Sunday, December 16, 2007

Introductions and requests improve likelihood of responses in an online community

I wrote in an earlier blogpost about the participant-observation analysis of Swedish music fan's interactions on the internet. The analysis shows that interactions take place at multiple levels, at different online platforms. So you can't assume that people interact neatly within the boundaries of one online platform.

Library Clips refered to it and wrote about the blogosphere as a distributed social network. "To make this type of network explicit you would have to get all these people to join the same network eg. MyBlogLog (blogs), FeedEachOther (RSS Readers), Ziki (Lifestreams). I’ve posted in the past and recently on how much benefit we could get out of blogs we read and interact with if we were directly connected in a social network." He (or she?) lists what you can do with your blog in terms of widgets to make this kind of networking more explicit.

At the same time, I read an article in the train by Burke et al called Introductions and Requests: Rhetorical strategies that elicit reponse in online communities. I must say that I travel less by train and that reduces the number of articles I read. So unfortunately I found this article of less practical use than I had thought. The main point of the article is that the way a person introduces a message in an online community matters for the response. If a person includes a self-disclosing introduction it increases the chances of reply. Saying 'I've been lurking in this online forum for a while' almost doubles the chances of replies. Putting a request forward, also increases the chances for replies.

However useful this may be to know for newcomers in established online communities, the research is an example of a research that ignores the distribution of communications. It does not pay any attention to the 'culture' of the online community (inward-looking, outward-looking, welcoming or not, etc) Neither does it to the other interactions that may have preceded the message. For instance, I posted a request in an online yahoo group, but that was stimulated by email introductions and exchanges by the group facilitator or initiator. This interaction would be invisible to the researchers. (you see why I haven't become a researcher..) I think that knowing the language (jargon) of the group may matter a lot too. So you may say that you've been lurking but if that doesn't show through the way you 'talk' in your message, it may not improve the response rate.

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