ASIS&T 2006 START Conference Manager    

Specialists and Synthesists in a Question Answering Community

Rich Gazan

ASIS&T Annual Meeting - 2006 (ASIS&T 2006)
Austin, Texas, November 3-9, 2006


The most sustainable online communities are those that allow and encourage their users to have a voice in how the community evolves. The proliferation of online communities with collaborative filtering mechanisms, where user feedback is aggregated to shape future interactions, makes it necessary to understand why participants in online communities value the content they do. Building on the concepts of users as specialists and synthesists developed in previous research, this study examines Answerbag, an online question answering community where users rate one another’s answers to provide collaborative filtering. In this environment, specialists are operationalized as those who claim expertise in a given topic and answer questions without referencing other sources, and synthesists as those who include one or more references to external sources in their answers. The results of the study suggest that within the Answerbag community as a whole, the answers of synthesists tended to be rated more highly than those of specialists, though answers provided by specialists were rated more highly within certain categories. The consequences of differences in the perceived value of information provided by specialists and synthesists are examined, and avenues for future research are discussed.

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