Sunday, February 27, 2011

Understanding Online Communities' Social Capital and Trust Mechanism


The Massa’s article (2007) is the most disrupting reading this week. Not because the reading is too difficult to understand, but because the reading proposed so many interesting websites which always make me turn away from the paper. I turned away from the paper for taking a look at the website for fulfilling my curiosity before I continue to read. For me,,,,, and were some of the website that I just discovered from the reading. It took me 2 days to finish on reading this article before I can move on to others. While this article did not give me a clue about what means by social capitals/trust mechanisms. The vision of this concept started arising after reading about bridging and bonding from Putnam as well as weak-tie and strong-tie from Granovetter (Williams, 2006). What I can understand is, trust mechanism is also depending on social roles, social structures, and online communities ecology (Gleave, Welser, Lento, & Smith, 2008; Eryilmaz, Cochran, & Kasemvilas, 2009; Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). The trust mechanism/social capital from offline community can influence the way people have relationship online. Therefore, Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe (2007) add one new type of social capital to the category made by Putnam and Granovetter. They called this social capital as "maintained social capital". With the maintained social capital, I can see clearly how people developing social network to obtained social capital which Allen, Colombo, & Whitaker (2009) called “incentivize cooperation”.

Topic of this week post is social capital/trust mechanism. In sequence, I will describe the two online communities (OCs) which I joined, compare the mechanism of their social capital, suggest some improvement for the sites, and conclude my post with questions proposed for my final project.

Comparing iFanboy with wikiHow

The first OC that I joined is a site for talking and discussion comic books, namely This site was developed in 2000 and targeted to people who like to read and share their opinion about comic books they read. In the section “About Us” on iFanboy website, there are general explanation about the site and description about site administrators. When joining to iFanboy, a user has to register for an account, provide login ID (name and password), create user’s name, provide Twitter name (optional), upload profile picture, and introduce self in a short paragraph. The second OC is The format of wikiHow is somewhat like Wikipedia. The main purpose of this site is a space for sharing collaborative work on “how-to manual”. wikiHow linked people from around the world and has 56 administrators who spread all over the world. Similar like iFanboy, at the section “About wikiHow”, information about this site can be found. When joining to wikiHow, a user also has to follow the same steps like in register for iFanboy. The difference of these sites is wikiHow asked for location and user’s blog/website instead of Twitter link.

Gleve, Welser, Lento, & Smith (2009) emphasized the important of social roles for improving social capital of OCs like Usenet and Wikipedia. Almost similar, Eryilmaz, Cochran & Kasemvilas (2009) highlighted the important of roles on establishing social trust on an emergence situation. Regarding to these two articles, I understand why it is important for implementing a highly moderating system through participation on either iFanboy or wikiHow. Like mentioned by Massa (2007), “worthiness” and “interestingness” are valuable social capital which come together with “the mass amateurisation” on providing information in the digital era. Therefore, having skilled and trained people to moderating discussion posting on the site will lower the risk of vandalism attack (Gleve, Welser, Lento, & Smith, 2009). The iFanboy has 8 administrator who also active contributors. These administrators are posting regularly to the site, commenting and responding to other participants post, and making sure that postings from participants are not overlap one another. The wikiHow has 56 administrators who spread all over the world. The posting on this site is not only in English, but also in Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch, Arabic, Italy, and Japanese. Administrators are representative of users in every region. They elected every year based on their reputation and contribution to wikiHow. What really impressed me from the site is a guidance email from region administrator. A new registered user will have an email from region administrator which contains links to manual/tutorial. The function of this manual is to make sure that the new member can participate in the right pattern like the site wants him to be. Because I register with Honolulu, Hawaii as my location, an administrator from Hawaii send an email to my inbox on the site, and guide about how I can participate on the site.

When people decide to participate in the OC, there are options for using the same identity like in the offline, or making a new identity. There is also possible for having more than a single identity on the OCs. Identity becomes a matter and also social capital for OCs (Williams, 2006; Massa, 2007; Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). Most of OCs allows users to create their own persona online. Using an avatar on profile picture and created a pseudo-name are something usual and accepted in the OC. On the one hand, using pseudo persona online probably could protect the real-life persona from stalking and identity theft. However, pseudo persona is increasing the potentiality of “the dark side of online life” (Williams, 2006). iFanboy and wikiHow users can register using a pseudo persona (posted an avatar as picture profile and used a pseudo-name). This is particularly important for iFanboy users who are comic books lovers. The site gives them open opportunity to express their fantasy and impression to their favorite comic book characters. The large numbers of users are using a screenshot from comic book or a comic book character as their profile pictures. In contrast, on the wikiHow, users are more likely to use human picture as a profile picture, either a self-picture or picture of somebody else. In the same pattern, users used pseudo-names are large in numbers compare to users who use their real-name.

The next social capital that I want to discuss is linked and shared to social networking sites (SNS). In the article from Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe (2007), Massa (2007), William (2006), Allen, Colombo, & Whitaker (2009), we read how the SNS has created a social capital/trust mechanism that can potentially have a function to maintain social capital. Currently, the number of Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace users are kept improving. To increase popularity and easier for users to get update from the site, users recommended linking and sharing the post on this site to SNS. On the iFanboy, users can share their review, audio podcasts, and video podcasts through the whole bounce of SNS. Those SNS are Twitter, Facebook,, Reddit, Digg, MySpace, Stumbleupon, Technorati, and Google Buzz. Besides that, some administrators also link the post to their own blogs, websites, and other websites. Goodreads and Virb are some of websites which are new for me . Goodreads is an online book club/discussing forum. Virb is a website developing social software. One thing on iFanboy which caught my attention is it linked by some users to the site that not written in English. One that I found is a link to a site written in Thai language. This is an indicator that this site has been participated by international users. On the wikiHow, users can share posting with SNS like Facebook, Twitter, iGoogle, RSS Feeds, Google Buz, My Yahoo!, Email your friends, and an Apple Apps for iPhone. The wikiHow is the combination between wiki and blog. It used wiki format on posting information, and it used WordPress as a blog post platform. In addition, users encourage linking their post with their personal blog post and their SNS.

There are some social capitals that cannot be comparing side by side between these two OCs. I will use this paragraph to mention some of these social capitals. First, for iFanboy posts there are pulled, rating, and percentage pick of the week. Postings on the discussion forum appeared with talk bubbles. Member of the community can choose to pay for membership, give a donation, or just become a free member. The site has weekly TV shows and recordings of TV show are going viral on YouTube. Second, for wikiHow post there are rising start and tab for featured the post. The wikiHow users can also post suggestion about what they want other participants to write. As a writer, you can get a topic or idea to write from these suggestions. When you start to post, you will ask to verify, are your post are new contents which not overlapping former posts. In the site home page, when you log in, you can see the recent change keep dynamically moving updated. To focus on a post, you can click on the pause button on the dynamically moving posts of recent change.

Recommendation for improvement

In choosing the site, I not just randomly pick up one. I decided to choose sites that I will be continued on using and participating. Moreover, my basic knowledge about joining and searching for OCs influenced me on choosing these two sites. I used a blog entitle “50 Social Sites That Every Business Need to Presence On” to start searching on these two sites. I must admit that I have social capital motives on joining these sites. For iFanboy as an OC which sharing information on comic books, I would like to see the improvement in tree aspects. First, the site could have sections for sharing, lending, or donating comic books. I get this idea from Williams (2006) on “providing emotional support, access to scarce, mobilize solidarity, and givingness”. Second, instead of only having a link to Amazon, the site can also raise money by cooperating with stores which sell comic character merchandises. This suggestion operationalized the concept of social marketing of e-marketplaces mentioned on Massa (2007). Third, having an annual meeting, either online or face-to-face, will strengthen the feeling of belong to the community. This idea comes from Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe (2007) which underlined a positive relationship between OC used and “maintenance and creation of social capital”. For wikiHow, I want to see the improvement on how the site giving an incentive to cooperation (Allen, Colombo, Whitaker, 2009). The site already did this by having member to elect administrators who will represent their region. Nominating of the year for its users and giving them an award for their exceptional participation could be used as others incentive to cooperation.

Conclusion and tentative idea for final project

Doing the project for this class always gives me new ideas. I feel that every week posting can be turn into reflection papers and small research papers, because all the posting are based on a mini research project and analytical thinking. To conclude this week posting, I would like to mention ideas for my final project which also influence by this week readings about social capital/trust mechanism and relate with the emerging of the idea on web 3.0. Particularly, in the project, I want to compare between Mendeley and WizFolio. Both Mendeley and WizFolio are well known as a free, web-based tool for organizing research citations. Looking beyond these tools site, they also have members and formed a community. My tentative research questions are: 1) How Mendeley and WizFolio contributed on creating scholarly collaborative OCs for doing research? 2) What are the social capitals/trust mechanisms of these sites? Essentially, I will collect conversation through these sites discussions forum, analyzing contents on these sites blogs, and observe activities of the members on these sites. I would be open and happy to get feedbacks from you folks in this class about the suitable method for researching these sites.


Allen, S.M., Colombo, G., &Whitaker, R.M. (2009). Forming social networks of trust to incentivize cooperation. Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Waikoloa, HI.

Ellison, N.B., Steinfield, C., and Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook "friends:" Social capital and college students' use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4). Retrieved from

Eryilmaz, E., Cochran, M., & Kasemvilas, S. (2009). Establishing trust management in an open source collaborative information repository: An emergency response information system case study. Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Waikoloa.

Gleave, E., Welser,H.T., Lento, T.M., & Smith, M.A. (2009). A conceptual and operational definition of social role in online community. Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Waikoloa, HI.

Massa, P. (2006). A survey of trust use and modeling in current real sSystems. Trust in e-services: technologies, practices and challenges. Retrieved from

Williams, D. (2006). On and off the 'Net: Scales for social capital in an online era. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), article 11. Retrieved from Wiley online library.

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Anonymous said...

A day after the due date for commenting. I check here and no comment at all. Does my blog to difficult to understand or not interesting at all for the entire class. I try to check the commenting setting. It allows anonymous comments.

Rich Gazan said...

Apologies for the lack of comments, if other people's feeders reacted as mine did, they didn't pick up the updates to your blog.

There has been a great deal of literature attempting to explain why people participate in online communities as regular members, let alone taking on the extra work of being a volunteer administrator as in your wikiHow example. As you've pointed out, what they receive in return in social capital, and you summarized and applied some of the related concepts form the readings very well here.

Avatars communicate social capital as well, and it's understandable that people on the iFanboy site might prefer animated or otherwise non-photographic images to represent themselves. If you do research in this area for your final project, one useful mechanism when comparing sites is to imagine whether a feature in one community would work better or worse in another, and why.

Another student blogged this session about a site where users exchange physical postcards as well as interacting on the site, which led to increased participation compared to another site they discussed. Your suggestion about having a comic blook exchange may accomplish the same thing, create new roles and forms of social capital, and alternative paths to bonding between members.

For your final project proposal, a few other students are considering looking at social reference management systems, but the aspect you describe of determining forms of trust and social capital on these sites may have a natural counterpoint in the citations through databases like Web of Science, if you compare formal citations to those provided through the site. It might not be possible to compare the two, but in any case it's a worthwhile topic that's growing in importance to the scholarly community. I look forward to your proposal.

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