Building Successful Online Communities

Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-Based Social Design

Robert E. Kraut
Paul Resnick
Sara Kiesler
Moira Burke
Yan Chen
Niki Kittur
Joseph Konstan
Yuqing Ren
John Riedl
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Building Successful Online Communities
    Book Description:

    Online communities are among the most popular destinations on the Internet, but not all online communities are equally successful. For every flourishing Facebook, there is a moribund Friendster--not to mention the scores of smaller social networking sites that never attracted enough members to be viable. This book offers lessons from theory and empirical research in the social sciences that can help improve the design of online communities. The social sciences can tell us much about how to make online communities thrive, offering theories of individual motivation and human behavior that, properly interpreted, can inform particular design choices for online communities. The authors draw on the literature in psychology, economics, and other social sciences, as well as their own research, translating general findings into useful design claims. They explain, for example, how to encourage information contributions based on the theory of public goods, and how to build members' commitment based on theories of interpersonal bond formation. For each design claim, they offer supporting evidence from theory, experiments, or observational studies.The book focuses on five high-level design challenges: starting a new community, attracting new members, encouraging commitment, encouraging contribution, and regulating misbehavior and conflict. By organizing their presentation around these fundamental design features, the authors encourage practitioners to consider alternatives rather than simply adapting a feature seen on other sites.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29831-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Robert E. Kraut and Paul Resnick
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)
    Paul Resnick and Robert E. Kraut

    What does social science tell us about how to make thriving online communities? Quite a lot, it turns out—but only if we listen very closely and, at times, employ a translator. Economics and various branches of psychology offer theories of individual motivation and of human behavior in social situations. The theories generalize from observations of naturally occurring behavior, from controlled experiments, and from abstract mathematical models. Properly interpreted, they can inform choices about how to get a community started, integrate newcomers, encourage commitment, regulate behavior when there are conflicts, motivate contributions, and coordinate those contributions to maximize benefits for...

  5. 2 Encouraging Contribution to Online Communities
    (pp. 21-76)
    Robert E. Kraut and Paul Resnick

    Many hands make light work, according to the proverb. But only if all those hands actually do some work. To be successful, online communities need the people who participate in them to contribute the resources on which the group’s existence is built. The types of resource contributions needed differ widely across different types of groups. Volunteers in NASA’s Clickworker community (, for example, help space scientists analyze data by clicking on Mars photographs to trace the outline of craters. In social media communities, like YouTube, where users upload videos, or Gnutella, where participants share their music collections, the contributed resources...

  6. 3 Encouraging Commitment in Online Communities
    (pp. 77-124)
    Yuqing Ren, Robert E. Kraut, Sara Kiesler and Paul Resnick

    Community designers can draw from theories of commitment to make design decisions that influence whether and how people will become committed to a community. Commitment is harder to achieve than a flow (or trickle) of visitors, but for most online communities, commitment is crucial. Committed members work harder, say more, do more, and stick with a community after it becomes established. They care enough to help with community activities and to sustain the group through problems. Committed members are those most likely to provide the content that others value, such as answers to people’s questions in technical and health support...

  7. 4 Regulating Behavior in Online Communities
    (pp. 125-178)
    Sara Kiesler, Robert E. Kraut, Paul Resnick and Aniket Kittur

    In thriving communities, a rough consensus eventually emerges about the range of behaviors the managers and most members consider acceptable, what we will callnormative behaviors, and another range of behaviors that are beyond the pale.A Rape in Cyberspace, a newspaper report by Julian Dibbell (1993), describes a classic example of unacceptable behavior in LamdaMOO, an early virtual environment. Mr. Bungle, an avatar in the online community, wrote a program that forced two avatars controlled by other participants to have virtual sex with him and with each other, and to do brutal things to their own bodies. In describing...

  8. 5 The Challenges of Dealing with Newcomers
    (pp. 179-230)
    Robert E. Kraut, Moira Burke, John Riedl and Paul Resnick

    In the face of inevitable turnover, every online community must incorporate successive generations of newcomers to survive. Without replacing members who leave, a community will eventually wither away. Newcomers can also be a source of innovation, new ideas, and work procedures or other resources that the group needs. However, attracting newcomers and incorporating them into an existing community can be a difficult endeavor. Newcomers have not yet developed the commitment to the group felt by old-timers. As a result, they are very sensitive to the public image of a community and to their own early experiences in it. They may...

  9. 6 Starting New Online Communities
    (pp. 231-280)
    Paul Resnick, Joseph Konstan, Yan Chen and Robert E. Kraut

    “Build it and they will come.” If only it were that simple.

    In reality, most online communities never really get off the ground. On SourceForge (, for example, which offers free tools to open source projects, thousands of projects have been created, but only 10.3 percent have more than three members.¹ In an effort to test the effects of an online community for helping people to quit smoking, researchers gave 684 people access to an online community in addition to the informational website (, but so few people used the online community features that they were not able to...

  10. Contributors
    (pp. 281-282)
  11. Index
    (pp. 283-310)