the experiments, it seems that the chosen motivational approach was too gentle to encourage participation. It seems for reciprocation to take place, the users need to be committed to the community and already have some other underlying motivation to participate actively. The visualization also should provide some new information that they weren’t aware of previously. This was not the case with the users in the three chosen communities. WISETales was too new and can barely be called a community. I-Help was not a community, but a place for student to post questions for the teacher to answer. Vegatopia, in contrast, is well established, active community, where people know each other, and engage in conversations with each other. The visualization did not provide any new information for them that they didn’t know and only served as a brief attraction for a day (novelty effect). We are still optimistic, however, that the visualization may be useful for active and too dynamic communities where people are unaware of their social relationships because they are too many, for example, social network sites like Twitter.



intrinsic motivation, common bond, reciprocity, social visualization, online communities



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Computer Science


Computer Science


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