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Encouraging Member Participation

For individuals, becoming involved with and committed to the life of a virtual community is a process that takes time. Randy Farmer, an early pioneer in creating virtual communities, has identified four stages of user participation:

  • Passives - seek effortless entertainment or information
  • Actives - participate enthusiastically in activities and topics created by others
  • Motivators - create topics and plans activities of interest to other community members
  • Caretakers - serve as intermediaries between community members and community staff members, are usually mature Motivators

Our estimate, based on usage data across several communities, is that the distribution of participants breaks down as follows: approximately 80 percent are Passives, 15 percent are Actives, 2.5 percent play the role of Motivators, and 0.5 percent are Caretakers. Total time spent "within" the community (in community-created Web pages and environments) is dominated by the Actives and Motivators (see figure, below). These are the people who create the majority of the content which in turn attracts the 85 percent of passives who represent the bulk of the participants. The "care and feeding" of these 3% is critical to the success of the community.

An important goal of community development is to move people from passive readers to active contributors. The stronger the participation of the community members, the more lively and engaging the interactive (member-created) content will be.

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