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May 26 - June 1 Compliance-without-pressure techniques for Online Communities

There were a bunch of neat papers related to learning at the 2012 CHI conference a couple of weeks ago. This one compares the effectiveness of two different techniques for engaging people to contribute to an online "peer production community."

Although the example community is focused on geographic content, it seems relevant to the question of motivating participation in any online community. i also think the notion of learning as a "peer production community" isn't far off the mark (ie, artifacts are produced as a result of people learning with one another online - content, discussions, insights, papers, software, etc).

Hope it will be interesting!

Mikhil Masli and Loren Terveen, Evaluating compliance-without-pressure techniques for increasing participation in online communities, Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2012.

pdf file can be retrieved here.

Task Discussion

  • Stian Haklev   June 1, 2012, 7:53 p.m.

    I posted some comments/notes from this article here. (Nothing new for people who already read the article :))

  • Jennifer Claro   June 2, 2012, 4:25 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Stian Haklev   June 1, 2012, 7:53 p.m.

    Hi Stian,

    I have always thought your dokuwiki is incredibly cool and useful. Please tell me, how long did it take to make the wiki page for this article (in addition to the time spent reading the article)? Also, do you have to have a server to use dokuwiki?



    P.S. - By the way, for everyone else, if we are looking for papers to read, I think Stian's stash would be a great place to look... :)

  • Stian Haklev   June 2, 2012, 10:46 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Jennifer Claro   June 2, 2012, 4:25 a.m.


    well as you know for my screencasts (btw I added a list of screencasts and blog entries to the Researchr wikipage), creating the initial wiki page with the bibliographic entry and all my clippings take just the press of a button, after I've made my highlights in the PDF. Then, I open it in sidewiki, and start reorganizing and making high-level notes. This is a step I sometimes skip, it's actually incredibly "cognitively intense" - especially for complex articles (this one wasn't too hard), but I find it crucial for going back later and quickly capturing what the article was about etc. 

    I can try to see how much time it takes me to read this week's article :)

    As you remember, Macs have a built-in web server, so you can do the whole thing on your local computer (although, as you also remember, it is sadly quite a hassle to install). You only need a server if you want to share your notes with the world.

  • Jennifer Claro   June 2, 2012, 4:33 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Stian Haklev   June 2, 2012, 10:46 a.m.

    Hi Stian (and everyone),

    I think your workflow Researchr is great and very useful. I've often wished for a way to organize my papers and get the important things about each one in some kind of organized format. But as you said, Dokuwiki a hassle to install and probably a hassle to get used to using. And Researchr is not shareable yet right?

    Does anyone know of any good alternatives? I made a blog post and video of a "simple digital academic workflow" based on a kind of simplified, low tech version of Stian's Researchr which has gotten a lot of views. It's very easy to use but has limitations (no place for collecting notes on articles, for example). I think a need exists for many researchers to get their papers organized and some way to get the highlights etc. somewhere easily reachable as well.

    I think Stian's Researchr is great (but inaccessable), Dokuwiki seems great (but a hassle) so I am still looking for an improved simple digital academic workflow. Any ideas?



  • Jennifer Claro   May 31, 2012, 7:03 p.m.

    While we are discussing motivation, here's a great, short (10-minute) RSA animate on motivation, based on the book Drive by Daniel Pink. 

    RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

    [embed:Invalid Url]

  • Jessy Kate Schingler   May 30, 2012, 4:41 p.m.

    i thought this was a great paper. it was well written, with an excellent and clear experimental process. it also had a very clear and distinct result! wow, refreshing :).

    using the low ball technique elicited significantly more contributions than the foot-in-the-doot technique or the control group (plain, direct request for contribution). it was neat that they recognized that the results followed a long tail distribution, although i'm not totally clear on how the logarithmic transformation (p.5, bottom left) affects the statistical significance analysis.

    based on their follow-up survey, the authors concluded that, "the LB technique succeeded due to a heightened feeling of commitment despite the relative anonymity associated
    with the online community." (p.8).  the authors also point out that techniques like low-ball wouldn't necessarily work if used repeatedly since people would likely end up feeling manipulated. they call this a "one-shot" effect. it doens't increase contributions over the long term. but, combining these two observations, one idea would be if perhaps we could use this one-shot approach to strategically build a stronger sense of commitment and community in a learning environment. for example, perhaps we could use low-ball to get people to make their first post in a new learning community, but then add in a peer-assessment question at the end of that post that would increase their exposure to others in the group (er... or something like that). this goes to thieme's idea as well, about how we could test the LB technique in online learning communities.

    their results could have been skewed by a bias/general disposition of the types of people who are involved in the cyclowiki project - ie, by being a registered user on that site, it implies they have a pre-disposition to care about community value creation. then again, i suppose that would be true of any "social production community."

    something they didn't dive into much was the fact that although LB technique produced more work, the actual response rate (number of people) was not significantly different. so on a per-person or per-user level, successful engagement was not higher, but quality/depth of engagement was.

    the article raised a bigger question for me which i think could be interesting to explore: Does "easy" scale? We tend to focus on increasing participation by making things easier. Shorter blog posts. Calling out key phrases. Bite-sized tasks. "+1" or "Like" rather than responding with words. Even lightweight psychological manipulation as in this paper :). But how much can that approach scale? and how do aggregate outputs of many easy pieces/contributions differ from fewer, more challenging contributions? Is the net learning less? At some point, are there non-decomposable atomic units of production or creativity that correlate with a given sophistication of the output?

    There were also several interesting papers in the references which I'll add to the Mendeley group!

  • Jennifer Claro   May 31, 2012, 4:47 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Jessy Kate Schingler   May 30, 2012, 4:41 p.m.

    I agree that the results were clear in that there were significant differences between LB and the other 2 groups, but for me the cloudy part was whether we shoud be considering using any "interventions" at all. If there is a risk of decreasing trust and commitment as a direct result of the intervention, it seems like using any kind of intervention is defeating the overall purpose.

    In "Using Social Psychology to Motivate Contributions to Online Communities" which Jessy just added to our Mendeley group, the authors use various "manipulations" on participants. I have only scanned the article, not read, it, but the idea of manipulations really turns me off. I think people should participate in a community because they want to, because they see a value in what they are doing, for themselves and for others. I don't like this manipulation business. I think we need to concentrate on finding out what other ways to support and encourage participation that don't have any kind of deception involved.

  • Jessy Kate Schingler   May 31, 2012, 5:12 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Jennifer Claro   May 31, 2012, 4:47 p.m.

    i think you bring up a really good point, but the line between leveraging good psychology versus manipulation is a very murky one! is it manipulation if we praise people for doing good work because we know it will encourage them to continue participating?

  • Jennifer Claro   May 31, 2012, 5:45 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Jessy Kate Schingler   May 31, 2012, 5:12 p.m.

    I think praise is not exactly manipulation but I've also read that praise is not the greatest idea because people get hooked on the praise rather than what is was they were doing that deserved praise. Like external motivation. If we want people to be autonomous learners, independent learners, it should be praise-free, external-motivation-free, I think. But that's just my opinion. I know that some people think the idea of badges, for example, is great but I don't like them.

    Personally, a solid reply to a post I've made is a great motivator for me, and it involves no praise. The most motivation I've felt in P2PU was when I took the Intro to CSCL course with Monica and Stian and we were all making great posts and replying to each other and there was a real discussion of ideas going on. Maybe in the first couple weeks of our Researcher's Homestead we didn't reply enough to each others posts on the articles? No replies can be demotivating, and an active, stimulating discussion is the best motivator, in my experience.

    Anyway, the interventions and manipulations we are reading about indeed manipulative and involve deception. As they can also affect trust and commitment to a community, I find them of little value. I'd like to read about more positive ways to encourage and support participation.

  • Jennifer Claro   May 30, 2012, 3:52 p.m.

    Interesting article that compares 2 “compliance without pressure” techniques for increasing user participation in an online cycling community: 1. the Foot-In-The-Door (FITD) technique (ask someone to perform a small task and later ask them to perform a bigger task); and 2. the Low-Ball (LB) technique (ask someone to commit to a small task, but instead of a small task, make it bigger). The authors found that the LB technique, where people made a commitment to the task, was more effective in increasing work than the FITB technique. Making a commitment had a significant impact on the amount of work done, with LB subjects applying about 3 times more tags, as well as creating about 3 times more tags, than the FITD and control groups.

    Two points to note are that: 1. this is a short-term effect and participation rates drop to previous rates once the intervention ends; and 2. “although users can be manipulated into behaving in a particular manner, they tend to detect the manipulation and become less satisfied with the system” (p. 2923). As the trust and commitment of the members may be affected by such interventions, they are to be used with great caution, if at all.

    So this brings up many interesting questions. What makes online communities work well (or not)? Why do people volunteer their free time to improving resources for their online communities (much work has gone into defining why people spend so much time at Wikipedia, for example, or Slashdot, or Moodle, etc.)? What makes people join online communities, what makes them leave? I’m interested in this, maybe we need to find out how to improve our own online community? 

  • Thieme Hennis   May 30, 2012, 5:25 a.m.


    hi all. just a short note, relating to both your this CHI paper and something I talked about yesterday with a teacher myself. As I read in the introduction, by declaring a certain intention or commits to a request, he/she is more likely to do it, even when the request 'cost' is increased (low-ball technique). They tried two approaches, the other one aimed at letting a participant perform a small request, which increases the likeliness of doing a larger request at a later stage (Foot in the door), very similar to what you see in different stages of community participation / onion model, etc.

    Yesterday, I talked with a teacher, and she mentioned the importance of peer pressure in class (where currently I am trying to support self-directed learning and participation). What I am wondering, and will directly put into action (research), is how peer-pressure and shared declaration of intentions or commitments can be used to increase class participation. I will ask the students to declare their project and objectives on the Facebook group by Thursday, so it is visible to all. I am not sure about the 'reminder' part of it, because on Facebook, posts tend to get lost easily (you cannot star a post unfortunately). I don't have a control group, but I will have the opportunity to try that out after summer with more classes. This is just a try-out.

  • Jennifer Claro   May 30, 2012, 4:15 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Thieme Hennis   May 30, 2012, 5:25 a.m.

    This sounds like a cool project. I'm very interested in self-directed learning (so is Jessy, I think, maybe we should read a paper on it?) and increasing learner autonomy. According to the paper we just read, making a commitment to something increases the work that gets done (by 3 times, in our article). So asking people/students to make a public commitment may be a good way to get them to follow thru on the task.

    However, we also read that people don't like to be manipulated, and that trust and commitment may decrease if members feel like they are being manipulated. Is asking for a public declaration of commitment manipulative? I don't know. I think people are happier when they feel they are not being coerced into doing something, but then, school is coercive anyway in that you have to do the work or you don't get the grade. And if participation increases as a result, perhaps the intervention is worth it? 

    What makes people able to direct their own learning? How can we increase participation without "interventions" that may negatively affect trust and commitment? Are there case studies of autonomous learners with contributing variables identified and measured? What makes learners autonomous, with no external interventions? If we could get students to work autonomously without external interventions (this is what autonomous means anyway :) that would be amazing. But how to do it?

  • Jessy Kate Schingler   May 30, 2012, 8:29 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Jennifer Claro   May 30, 2012, 4:15 p.m.

    i like the idea of experimenting with public committments too. we talked about this a while back at p2pu - we used to actually have a sort of "peer learning code" that you "accepted" when you signed up to a course. something we discussed briefly but didn't try out was having people customize (add to) their own declaration with what THEY were committing to. this was also attractive because it implicitly recognized that even though people might be taking the same course/study group/project, they might be doing so for different reasons, with different levels of committment and different goals for the outcome. i think it's quite cool.

    we can actually implement this on p2pu by customizing the signup questions for any course and making them required. one possibility anyway. i think a FB group is also appropriate for certain types of learning groups too.

  • Jessy Kate Schingler   May 30, 2012, 8:31 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Jennifer Claro   May 30, 2012, 4:15 p.m.

    oh, and would totally be down for paper(s) on self-directed learning! anyone have any recommendations? i bet thieme knows of several :)

  • Stian Haklev   June 1, 2012, 11:03 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Thieme Hennis   May 30, 2012, 5:25 a.m.

    It sometimes seems to me that in psychology, for ever possible effect, there is an equal opposite effect. Just like in the paper, where prompting for a high probability request can lead to a "foot in the door", but it can also "anchor" the user to think that that is the biggest amount of work he/she should ever be required to do, or that "they've done their part already".

    Similarly, announcing to the world that you are going to do something can make you more likely to do it, but it can also have the opposite effect. This has been documented quite widely, for example when it comes to weightloss (here's one random link). I've seen this discussed quite a bit on, where people who come on and post "Now I'm going to loose weight! I'm starting right now"! are the people most likely to never be heard from again...

    (PS: I find the parallel to health promotion quite apt, because I think many of the problems with commitment and motivation for P2PU courses are similar. It's not even that P2PU needs to try to "manipulate" students who otherwise wouldn't be interested, it's that students come to P2PU wanting to learn, wanting to successfully complete a course (whatever that means) or gain certain skills ... but they "fall off" underways. Similar to a person who wants to loose weight, or gain fitness, who starts on a program, but "falls off"... So how can P2PU, the community, and the design of the platform, interaction etc, help support students to achieve what they want to achieve? I think we can learn a lot from what for example the Reddit r/loseit community has built up as community norms, or various other fitness apps etc. Loosing weight might seem like quite different from learning about peer learning, but in the end, it all comes down to a person who is making a daily choice between watching a movie on Netflix, or reading that difficult technical article about peer learning, between grabbing a cheese burger, or making a salad and going for a run...

  • Stian Haklev   June 1, 2012, 11:22 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Jessy Kate Schingler   May 30, 2012, 8:31 p.m.

    I've got a bunch of links, including notes from a few different conference presentations, on my wiki pages about self-directed learning and self-regulated learning. Also check out the papers by Paul Bouchard, which I've taken a ton of notes on - he did interviews with adults who had successfully achieved "professional" jobs that usually required a high level of education, without much formal education. 

  • Thieme Hennis   June 1, 2012, 6:08 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Stian Haklev   June 1, 2012, 11:03 a.m.

    great reply Stian, thanks a lot for sharing - opens up the mind. The reason that people drop off, imho and without any reference, could relate to shame. When you say "I will do this or that", you have something to lose. But the mechanism is still intact, but it works both ways. You are either motivated to go on and make an extra effort, or you lose track and motivation to pursue the stated objective. 

    So.. how should learners be approached to make use of such a mechanism in a positive way, and how do we avoid the negative influence on those that are less motivated or are struggling?