Stages of Motivation for Contributing User-Generated Content: A Theory and Empirical Test

  • Kevin Crowston, Isabelle Fagnot
  • International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, September 2017, Elsevier
  • DOI: 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2017.08.005

Stages of Motivation for Contributing User-Generated Content (e.g., Wikipedia)

What is it about?

User-generated content such a Flickr or Wikipedia has become increasingly popular and so have studies of the motivations of users to contribute such content. Most of that research has examined just a single set of motives, but the volume of contributions to systems is very skewed (many people contribute just a little and a few contribute a lot), which is hard to explain with a single set of motives. In this paper, we argue that there are different motives to make a first contribution and to continue contributing. We also consider what we call meta-contributions, contributions like vandalism fighting in Wikipedia or welcoming newcomers, that help build the project without directly adding to its output. Using data from a survey of Wikipedia editors, we find support for the idea that there are different motive. Specifically, we find that initial participation is motivated mostly by curiosity, sustained participation by intrinsic interest and meta-contribution by social factors.

Why is it important?

Past research has assumed a single set of motivations for contribution, but our research suggests that it is a mistake to assume that the motives for sustained participants are just more of whatever got them to initially participate. A key point for future studies of user-generated content is that researchers should consider different kinds of contributors separately rather than treating them as all the same. A specific take-away for site managers is that the motives for initial and sustained contribution can be quite different, so it is not enough just to get new contributors to start using the system. Rather, different motives should be provided to attract contributors and then to convert initial to sustained contributors and increase their participation. Further, managers should consider the need for meta-contributions and meta-contributors.


Kevin Crowston
Syracuse University

The theory in this paper has been in development for about a decade. Finding a way to test the theory using available data greatly strengthened the publication, so publication is also a testament to value of open data.

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The following have contributed to this page: Kevin Crowston and Dr Isabelle Fagnot