Leaders, lurkers, lookers, workers

What factors motivate people to join or contribute content to online communities? What characteristics distinguish the frequent posters? What are people likely to share online about themselves, their companies or their organizations?

Two items today will shed some light on these essential behaviors. The first is a fascinating and lovely slide show from a consulting firm, The Attention Company, that defines a psychographic profile of what the firm calls people who are “Out There.”

Secondly, some insights filtered through Howard (Smart Mobs) Rheingold suggest that paying for content is not so effective as praising contributors.

The Attention Company presentation is gorgeous and insightful, suggesting that way back to the ancestral village, people have always been curious about each others’ foibles and doings — and that furthermore, some of us are culturally programmed to …. shall we say, share. (Gossip makes it sounds so cheap!)

The report is laid out in 16 slides. Let me suggest a quick scan and then bookmark it to mine some of the detailed observations later. (PDF)

I learned of this report through a chain of postings that included Unmediated.org. But I think Richard (Read/Write Web) McManus wrote the root posting which included this comment:

“. . . in the report there are no details about how the research was gathered. I asked . . . about this and . . .  was (told it was) an Internet-based survey of 1,500 white-collar professionals in the United States, between the ages 20-65 . . . it was a random weighted sample, conducted in July of 2006.”

Very good to know that the authors have more than 10 inputs from their closest friends and kudos to McManus for asking the question.

I consider McManus, whom I’m never “met” except via seeing his stuff online, a great example of a “citizen journalism” success. I’d like to learn more about him and his blog odyssey. Meanwhile, I was struck by the design of his site: it is healthy with ads for one thing, but also elegant and pleasing to the eye. At least my eye. But then I’m middle-aged fart who used to be a typographer so I have a thing for white space. I’m not sure if this sort of classical magazine layout is appealing to others. Anyone care to opine?

Meanwhile, before I meander too far my second bit is from Rheingold, one of the gurus of online community. He tells us about the dynamic between psychic and cash rewards for participants. The gist of the posting is to suggest that in trying to get rocket scientists, for instance, to contribute to BlastOff.com, throwing them a few bucks might be insulting while sending them a t-shirt that says “Member of the Way Out There Club” might push their “contribute” button.

But Rheingold’s posting merely introduces a detailed report written by UC Berkeley graduate student Tobias Assmann who wrote a paper titled: Incentives for Participation. It is not as easily skimmed as the “Out There” report — which is not a knock on Assmann but rather a confession that I did not yet read this info-packed posting well enough to summarize it.

 I will try to come back and do that later, providing I can discipline my wandering attention span.

Should you be motivated to help out by summarizing Assmann’s work for our common good, please drop me a note at tomabate_book (at) hotmail.com. In addition to posting your summary, with credit, your contribution would inspire me to follow some of his advice by making you the first recipient of the as-yet unproduced, “I (Heart) Mini Media” t-shirt.