People are cautious in exchanging favors and items with other people in their online community, according to a new study by School of Information researchers.
The research findings suggest that many people buy services because it does not occur to them that someone in their community could help them, or because they are too shy to ask for a favor. For instance, even though someone in the neighborhood may be happy to help with a broken bicycle, people may feel more comfortable taking their bicycle to a repair shop.
Visiting researcher Airi Lampinen (from the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology) conducted the research project with I School assistant professor Coye Cheshire, Judd Antin (Ph. D. 2010), and Emmi Suhonen (of Aalto University, Finland). The study asked what motivates people to take part in an online gift exchange service in their local community.
The study focused on users of the Kassi favor and item exchange service, used by students in the Finnish Aalto University. Members may post an ad asking to borrow a textbook, for example, or asking for help repairing a bicycle.
Members may also give away unnecessary goods or offer to help out other members of the community in tasks he enjoys.
According to the study, students like the favor exchange service, even though their uncertainty of the right ways to use it sometimes hindered use. People were afraid of becoming indebted to others, and they questioned why a stranger would help them. People also doubted the value of their own skills to others.
Exchanging favors within a community may benefit everybody and increase a sense of communality. The biggest obstacle to the gift exchange service seemed to be a lack of role models. “It can take a little learning to get into the habit of asking for help from one’s student community,” says researcher Airi Lampinen.
The research will be presented in November at Group 2010, the ACM SIGCHI international conference on supporting group work.