Friends title: The one about what influenced people to use a new service on the Web.

If you’ve followed the line of thought that I’ve laid out in my thesis based on the Study 1 and Study 2 introductions, you might like to complete the set with this introduction, from Study 3. It’s notably different from the previous version of this introduction. That’s what you get for re-writing it (re-imagining it?) x 3…

This thesis has already explored how influence in online communities is both social and networked: Chapter 4 sought to understand the interpersonal and normative features of social influence associated with measures of network strength; Chapter 5 described how network structure affected social perceptions, which in turn affected the development of personal attitudes. The aim in this chapter was to continue to examine psychological and network theories of social influence in an online community by considering the diffusion of a behavioural innovation – voice communication in Second Life – to understand when and how network and psychological features influenced behaviour over time.

There were two objectives. First, this study sought to assess the pattern of adoption through this online community. The results of the analysis identified periods of rapid acceleration of new voice consumers and rapid deceleration of the rate of adoption, but unlike much of the research on the spread of new behaviours through populations, the diffusion of voice through Second Life demonstrated uncharacteristic acceleration and deceleration patterns.

Second, it sought to describe the variation in voice adoption as a function of the network and psychological predictors. It documented the network and the psychological features that increased the likelihood voice adoption would occur and identified when in the diffusion process each emerged as more important predictors of uptake. The study focussed on personal attitudes, perceptions of behaviour, the strength of the relationship between Friends, exposure to the innovation from a Friend who adopted the month before or at the same time, the relative position in the network of the adopter and his/her Friends, the point at which adoption occurred in the diffusion process and whether adoption in the network at that time was fast or slow.

The results suggested that structural and psychological processes affected influence differently during periods of slow and rapid adoption. It was proposed that these fluctuations were associated with how the content of the innovation was transformed from a new phenomenon with unknown social risks into a legitimate behaviour.

The analysis benefited from one of the unique assets of the Internet for studying social behaviour: it was possible to accurately track the adoption of the voice service through Second Life because the uptake of the innovation was recorded in the database at the time it occurred. Thus actual behaviour was collected that could test theories that have in the past relied on data gathered via self-report or observation.
Further, the adoption behaviour was situated in an accurate representation of the social connections in this virtual community, allowing for robust assessments of the network and psychological features theorised to predict influence outcomes. using information from the Linden Lab servers, a whole network was recorded that described who was a Friend with whom, thus addressing a major methodological shortcoming described in Study 2. In other words, it was possible to accurately identify when a community member first adopted voice, who of the people s/he was s/he was connected with had already adopted and who adopted later, in order to assess the features that predicted the uptake of voice.

This chapter begins by introducing the voice service (section 6.1). Section 6. 2 outlines the hypothesised structural and psychological predictors of behaviour adoption in three stages of the innovation’s diffusion through Second Life.

This study assessed the relationships of 47,643 Second Life avatars using an automated data extraction technique. The criteria for selection of this population and details of the method used to acquire voice use information are outlined in section 6.2.1. Section 6.2.2 describes the development of the instrument that measured the attitudes and perceptions of 1047 members of this sample. The analytic processes used to test the hypotheses are outlined in section 6.3. Finally, the results are presented in section 6.4 and are discussed in section 6.5 within the contexts of their theoretical contributions and methodological considerations. Finally, this chapter concludes by presenting further questions for future research.