Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Using Artificial Agents to Stimulate Participation in Virtual Communities (2005)

This is a position paper on how one might use artificial agents to encourage individuals to get more involved with online communities. This is another paper that I am reading in my review of social psychology inspired analysis and design of online communities.

There is a subsequent paper called "A Social Network Platform for Vocational Learning in the ITM Worldwide Network" which has yet to be cited by anyone but does present some results. There is also an earlier paper cited by 50 [ATGSATOP] on "Using conversational agents to support the adoption of knowledge sharing practices" from which the image above is taken.

So the paper that I actually have is a bit slim, and I should probably read the other papers to make valid comments; however I printed that one out a while ago, it's the one I read and I don't want to waster that paper. In general I am skeptical of the use of "agents" in this kind of setting, but the paper does have some interesting references. They talk about research across many different fields into the mechanics of knowledge exchange in groups: knowledge management and organization (Cothrel and Williams, 1999); Computer Supported Collaborative Work (Majchrzak et al., 2003); complexity (Reed, 1999); social computing (Erickson et al., 2002); sociology and communication (Ridings and Gefen, 2004), and psycho-sociology (Beenen et al., 2004).

This was the point at which I really wanted to be able to dump this papers list of references into google scholar and this was the beginning of some serious procrastination as I built a system to do that, but here are the results (given two or three tweaks to the regex and the addition of lead author to the google scholar search to increase change of hitting the right paper - am also thinking that the paper title should link to the paper itself where possible - [Cited by] can link to list of citations):
Angehrn A. A., 2004. Designing Intelligent Agents for Virtual Communities (Cited by 9). INSEAD CALT Report 11-2004
Beenen, G. et al., 2004. Using Social Psychology to Motivate Contributions to Online Communities (Cited by 166). Proceedings of ACM CSCW 2004 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Chicago, IL. 2004
Blanchard A. and Markus L., 2002. Sense of Virtual Community-Maintaining the Experience of Belonging (Cited by 58). Proceedings of the 35th HICSS Conference -Volume 8, Hawaii
Chan, C. et al. M., 2004. Recognition and Participation in a Virtual Community: A Case Study (Cited by 4). Proceedings of the 37th HICSS Conference, Hawaii.
Cialdini, R. B., and Sagarin, B. J., 2005. Interpersonal influence (Cited by 39). T. Brock & M. Green (Eds.), Persuasion: Psychological insights and perspectives. (pp. 143-169). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Press
Cothrel J. and Williams R., 1999. On-Line Communities: Helping Them Form and Grow (Cited by 92). Journal of Knowledge Management, 3(1), 54-65, March 1999.
Erickson, T., et al., 2002. Social Translucence: Designing Social Infrastructures that Make Collective Activity Visible (Cited by 122).
Communications of the ACM (Special issue on Community, ed. J. Preece), Vol. 45, No. 4, pp. 40-44, 2002.
Hall, H., 2001. Social exchange for knowledge exchange (Cited by 46). Paper presented at Managing knowledge: conversations and critiques, University of Leicester Management Centre, 10-11 April 2001.
Koh J. and Kim Y.-G., 2003. Sense of Virtual Community: A Conceptual Framework and Empirical Validation (Cited by 47). International Journal of Electronic Commerce, Volume 8, Number 2, Winter 2003-4, pp. 75.
Kinshuk and Lin T., 2004. Cognitive profiling towards formal adaptive technologies in web-based learning communities (Cited by 8). Int. J. Web Based Communities, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2004 103
Majchrzak A. Et al., 2003. Computer-Mediated Inter-Organizational Knowledge-Sharing: Insights from a Virtual Team Innovating Using a Collaborative Tool (Cited by 72). Information Resources Management Journal, Vol. 13, No. 1
Reed, D., 1999. That Sneaky Exponential: Beyond Metcalfe's Law to the Power of Community Building (Cited by 43). Context Magazine, spring 1999,
Rheingold, H., 1993. The virtual community: Homesteading on the electronic frontier (Cited by 2926). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Roda, C., et al., 2003. Using Conversational Agents to Support the Adoption of Knowledge Sharing Practices (Cited by 50). Interacting with Computers, Elsevier, Vol. 15, Issue 1, pp. 57-89, January.
Rogers, E. M., 1995. Diffusion of Innovations (Cited by 20243)(Fourth Edition). New York, Free Press
Sharratt, M; Usoro, A., 2003. Understanding Knowledge-Sharing in Online Communities of Practice (Cited by 34). Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management, 1(2), December 2003.
Thaiupathump, C., Bourne, J., & Campbell, J. (1999). Intelligent agents for online learning (Cited by 37). Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 3(2).
Thibaut, J. W., and Kelley, H. H., 1959. The social psychology of groups (Cited by 3391); New York: Wiley.
Tung, L., et al. 2001. An Empirical Investigation of Virtual Communities and Trust (Cited by 14). Proceedings of the 22nd International Conference on Information Systems, 2001, pp. 307-320
This allows me to parse the references in their section on social cognition literature in a completely different way from before. [of course immediately I want to know what is the average number of citations to expect given the year of the paper, and use that to adjust the coloration]. The authors describe a set of principles derived from social theories including the establishment of the following:
  • A climate of trust (Tung et al., 2001 - [14])
  • A sense of community (Blanchard & Markus, 2002 - [58]; Koh & Kim, 2003 - [47])
  • A feeling of recognition for member actions (Chan et al., 2004 - [4])
They also refer to Social Exchange theory (Thibaut & Kelly, 1959 - [3391]), Influence theory (Cialdini & Sagarin, 2004 - [39]), Critical Mass theory (Reed, 1999 - [43]) Social Translucence (Erickson et al., 2002 - [122]) and the Theory of Innovation (Rogers, 1995 - [20243]). Based on just the text I was flustered feeling that I needed to read all these papers, but the citation counts at least give me a way to distinguish papers that are likely to be key ones in their respective fields.

The main point made by the authors in the paper is that software agents should be able to make use of social cognition theories to select from different types of interventions in order to stimulate participation in an online community. This would include understanding the phase of community membership an individual is in and the type of member they are. The authors concede that there are many challenges to such a system, including user acceptance of the agents themselves. This seems like the real challenge - the interventions are presumably limited to automatically generated emails, or posts in discussions, and the danger is that these will be considered spam by users. For all the effort it would take to build such a system it seems to me that a better effect would almost always be achieved by investing the time/money in community facilitators who would take a genuine interest in all members of the community and contact them as necessary to try and stimulate participation. Automated interventions are likely to be regarded with contempt - I think, although that is my intuition - would be good if I could cite studies indicating that. Ling et al (2005) [or Beenen et al., 2004 in this paper ] used bulk emails to elicit different behaviours in ratings community. I guess it all depends on the community.

Lead authors homepage

Cited by 8 at time of post according to Google Scholar

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