Online communities are the fastest-growing portion of the Internet and provide members with information, social support, and entertainment. While a minority, such as Wikipedia, MySpace, Facebook and the Apache Server project are highly successful, many others fail. To be successful, online communities must overcome challenges common in almost all groups, organizations and voluntary associations. They must handle the start-up paradox, when early in their lifecycle they have few members to generate content and little content to attract members. Throughout their lifecycle, they must recruit and socialize newcomers, encourage commitment and contribution from members, solve problems of coordination and encourage appropriate behavior among members and interlopers alike.
Despite the occasional success, designing online communities remains largely trial and error. This project conducts empirical studies of how online communities operate. We are developing theory to understand behavior in online communities and theory-based guidelines for designing these communities. The project brings together researchers from Carnegie Mellon, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota and the University of Pittsburgh with expertise in social psychology, economics, and computer science.
A list of publications is available here.