What Motivates Volunteer Computing Contributors? It Depends

What motivates people to contribute to "volunteer computing" projects such as Wikipedia, SETI@home and Galaxy Zoo? The factors that drive participation depend in large part on the endeavors themselves, says Oded Nov, assistant professor in the Department of Technology Management at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, NY, and one of the authors of a report entitled "Volunteer Computing: A Model of the Factors Determining Contribution to Community-based Scientific Research."

"Our findings show that the motivations that drive people to contribute to the different types of projects are actually not identical," Nov says. "In projects such as Wikipedia, enjoyment and the desire to 'do good' are a major factor. In volunteer computing [for example, SETI@home] and other citizen science projects, however, in addition to enjoyment there's a great emphasis on the particular science the project supports."

That is, volunteers are motivated by the objectives of the scientific project they contribute to, and the results it achieves, Nov says. "They are also motivated by the opportunity to gain knowledge about the scientific subject matter," he says.  "Volunteering helps them keep up to date on scientific issues they care about," such as astronomy and climate science.

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