Why people share knowledge in virtual communities?

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  • Why people share knowledge invirtual communities?

    The use of Yahoo! Kimo Knowledgeas an example

    Fu-ren Lin and Hui-yi HuangInstitute of Service Science, National Tsing Hua University,

    Hsinchu City, Taiwan


    Purpose The purpose of this paper is to answer the question: why Google Answers and Yahoo!Kimo Knowledge , both virtual communities built on users asking and answering questions withdifferent rewarding mechanisms, have different outcomes.Design/methodology/approach Based on the theory of reasoned action (TRA), the authorsdeveloped the constructs, including self-efficacy, altruism, reward, and the sense of virtual community,that influence the intention of sharing knowledge in terms of answering questions on Knowledge .Findings The results show that users showing higher levels of contribution tended to bemotivated by virtual rewards, such as advanced ranks, and the need for self-fulfillment. Additionally,for these knowledge providers, altruism is also an important factor. Therefore, these users sharenot because of a reward but because of altruism and fulfillment. The findings can answer why GoogleAnswers failed with its monetary rewards but Knowledge remains with its virtual rewardingmechanism.Research limitations/implications This study extends the literature on understanding theantecedents of sharing knowledge in terms of answering others questions in virtual communities.Especially, it identifies different factors affecting the intention of users in different levels ofengagement with the community to share knowledge.Practical implications The various effective factors influencing users knowledge sharingbehavior identified in this study can guide the incentive mechanism design for virtual communities.Originality/value Besides proposing research models to identify the constructs affecting the usersintention to answer questions in a virtual community, such as Knowledge , this study compares themodels explaining the intention to share knowledge in different user groups with different levels ofknowledge contribution. This research design is unique from the prior literatures; Moreover, theresults shed light on designing incentive mechanisms for knowledge sharing in virtual communities.

    Keywords Knowledge sharing, Virtual community, Theory of reasoned action, Virtual worlds,Knowledge management

    Paper type Research paper

    1. IntroductionKnowledge sharing has been a very popular issue in the literature of informationsystems (e.g. Bock et al., 2005; Taylor and Todd, 2001; Wasko and Faraj, 2005; Yu andChu, 2007). However, most of the previous studies have been focussed on knowledgesharing within an organization. In an organizational context, although prior studieshave focussed on the sharing behaviors between employees (Kankanhalli et al., 2005;Yu and Chu, 2007), some studies have examined knowledge exchange behavior amongemployees with weak ties in geographically dispersed organizations via the internet

    The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available atwww.emeraldinsight.com/1066-2243.htm

    Received 10 September 2011Revised 20 January 2012

    15 March 201217 May 2012

    Accepted 19 May 2012

    Internet ResearchVol. 23 No. 2, 2013

    pp. 133-159r Emerald Group Publishing Limited

    1066-2243DOI 10.1108/10662241311313295

    The authors would like to express gratitude for the sponsorship from the National ScienceCouncil, Taiwan in project #NSC 98-2752-H-007-002-PAE.


    Why peopleshare


  • (Constant et al., 1996). However, the knowledge sharing practices of individuals acrossorganizational boundaries, which have been prevailing on the internet, have notreceived sufficient study, especially in the contexts of answering questions andproblem solving.

    There have been many types of question-answer (Q&A) web sites on the internet,e.g. Answer.com, WikiAnswers, InnoCentive, Google Answers, and Yahoo! Answer.Among them, Yahoo! Kimo Knowledge ( )[1], launched in November2004 and owned by Yahoo! Kimo (Kimo was a company in Taiwan and was mergedwith Yahoo!), has been the most popular service for knowledge sharing in the form ofanswering user-asked questions in Chinese. On Yahoo! Kimo Knowledge (hereafter,denoted as Knowledge ), users can ask questions, and other users of Knowledgecan answer them and be compensated by non-monetary rewards, unlike the monetaryreward offered by Google Answers. In Knowledge , those who answer questionsreceive reward points by answering questions posted by others. As users accrue morepoints, they reach higher levels. The highest level on Knowledge that users canreach is called knowledgist ( ).

    The worlds largest search engine, Google, also owned a Q&A web site calledGoogle Answers. Unlike Knowledge , Google Answers was more like amarketplace, where people can buy knowledge[2]. On Google Answers, people needto pay for answers and can decide the fee they would pay for the answer before theyask questions. Additionally, people who answered questions were all qualified by andcontracted with Google. These knowledge providers are called researchers. If ananswer seeker is not satisfied with the answer, s/he only pays 50 cents and is refundedthe original fee. However, the Google Answers service was terminated in December2006, having been operational for less than five years (launched in April 2002)(Helft, 2006). Why has Knowledge survived, when Google Answers failed? Does thedifference in features between these two web sites, such as reward systems and expertidentification, explain this outcome? Some people may argue that the questions onKnowledge are information rather than knowledge. However, individual learningand new knowledge creation occur when people combine and exchange their personalknowledge with others. Therefore, information sharing is an essential activity forknowledge creation and sharing.

    In this study, we identified factors related to the intention of knowledge owners toshare their knowledge. According to previous studies, there is a negative relationshipbetween the intention to share and the anticipated extrinsic rewards (Wasko and Faraj,2005). Eisenberger and Cameron (1996) have also proposed that task-contingentrewards may negatively impact intrinsic motivations. The way Google Answersrewarded their researchers may not be a good choice in a sharing environment.However, what kind of a reward system is suitable? Or is no reward better? Are peopleanswering questions triggered by their altruism?

    On Google Answers, people need to be certified as an expert (i.e. researchers);however, on Knowledge , people answering questions believe that they have thecapability to respond to questions. Some researchers discovered that the differentways of evaluating experts may influence user relationships and sharing behavior(Bock et al., 2005). The definition of an expert is different between these two web sites,which could be the reason that Knowledge remains in operation.

    The objective of this study is to deepen our understanding of the factors thatmotivate people to answer questions in a virtual community. We use Knowledge asan example to examine factors, such as self-efficacy, altruism, reward, and the sense of



  • virtual community (SOVC), and to integrate the theory of reasoned action (TRA) (Ajzenand Fishbein, 1980).

    2. Virtual communityHeller (1989) defined community as a group that is mainly characterized by rationalinteractions or social ties that draw people together. There are two types ofcommunities: one is the traditional territorial or geographic community, such as aneighborhood, a town, or a region and the other is a relational community, concerninghuman relationships without reference to location. For example, there are communitiesof interest, such as hobby clubs or fan clubs (Gusfield, 1975). These two types ofcommunities are not necessary mutually exclusive; they can be located throughexploration on the internet, and most of them are on the internet now. The communitiessprouting on the internet are called virtual communities because their members arenot geographically or physically bounded (Wellman and Gulia, 1999).

    A virtual community forges social relations on the internet through repeatedcontacts within a specified boundary, which is characterized by the following features:aggregations of people, rational members, interaction in cyberspace without physicalcollocation, social exchange processes, and shared objectives, properties, identities,or interests between members (Balasubramanian and Mahajan, 2001; Fernback andThompson, 1995). A virtual community comprises people, shared purposes, policies,and computer systems (Preece, 2000). A virtual communitys cyber-place was alsotermed a virtual settlement ( Jones, 1997). According to previous studies, we defineKnowledge as a virtual community residing on Yahoo! Kimo, a virtual settlementfor various virtual communities besides Knowledge , e.g. news, auction, blogs, etc.Knowledge combines questioners and answerers ( people) to ask or to answerquestions (shared purposes), the rules set by Knowledge (policies), and the web site(a virtual settlement).

    2.1 Knowledge sharing in virtual communityThe establishment of mutual understanding to comprehend conversations andknowledge contributions on the internet are inevitably more difficult than face-to-facecommunications in a small group (Ma and Agarwal, 2007). Previous studies havediscussed this issue (Table I). Hsu et al. (2007) adopted social cognitive theory (SCT) asa basic model and used the environment, individuals, and behavior as constructs toprove that the trust in the environment affects both the behavior and the self-efficacyof knowledge sharing; additionally, the self-efficacy of knowledge sharing influencesknowledge sharing behavior. Other researcher