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The changing motivations of crowdsourcing users

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The changing motivations of crowdsourcing users

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When the notion of crowdsourcing first began to take off, the understanding of what motivated people to participate was quite straightforward.

It was regarded to be for one of fame; money; the challenge; or doing something worthwhile.  That’s fine, and it covers most of the bases pretty well, but as the concept has grown in popularity, so too have attempts to understand it.

All about the challenge

Lets look at a few in turn.  First up we had a paper from Georgia Tech whereby researchers delved into the Zooniverse world.

They found, perhaps not surprisingly, that intrinsic factors were key, which  included“enjoyment of solving challenging problems, from curiosity about the object or task, or from anticipated feelings of competence once a problem has been solved.”

Extrinsic factors and collaboration

A paper from Carnegie Mellon researchers looked at the role of extrinsic factors. They found that whilst a cash incentive, in this case a $1,000 prize, resulted in a doubling of overall effort levels, it had no impact at all on levels of collaboration.

The role of data release

A third study, led by Karim Lakhani, looked at the role data release played in motivation of participants.  It found that when regular information about the status of the project was disclosed, it resulted in less participation, but the quality tended to improve as greater recombination occurred.

Exploring the key players

A fourth study, from researchers from Duke and LSE, looked at the motivation behind the core participants in an open source software project.  It suggests that the most productive contributors to a project were attracted by the amount of control they were given over that project.

The changing shape of motivation

As you can see, there has been no shortage of research into this field, but that hasn’t put off a team of researchers from Syracuse University.  They have authored a paper that looks at the strongest users, just as the previous Duke/LSE paper did.  This time however, the petri dish is the Planet Hunters citizen science project.

They reasoned that the motivation of participants is likely to change as they move from a new user to a more established member of the community.

To do this, the researchers look at the motivations of participants to complete tasks that sit outside the core task of the site, such as classifying galaxies for instance.

The role of super-users

The rationale was two fold.  Firstly, super-users tend to do a lot of community management work that goes beyond what they are specifically there to do.  These additional tasks could be crucial in encouraging and supporting less frequent users to participate.

Previous studies suggest that we typically begin community life on the periphery, before our behavior legitimizes us to the community and we become a more central part of the group. The person then becomes an embodiment of the community that is then a symbol of what the community represents for subsequent generations of newcomer.

The study suggests that as participants get more involved in a project, they begin to associate less with the tasks themselves as with the underlying ideology of the community.

Experienced members also gain value from their mentoring role within their communities, with newer members looking up to them for guidance.

The paper concludes that projects should attempt to do more to connect new members up with their experienced peers, and as they become more experienced themselves, provide them with the tools to take on more responsibility.

This would aid them in their progression as members, and also help to strengthen the community of which they have invested so much of themselves.

The paper represents an interesting look at motivation through the lifecycle of a users participation in crowd based projects, and therefore is a worthwhile addition to the ever growing canon of research on this topic.

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