University of Maryland

Community effort in online groups: Who does the work and why

Butler, B., Sproull, L., Kiesler, S., & Kraut, R. (2007). Community effort in online groups: Who does the work and why. Leadership at a Distance11, 171-194.

As in any social organization, people need to invest effort in the health of their online
groups. Listservs and other such groups need people to maintain the technology infrastructure,
carry out social management tasks, and recruit new members. Members must read and contribute
to discussion. Here, we ask why people do this. In many online groups, preexisting social ties
and material benefits for contributions are weak or nonexistent. In this chapter, we consider how
the formal leadership role, personal and community benefits, and community characteristics
influence the effort members put into helping their online groups. Results from a survey of
Internet listserv owners and other members suggest that though owners, who have a formal
leadership role, do more of the effortful community building work than do regular members,
other members also take on some of the work. Moreover, members who value different benefits
are likely to contribute to the development on an online community in different ways.