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Community, Social Interaction and Wikipedia

Author Jenny Preece
Track Wiki Social Science
License GNU Free Documentation License (details)
About the author
Jenny Preece is an online community researcher and Professor and Dean at the College of Information Studies, U. of Maryland. She is author, coauthor or editor of seven books including: Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction (2002) ( and Online Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability (2000) ( published by John Wiley & Sons. Dr. Preece is author of over one hundred and fifty book chapters and publications; she serves on four editorial boards and frequently gives keynotes at major conferences. She was technical program chair for the first International Conference on Online Communities and Social Computing, twice for ACM SIGCHI conferences, and also for Communities & Technology.

Her current research is concerned with the design and management of online communities. She works with communities of practice, health, education, non-profit and knowledge communities. Preece's current research is concerned with sociability and usability in online communities. She focusses on three main research areas: (i) knowledge exchange, cross-cultural communication, empathy, trust, and etiquette online; (ii) why and how people participate, or do not participate; and (iii) heuristics and methods for developing, maintaining and evaluating online communities.

Online communities have become a key source of information and support. These communities enable Wikipedia users and contributors to coordinate their activites, patients to cope better with their diseases, students to discuss homework projects, hobbyists to pursue their passions, and teens to chat about their lives. Scholars use online communities to track academic topics, lawyers seek legal information, and professionals exchange business knowledge. A variety of software facilitates information exchange and communication including: wikis, blogs, discussion boards, instant messaging, and immersive virtual environments.

In this talk I will discuss the concept of an online community, review my research terrain and briefly present some findings, for example: a framework for developing and analyzing online communities, and results from studies about empathy, information exchange, and why people often observe but do not actively contribute (i.e., ‘lurk’) online. Empathy, information exchange, and behavior online varies between communities. In one study, for example, we found strong differences in the amount of lurking in patient support communities compared with technical support communities. Analysis of survey responses from 219 observers revealed reasons for lurking that included: wanting to learn more about the community, intending to be helpful, poor usability, poor group dynamics, and desire to take without giving back. Based on our findings, we proposed changes in social management and information architecture to encourage participation, support empathy between participants, and facilitate information seeking and browsing. Finally, I will suggest future research and development directions for encouraging community activities associated with Wikipedia.

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