This project, beginning in July 2016 and now concluded, looked to further our understanding of the social and emotional reasons and motivations that lead users to ask and answer questions and otherwise participate, interact, and share information on social questioning-and-answering sites. It employed content analysis, a survey, and semi-structured interviews to explore users’ socio-emotional motivations and the influence of these motivations on the potential coherence of communities around their questioning, answering, and interactions in the Academia section of StackExchange, a social Q&A site for academics and higher education students. Analysis drew from the literature on socio-emotional motivations, Burnett and Jaeger’s theory of information worlds, and the concept of coherence from Star’s boundary object theory. I am grateful for funding from a Support for the Advancement of Scholarship (SAS) Grant provided by the University of Alberta Faculty of Education. I worked with two graduate research assistants (RAs) on this project, Rachel Osolen and Alicia Cappello.
The study was approved by the University of Alberta's Research Ethics Board. We analyzed content from 100 questions and their associated answers and comments, partial findings from which were presented at an international research conference on social media; we have also conducted our survey of Academia Stack Exchange users and interviewed a number of them about their experiences, with partial analysis of this presented at a national information science conference (see below). Further findings and analysis were also published as part of an article in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology (JASIST).
Publications and Presentations
- Worrall, A., Cappello, A., & Osolen, R. (2021). The importance of socio-emotional considerations in online communities, social informatics, and information science. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 72(10), 1247-1260. https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.24489 (Led by myself with others contributing equally.)
A potential emotional or affective paradigm for information science has not coalesced to the extent of the social or cognitive paradigms. We argue information science research should integrate the social paradigm, as offered by social informatics, with affective and emotional considerations: a socio-emotional paradigm. A review of existing literature and findings from users' motivations to participate on the Academia section of the Stack Exchange social questioning-and-answering site make our case.
- Worrall, A., Cappello, A., & Osolen, R. (2018). Balancing socio-emotional and informational considerations in social Q&A: The case of Academia Stack Exchange. In A. Shiri, S. Farnel, & S. Polkinghorne (Co-Chairs), Proceedings of the 46th Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Information Science (CAIS/ACSI 2018): Diversities on the data landscape: Connecting information science with data studies, University of Regina, Regina, SK, May 30-June 1, 2018. Canada: CAIS/ACSI. Retrieved from https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/ojs.cais-acsi.ca/index.php/cais-asci/article/download/995/888
Social and emotional support are often important in continued use of social questioning-and-answering (social Q&A) sites to share information and as resources for both information and socialization, but balancing these is not easy. We found seven categories of socio-emotional motivations contributing positively or negatively to community coherence on Academia Stack Exchange. The site focuses on being an information resource and on acculturation, learning, and translation, akin to legitimate peripheral participation, but empathetic concerns stress the necessity of further balancing socio-emotional and informational considerations for Stack Exchange, social Q&A sites, and other online / social media communities.
- Worrall, A., Osolen, R., & Cappello, A. (2017). “How do I tell my advisor?”: Socio-emotional motivations for information sharing in Academia Stack Exchange. In A. Gruzd, J. Jacobson, & P. Mai (Chairs), Proceedings of the 8th international conference on Social Media and Society (SMSociety17), Toronto, ON, July 28-30, 2017. New York, NY: ACM. [View poster]
Presents (as described above) in-progress research on the social and emotional factors that motivate users to ask questions, answer questions, and share information with other users on Academia Stack Exchange. Findings indicate a stronger role for norms, communality, and self-efficacy than in previous work, along with greater negativity and a concerning lack of empathy. Users display a stronger focus on socio-informational components and learning more about academic communities’ norms, culture, social perceptions, and reputation practices, similar to legitimate peripheral participation.
The following are permanent links to the consent forms that participants agreed to when participating in the research: