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Why and How Do Members Provide Help For Others Within Online Communities?

Hafiz Hanif, Michael Hammond, Centre for Education Studies, University of Warwick, Sultan Idris Education University, Malaysia

This paper looks at how and why people help others in the online communities to which they belong. It begins with a discussion of the motivation to help both as it has been discussed as a trait of being human as well as a practice within online community. It discusses the importance of helpfulness for sustaining community life and the different motivations (both altruistic and personal interest) members have for offering help. It then reports on a study of an online group of independent game developers within the online community GameSalad. The study utilised a mixed method approach for data collection, including exploratory observation, online survey, and remote individual interviews. Data collection took place over a period of 11 months. The focus for this particular paper is that part of the study dealing with help and draws primarily on the interview data. Here five themes were identified: motivation; modes; preferences; effect; issues, each with a number of sub-themes. Some of the reasons for giving help were predictable from the literature. In particular, helpers were aware of the need to sustain the community and in many cases felt an obligation to offer help as a return or ‘pay forward’ for the help they had received in the past. Those giving help were motivated by community mindedness, empathy, self-confidence and sense of self. The paper goes on to throw new light on the strategies used for giving help and the circumstances under which help is more likely to be offered. In particular, while the giving of help depends on ‘mood’, this mood is generated when helpers feel they have the available time, relevant expertise in order to help but also when those asking for help have asked in an appropriate manner and provided sufficient contextualisation. Help was generally offered by signposting past debates and by producing bespoke artefacts to demonstrate particular features of the software. It is suggested that participation, and the giving of help, within a community is shaped by past patterns and traditions.

Keywords
online communities, participation, motivation, help

Full Paper - .pdf

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