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Information exchange and behavior - A multi-method inquiry on online communities

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This dissertation studies the behavioral characteristics of participants engaged in informationexchange in the context of online communities. Online communities aredefined as collectives of individuals that use computer mediated communication tofacilitate interaction over a shared purpose and/or objective. It is argued that thisinteraction creates externalities, for example, in the form of codified information thatothers can use through web search tools. These externalities assemble a virtual formof social capital, a commonly shared resource. The research objective of this thesis isto examine how the behavioral tendencies of the participants in online communitiesare affected by the way this common resource is formatted, administered and shared.The dissertation consists of two parts: a theoretical part where the empirical backgroundand the object of research inquiry is highlighted, and an empirical part whichconsists of four empirical studies carried out in the context of three online communities,namely, Google Answers, Yahoo!Answers and Amazon Online Reviews. Theempirical part of this dissertation starts with a controlled experiment emulating a wellknown social dilemma: the public goods game. It provides substance as to whetherand when participants in online communities behave (un) cooperatively. The next twostudies focus on a special case of online communities where participants ask questionsand other participants post answers conditionally on social and monetary incentives.The results of these two studies confirm that community participants do care about thecontributions of others and engage in incentive compatible behavior. Yahoo!Answersparticipants exercise effort in the community by posting answers to questions conditionallyon benefits provided by other participants. The empirical findings show thatcontributing participants in an online community receive answers faster, while thosethat do not contribute much effort are sanctioned in the form of longer response-timeto their questions. In Google Answers this thesis, interactions can be observed that are based onmonetary rewards (rather than social rewards in the form of a reputation index as in Yahoo Answers). Participants make use of voluntarily awarded payoffs (tips) along withstated rewards, in order to motivate those that provide answers (answerers) to providebetter quality in their responses. The findings of this study confirm the symmetric effectbetween monetary rewards and quality. However, this study also identifies caseswhere social norms have a significant effect on response behavior. When participantsseek to get better service with less effort (in terms of total cost), a reputation indexwhich is constructed by the history of their previous interactions supports such an attempt.In other words, reputation history influences information sharing behavior inonline communities.The last chapter of the empirical part focuses on another crucial aspect of informationas a shared resource: Clarity and understandability. The study examines onlineproduct reviews on The results suggest that participants do care aboutthe clarity of this codified form of experience which increases a helpfulness indexaccordingly.The thesis overall finds symmetric effects between participation in online communitiesand output of interaction, but also identifies the ability of the participants tointeract strategically as they seek to minimize the effort they provide in order to findthe information they seek. The results underline the importance of signaling and qualityevaluation mechanisms as counter-balancing control that can enhance activity ononline communities.

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Nikolaos Theodoros Korfiatis

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