Academic journal article Journal of Electronic Commerce Research

A Study of Active and Passive User Participation in Virtual Communities

Academic journal article Journal of Electronic Commerce Research

A Study of Active and Passive User Participation in Virtual Communities

Article excerpt

1.Introduction

Virtual communities (VCs) were first defined as "social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on public discussion long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyber-space" [Rheingold 1993]. The key development with respect to the VC is the great increase of user - generated content on the Web, and the ability to easily search through it and combine parts of it to form new content. VCs enable users to communicate and connect with each other, and to build up a personal network with common interests, allowing them to interact regularly in an organized way over the Internet. The VC is also the core element of social commerce [Liang et al. 2011-12], defined as a new form of electronic commerce that involves using social media to assist in the online buying and selling of products and services [Shen and Eder 2011]. The availability of user-generated content as the next "Intel Inside" is one of the characteristics of Web 2.0 [O'Reilly 2009]; therefore, encouraging users to provide content becomes an important issue for a given VC to attract more users and sustain its competiveness [Williams and Cothrel 2000]. If providing content may be termed a posting activity, another activity of viewing, along with the posting activity, is made up of the fundamental elements in the ongoing life of any VC [Koh et al. 2007]. Viewing or lurking has not received much attention and few studies on these activities are to be found in a review of the literature, since most research tends to focus on active participants, that is, on those who post online.

A lurker1 is defined as a member of a VC who visits and uses the community but does not post messages [Ridings et al. 2006]. Lurkers are labeled as "free-riders" who drain the social capital of the community because lurking essentially means taking without giving back [Kollock amd Smith 1996]. In contrast, another study presented lurking in a more positive light [Nonnecke et al. 2006]. They discovered that many lurkers considered themselves as community members, and were possessed of the characteristics that community members attribute to a successful online community [Preeceb et al. 2004]. Furthermore, community members hold more favorable views of lurkers and lurking than is often assumed. Although lurkers usually enjoy content on websites provided by others and do not actively participate in online communities, they account for the majority of users in many communities [Preecea et al. 2004]. For online community sponsors and operators, lurkers are important because they are part of the traffic, contributing to volume on servers, and responding to advertising and selling. It is important to understand how posters and viewers behave differently, so that online service operators can devise strategies targeting their users more effectively.

Most of the prior studies regarding the participation of VCs collected data from nonprofit online services [Bagozzi and Dholakia 2006; Bock and Kim 2002; Kankanhalli et al. 2005; Wasko and Faraj 2005] or from the VCs established not for profit [Chiu et al. 2006]. A study of knowledge sharing focusing on non-profit virtual communities suggested to investigate profit communities [Koh and Kim 2004]. In a survey regarding online users' behaviors, users of free e-service and of paid e-service were investigated. The results showed that they behaved differently [Chea and Luo 2008]. Another survey also reported that member participations in non-profit and profitoriented communities were affected by different factors. Based on optimal arousal theories [Berlyne 1960], different service settings such as nonprofit VCs and commercial VCs may require different levels of arousal to be satisfied because users have various expectations toward the services offered [Wirtz et al. 2000].

VCs established for commercial purposes were rarely studied and their users might behave differently. …

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