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User Participation and Commitment in Online Communities: An Interactivity-Cost Framework

Many of the digital technologies we use today strongly emphasize social interaction. The Internet allows us to communicate with others worldwide and form social structures such as online communities, which are important in our connected society. Ironically, in online communities, a vast proportion of users never interact with others, or do so infrequently. This is an area of inquiry for information systems (IS) scholars. Understandably, IS research focuses primarily on users who actively participate. However, this means that a majority of users are excluded. In this dissertation, I reconceptualize online community participation and propose a new framework with a wide range of behaviors that are active, passive, and intermediate. It presents three research essays. The first essay (Chapter 2) involves a systematic literature review on the empirical measurement of participation-related constructs, focusing on contribution behaviors. The second and third essays present two empirical studies to develop and test an improved model of participation. The first empirical study (Chapter 3) proposes the interactivity-cost (IC) framework of online community participation. It identifies eight participation behaviors, defining each by its level of interactivity (visibility to other users) and cost (requirements in terms of a user’s personal resources). Using commitment theory, the IC framework is tested in a survey of Reddit users. The second empirical study (Chapter 4) replicates and extends the first by examining several commitment-forming characteristics of online communities and users. It investigates community age, size, type, and leader activity. It also investigates poster tendency (a user’s propensity to post in online settings) and two forms of online anonymity. Combining survey, experimental, and archival data, a second study of Reddit users tests the expanded IC framework. This study involves an experimental manipulation of online community type (hedonic versus utilitarian). This dissertation provides valuable insights on user participation and commitment in online communities. The interactivity-cost framework offers a more comprehensive lens for studying a wide range of participation behaviors. Findings show how different types of commitment influence different types of behavior. In addition, this research illustrates effects of community and user characteristics on commitment, which are useful for community managers and developers.
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