“When you look at YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, or similar services, there’s so much collaborative work going on. But we don’t really understand why,” says Judd Antin, a research scientist in the Internet Experiences Group at Yahoo Research. Indeed, many of the marvels of the Internet age, such as Wikipedia, have come from rethinking traditional ideas about how workers should be organized and rewarded. Antin is finding out what motivates people to participate in such projects, in hopes of attracting the broadest possible spectrum of contributors and decreasing the likelihood that the projects will fizzle out after the novelty wears off.
One finding: using gamelike approaches and software–for example, to prompt people to reveal their location to advertisers—might be overrated as a way to shape behavior. The popular tactic of rewarding people with points and badges doesn’t motivate them for long on most websites, Antin says.
But he still believes some game dynamics will remain effective in the long term, and he’s working to figure out what those are. He also wants to learn how motivation varies across cultures. With those tools, he hopes, organizations will be able to consistently nurture the Web’s collaborative spirit and turn it to good use. —Erica Naone