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Supporting Members of Online Communities Through the Use of Visualisations

Mohamed, Rehman and Ferguson, John and Wilson, John N. (2007) Supporting Members of Online Communities Through the Use of Visualisations. PhD thesis, University Of Strathclyde.

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Abstract

Growing numbers of people around the world are using online communities to stay in touch with each other. Online communities are now widespread, enabling meaningful communication, around various domains of interest, between users who are separated by time and distance. Despite the increasing numbers of people using online communities, there are many examples of communities which suffer from problems of falling levels of contributions from members. This thesis investigates the main principles involved in creating successful online communities. It develops a taxonomy of community interactions that provides a framework for investigating techniques that have the potential to encourage member participation. Within standard text-based online communities, problems of information overload can be prevalent, with extensive user participation often required in order to get an overview of the interaction environment and context. This thesis proposes the use of facilitation techniques, in the form of visualisations, as a means of helping users get a better understanding of the interaction context, reducing the amount of time spent by users in the information-discovery phase. A range of new, complementary visualisations are developed and tested in order to assess their efficacy in helping users to complete tasks that they would be likely to undertake during their information-discovery phase. The results of the experiments show that not only do visualisations help users achieve more accurate results in conducting simple information-discovery tasks, but they also help in completing such tasks in a more efficient manner, shrinking the amount of time spent in the information-discovery phase. Different visualisations are also shown to be more useful in different circumstances, pointing to the fact that the needs and requirements of users, and the tasks they undertake, should be considered when designing the exact nature of any potential visualisation intended to support users of online communities.