Clay Shirky on the four primary factors motivating participation
I am going to cross-post this to multiple discussion pages here (Community Health, Reader Conversion and Quality) – hope that's okay with everyone. This is just a quick note, intended to be supportive and encouraging.
This morning I was at a little conference in Berkeley where Clay Shirky was speaking. And some of what he said was 1) applicable to the work you're doing here, and 2) suggested to me that you folks are on the right track. So I thought I'd share it :-)
Clay was talking about hobbies, which he says historically have been practiced in private – alone, or with family/friends. (Forgive me for equating Wikipedia to a hobby: let's assume we're defining hobby very very broadly.) Clay said that when hobbies were practiced primarily in private, there were two major intrinsic personal motivations for participation:
- 1) autonomy (nobody assigned me to do it, I wanted to do it)
- 2) competence (I am good at it, and by practicing I get better, which is fun)
Since the advent of the internet, “hobbies” have moved into the public sphere – they are now practiced in large groups, often with strangers, and the output is visible to others. Clay said that when that shift happened, two additional major intrinsic social motivations for participation developed:
- 3) feedback (I get more useful feedback than before, which helps me improve faster, which makes me happy)
- 4) reputation/respect (I can show off, and be publicly rewarded/honoured for being competent)
I thought this was really interesting, and particularly germane for the Community Health group, which has been talking about rewards. It's a pretty good framework, I think, for thinking about how to attract and retain project participants.
That makes a ton of sense.
It also explains why there is friction when two competing visions of an article (let alone the whole encyclopedia) collide. Working with others can threaten autonomy. The hope is that there is enough mutual respect and feedback to get you through the friction. I think those little acknowledgments can get you through the tough times.
So there's probably a lot of leverage in improving our reward system. I'm more and more convinced that will be one of our top recommendation areas, if we can figure out what exactly we should reward and how.
Aye, Shirky's comments make sense to me too. The feeling seems to be that too often the feedback (especially for new users) is "Go away!" and their subsequent feelings about competence might be "gee! I suck!" and so they leave.
There's also a sense that people now need a much higher level of competence than they used to. When I first joined, citing sources was no big deal and I'd regularly write 500 words on a subject and meet no resistence whatsoever. Hard to see that happening now. Look at en:wp's article on "Light Entertainment"... for that I just spilled out everything I could think of onto the page knowing that someone would help me out later on. As it happens that article doesn't appear to have changed much; the article has been tagged but most of my dubious assertions still exist :o)
Hmm, I'm having a big crisis of confidence with the rewards/recognition meme. Watch this (it mentions Wikipedia, but that's not the main point); the video is about 18 minutes long but very engaging throughout and relates directly to the meme:
There *is* a lot of interesting science on motivation, and it shows that it's not as simple as "dangle the carrot and they'll chase it". I don't have time for a more thoughtful response right now... but I think *every* recommendation area has challenges and contradictions. They key is threading the needle: can we get the good parts of the recommendation, and navigate around the pitfalls?