Social Q&A (SQA) has rapidly grown in popularity, impacting people’s information seeking behaviors. Although previous research has examined how people seek and share information within SQA, fundamental questions of user motivations and expectations for information seeking remain. This paper applies the theoretical framework of uses and gratification theory to investigate the motivations for SQA use, and adapts relevance criteria from library and information science (LIS) literature to investigate expectations with regard to evaluation of content within Yahoo! Answers. A total of 75 Yahoo! Answers users participated in a survey that asked them about reasons, methods, and expectations relating to asking questions within the SQA site. Findings indicate the importance of motivations and expectations in fulfilling both cognitive and socio–affective needs based upon the type of task performed. These findings provide encouraging evidence that understanding the interrelationship between the motivations behind and expectations of asking a question can inform a more holistic framework to assess information.
The Internet facilitates information seeking to solve a specific problem, as well as to browse general resources. Since the introduction of the Internet and World Wide Web, the Pew Online Research Center notes that use of online resources has increased from approximately 14 percent of American adults reporting use in 1995 to approximately 81 percent as of December 2012 . Part of this use is dedicated to Web 2.0, or the social Web, technologies, which allow users to create, exchange, seek, and share information based their interests. One such technology is social question answering (SQA) services, which consist of Web–based environments where people express their information needs in natural language that can be addressed by other community members, who can answer the question and/or annotate content (Harper, et al., 2008).
Many studies within library and information science (LIS) and other related fields have explored the multidimensionality of SQA services. Most examine what happens during and after use of SQA (e.g., the content of answers within the site, the types of questions asked, and the types of users interacting). However, less research has examined what happens before use of SQA, in regard to what motivates people to use these services in the first place. Some previous works (see Nam, et al., 2009; Oh, 2012) discuss what motivates people to answer questions in SQA sites, but few study the motivations behind asking a question. Studies that do focus on motivations behind asking a question tend to be constricted by a question genre; for example, Lee, et al. (2005) investigated motivations behind asking music related questions within Naver Knowledge iN, while Zhang (2010) focused on motivations behind asking health–related questions in Yahoo! Answers. Since questioning constitutes a key component of SQA by initiating the process through which an asker’s information need is hopefully satisfied, it remains necessary to investigate motivations for asking a question using an SQA site as opposed to other information sources.
Motivation goes hand–in–hand with expectation. Hsu, et al. (2010) articulated this notion as follows, “an individual’s motivation to perform a certain activity is a function of the expectation that he or she will be able to perform the activity and obtain the desired outcomes, and the personal value of all outcomes associated with that activity” .In other words, the motivation to reach a goal based on its personal value is driven by the expectation of what will occur when this goal is achieved. This indicates that motivation and expectation are interrelated in the achievement of a specific goal or desirable outcome. Therefore, the study described here starts with the assumption that motivations and expectations of asking a question in SQA constitute interrelated, intervening processes for all following aspects of subsequent information seeking behavior.
The purpose of this current study is to understand the motivations and expectations of SQA users. To obtain a better understanding of these two elements within an SQA context, the current study poses the following research questions:
RQ1: What motivates people to ask a question in order to fulfill their information needs within SQA?
RQ2: What are an asker’s expectations from others to fulfill his or her needs when asking a question within SQA?
RQ3: How do the motivations of asking a question relate to the expectations of the resultant information content?
RQ4: What other activities are typical to an SQA user if his or her needs and/or expectations are not met within SQA?
This paper will first overview previous literature on uses and gratification theory in order to explicate on past theoretical work studying motivations within mediated settings and the theoretical criteria employed to evaluate information. Then, the paper will outline how this literature informed the survey employed within this study and how the collected data explains respondents’ subsequent motivations and expectations within the SQA site, Yahoo! Answers, as well as the additional information seeking strategies employed to satisfy their information needs. This will be followed by a discussion and conclusion.
Social Question Answering (SQA)
SQA services have had a fundamental effect on people’s online information seeking behaviors. Once accustomed to traditional online Q&A services (e.g., virtual reference services) in which a person interacts with reference librarians or other experts (Mon, 2000), people now are using SQA services, which transform this traditional model by rendering the mediators as members of a community who often answer questions not only by searching a system, but also based on personal expertise on the subject. The transition of users from traditional Q&A services to SQA services over the last decade has attracted the emergence of a variety of SQA sites (e.g., Yahoo! Answers, Answerbag, WikiAnswers, etc.) in order to satisfy an asker’s information need in different and unique ways. This adoption of a community–based model within SQA services allow people to interact through various modes (e.g., voting, collaborative answering, bidding on answers, etc.). This lends SQA multifaceted aspects that yield implications for how question–answering as a field is evolving.
A rich body of research has emerged to understand these multi–faceted aspects of SQA. According to Shah, et al. (2009) and Oh (2012), research related to SQA sites has predominantly focused on two domains — content–based studies and user–based studies. Content–based studies focus on determining answer quality (Harper, et al., 2008; Liu, et al., 2008; Shah and Pomerantz, 2010), question types (Harper, et al., 2009; Ignatova, et al., 2009, Kim, et al., 2007), and question quality (Choi, et al., 2012), while user–based studies focus on the different types of roles users play within SQA sites (Gazan, 2006, 2007), users’ motivations (Oh, 2012; Morris, et al., 2010), their information needs (Lee, et al., 2005), and authoritative users (Jurczyk and Agichtein, 2007; Tausczik and Pennebaker, 2011).
Uses and gratifications
Uses and gratifications theory is an approach that depicts the motivations and expectations related to using a specific form of media . It assumes that active media users tend to be goal–directed, achieve their goals and needs through media uses (Katz, et al., 1974), and exercise awareness of their needs by choosing a specific media outlet they think will best gratify them (Blumler, 1979; Swanson, 1979). This theoretical approach provides insight into media users’ psychology and behaviors (Lin, 1996) in addition to “(1) the social and psychological origins of (2) needs, which generate (3) expectations of (4) the mass media or other sources, which lead to (5) differential patterns of media exposure (or engagement in other activities), resulting in (6) need gratifications and (7) other consequences, perhaps mostly unintended ones” .
McQuail, et al. (1972) developed a typology of media use based on the gratification users sought. : This typology consists of: “(1) diversion (escape, emotional release); (2) personal relationships (companionship, social utility); (3) personal identity (personal reference, reality exploration, value reinforcement); and (4) surveillance (acquiring news and information)” . Similar to the typology of needs for media use developed by McQuail, et al. (1972), Katz, et al. (1973) also attempted to identify 35 needs associated with one’s resources, and group those needs into five major categories: “(1) Needs related to strengthening information, knowledge, and understanding — these can be called cognitive needs; (2) Needs related to strengthening aesthetic, pleasurable and emotional experience — or affective needs; (3) Needs related to strengthening credibility, confidence, stability, and status — these combine both cognitive and affective elements and can be labeled integrative needs; (4) Needs related to strengthening contact with family, friends, and the world. These can also be seen as performing an integrative function; (5) Needs related to escape or tension–release which we define in terms of the weakening of contact with self and one’s social roles” .
What these studies indicate is that both cognitive and social forces influence people’s needs, and that they are subsequently motivated to choose media based on their perception of how well they expect it will fulfill these needs and evaluate it based on how well the chosen media actually does this. Therefore, it becomes incumbent to explore some of the individual and social forces contributing to motivations and expectations of use within an Internet–based context.
Previous research employing a uses and gratifications approach has investigated conventional media, such as newspapers (Berelson, 1949), radio (Armstrong and Rubin, 1989), television (Bryant and Zillmann, 1984; Dobos, 1992; Rubin, 1983), or telephone (Dimmick, et al., 1994; O’Keefe and Sulanowski, 1995). Findings from these studies indicate that information seeking and social connection are the significant motivational factors of media use.
The emergence of new media, including the Internet, has also attracted researchers to apply uses and gratifications in order to investigate what motivates a user’s switch from conventional media to new media and how new media has subsequently been used for satisfying users’ needs and goals (Eighmey and McCord, 1998). December (1996), for example, identified communication, interaction, and information as three major factors for why people use the Internet, while Korgaonkar and Wolin (1999) added the additional factors of social escapism (e.g., getting away from reality) and economic motivation (e.g., using the Internet to save money). Other research has also applied uses and gratifications to investigate motivations within different Internet contexts such as virtual communities (Sangwan, 2005), chat rooms (Leung, 2003), personal home pages (Papacharissi, 2002), electronic bulletin boards (James, et al., 1995), and social media (Quan–Haase and Young, 2010).
People anticipate or expect that when they articulate an information need, they will receive information sources that fulfill this need. In order to assess how well an information source fulfills their information need, people employ evaluative criteria. Therefore, it can be argued that the evaluation of an information source in relation to these criteria articulates a user’s expectations for this source.
Given that the evaluative criteria employed to judge the results of an information search can be used to determine the expectations of online SQA users for the information they receive, previous research studies examining evaluative criteria employed to judge the results of an information search will now be overviewed. These evaluative criteria appear to be grounded by overarching high–level constructs: quality, satisfaction, and/or relevance. Taylor (1986), for example, likened the evaluation of information to making a quality–based assessment, and found five values that comprise quality: accuracy, comprehensiveness, currency, reliability, and validity. On the other hand, Barry (1994) identified the act of evaluation to not be determined by making a quality–based assessment, but rather a satisfaction–based one. He identified criteria such as background/experience, consensus within the field, external verification, source quality, source reputation/visibility, effectiveness, time constraints, etc., as hallmarks of satisfaction. Another marker of information evaluation depicted by Bateman (1999) is of relevance, and he identified quality, credibility, and completeness as comprising the critical factors of information relevance judgments made among survey respondents. Aside from the larger criteria of relevance, quality, and satisfaction, and their related sub–criteria, other evaluative criteria have been identified. Rieh (2002), for example, employed various high–level concepts comprising elements of information evaluation, such as cognitive authority (e.g., trustworthy, credible, authoritative) and topical interest in the Web.
Studies of criteria employed to evaluate information have also been conducted within the context of SQA services. For example, Janes, et al. (2001) analyzed expert–based reference services, focusing on the characteristics of questions as well as responses received to the given questions, in order to examine their relevance within the library and other professional information service fields. Findings indicated that additional/alternative information in relation to the requestor’s stated information need proved an important factor in determining the perceived quality of responses within expert–based reference services. In addition, Kim, et al. (2009) investigated evaluation criteria employed by Yahoo! Answers users to select a Best Answer. The study identified 25 items as being essential to users’ evaluation of information content and grouped them into six main categories: content value, cognitive value, socio–emotional value, extrinsic value, information source value, and utility. The findings indicated that among these categories, utility (effectiveness, solution feasibility) proves the most critical factor in evaluating answers, followed by socio–emotional value. A recent study by Shah and Kitzie (2012) identified the additional factor of trustworthiness as constituting one of critical factors in making evaluative judgments within SQA environments.
Although these studies identify different high–level criteria purported to structure and describe how information is evaluated, it is apparent that both these high level criteria and the factors identified as comprising them tend to experience considerable overlap, suggesting that expectations influenced by information evaluation follow a finite, explicable set of characteristics.
Overall, understanding users’ motivations behind asking a question as well as their expectations with respect to the potential responses to their questions within SQA is a critical endeavor that could provide a general framework of conceptualizing different contexts of information needs (e.g., affective, social, personal, and cognitive states) that drive people into social interactions for seeking information within an SQA context. Focusing on a user’s behavioral processes by incorporating motivations and expectations behind asking a question and receiving answers will enable the understanding of which contexts promote use of SQA services to socially interact, as well as to seek and share information.
A survey was used in order to measure users’ motivations and expectations of asking a question in Yahoo! Answers. In order to recruit respondents, a link to an online version of the survey was sent to users who enabled e–mail links to be displayed on their profiles. The first e–mail message for survey participation was distributed from 10 March to 17 March 2013. An additional reminder e–mail message was sent out to those solicited in the week following the first survey distribution. The previous typologies of media use (Katz, et al., 1973; McQuail, 1983), shown in Table 1, were adapted in order to investigate what motivates people ask a question within SQA.
Table 1: Motivations of asking a question in SQA. Motivation Cognitive needs Finding relevant information in immediate surroundings, society and the world Seeking advice or opinions for making decisions Learning; self–education through acquiring information Gaining a sense of security through knowledge Affective needs Looking for social and emotional support for personal issues Looking for social and emotional support for someone (e.g., family, friends, etc.) Looking to attain personal thoughts or ideas Personal integrative needs Finding support for one’s own values Gaining insight into one’s own life Experiencing empathy with others’ problems Social integrative needs Identifying with others and gaining a sense of belonging Finding a basis for conversation and social interaction Having a substitute for real–life companionship Feeling connected with other people Tension free needs Having fun asking a question on Yahoo! Answers Passing time Emotional release
These typologies were chosen in since they remain the most comprehensive account of user motivations of media use. In addition, previous research studies attempting to investigate motivations of the Internet use in different contexts have relatively focused on a more narrow set of gratifications, which have limited the generalizability of the findings (Cho, et al., 2003). The typology adapted in the current study includes five high–level categories and 17 subcategories. Each motivational factor was measured on a five–point Likert scale (1–Strongly Disagree to 5–Agree) as shown in Table 1. In order to explore how expectations are associated with these different motivations and how expectations relate to type of question asked, evaluation criteria frequently mentioned within the literature was selected. Like the motivations portion of the survey, each expectation factor was measured on a five–point Likert scale (see Table 2).
Table 2: Expectations of information sources. Expectation Literature Looking for quick responses Kim, et al. (2009); Shah and Kitzie (2012) Looking for additional or alternative information Adamic, et al. (2008); Janes, et al. (2001) Looking for accurate or complete information Bateman (1999); Rieh (2002); Taylor (1986); Wang and Soergel (1998) Looking for social and/or emotional support Kim, et al. (2009) Looking for verification for own belief or knowledge Barry (1994); Wang and Soergel (1998) Looking for trustworthy sources Rieh (2002); Shah and Kitzie (2012)
Characteristics of the survey participations
A total of 75 Yahoo! Answers users participated in the survey. This sample has a fairly equal split between females (n=41, 55 percent) and males (n=34, 45 percent) with an average age of 32.6 years old (S.D.=14.25), ranging from 13 years old to 69 years old. The level of education among the participants is relatively high; 54 participants have a bachelor’s degree (n=25, 33 percent) or an advanced degree (e.g., master’s degree) (n=29, 39 percent). Of the participants, 58 report moderate to frequent Web searching (4–6 searches per day, n=14, 19 percent; 7–10, n=14, 19 percent; >10, n=30, 40 percent), and the majority of them (n=54, 72 percent) report being users of Yahoo! Answers that have been asking questions for more than six months. The level of participation in question asking is divided between those who post less frequently (less than 10 questions, n=34, 45 percent) or very frequently (more than 40 questions, n=24, 32 percent).
When examining survey responses to the Likert scale items within the motivations portion of the survey (Table 3), the sub–categories, learning; self–education through acquiring information (Mean=3.56) from high–level category, cognitive needs, and having fun asking a question in Yahoo! Answers, (Mean=3.56) from tension–free needs, are identified as the most influential motivational factors for asking a question in Yahoo! Answers.
Table 3: Descriptive statistics of motivations. Motivation Mean S.D. Cognitive needs 3.39 0.89 Finding relevant information in immediate surroundings, society and the world 3.33 1.18 Seeking advice or opinions for making decisions 3.40 1.36 Learning; self–education through acquiring information 3.56 1.21 Gaining a sense of security through knowledge 3.25 1.32 Affective needs 2.54 1.19 Looking for social and emotional support for personal issues 2.51 1.42 Looking for social and emotional support for someone (e.g., family, friends, etc.) 2.20 1.31 Looking for attainment on personal thoughts or ideas 2.91 1.30 Personal integrative needs 2.74 1.20 Finding support for one’s own values 2.68 1.40 Gaining insight into one’s own life 2.76 1.35 Experiencing empathy with others’ problems 2.79 1.35 Social integrative needs 2.42 1.13 Identifying with others and gaining a sense of belonging 2.52 1.29 Finding a basis for conversation and social interaction 2.96 1.35 Having a substitute for real–life companionship 1.96 1.22 Feeling connected with other people 2.57 1.29 Tension free needs 3.00 1.15 Having fun asking a question on Yahoo! Answers 3.56 1.34 Filling time 2.88 1.46 Emotional release 2.57 1.43
Additionally, seeking advice or opinions for making decisions (Mean=3.40), finding relevant information (Mean=3.33), and gaining a sense of security through knowledge (Mean=3.25), all from the cognitive needs high–level category, constitute the other significant motivational factors for users to ask a question in Yahoo! Answers. It is interesting to note that having a substitute for real–life companionship from the social integrative needs category constitutes the least identified motivational factor (Mean=1.96) and since the other social factors are more than one standard deviation from this mean, this suggests that an online environment provides a socio–affective dimension that is separate from the one encountered in real life.
When examining survey responses to the Likert scale items within the expectations portion of the survey (Table 4), the categories looking for additional or alternative information (Mean=4.03), looking for accurate or complete information (Mean=4.01), looking for a quick response (Mean=3.92), and looking for trustworthy sources (Mean=3.70) constituted the most influential expectations for asking a question in Yahoo! Answers. The least significant expectation is looking for social and emotional support (Mean=2.47).
It is interesting to note that the categories most similar to the cognitive needs identified in the motivations portion of the survey also seem to be more highly rated in the expectations portion, and that socio–emotional support factors seem to be among the lowest. This suggests that correlations between these items will also be high. It is also interesting to note that for the expectations portion, the standard deviations tend to be a little lower (except for the social and emotional support category, which might further make an argument to the point made above that people distinguish this support from within an SQA site as compared to what they experience face–to–face), which suggests that users were more in agreement on the expectation criteria presented than the motivation criteria. Since the expectation criteria has significantly less items and operates among high–level categories, this suggests that perhaps, in future studies, if the same motivations typology is used it should only focus on the high–level categories.
Table 4: Descriptive statistics of expectations. Expectation Mean S.D. Quick responses 3.92 1.10 Additional or alternative information 4.03 1.01 Accurate and complete information 4.01 1.12 Social and emotional support 2.47 1.40 Verification of one’s own beliefs or knowledge 3.32 1.19 Trustworthy sources 3.70 1.14
The relationship between motivation and expectation
When asking a question in Yahoo! Answers, cognitive motivations are significantly correlated (p<.01) with all expectations except looking for social and emotional support. However, there are correlations between the sub–levels seeking advice or opinions (r=.364) and gaining a sense of security through knowledge (r=.361) to social and emotional support, which suggests that there are socio–affective expectations inherent to cognitively motivated tasks; it just depends on the type of task. It is also noteworthy that respondents expect resources to be trustworthy across all levels of cognitive–based motivations, however expectations for information that is accurate and complete only experience a significant correlation with finding relevant information in immediate surroundings, society, and the world (r=.415).
Motivations concerning affective needs significantly, and predictably, correlate to expectations for social and emotional support (r=.515), as well as verification of one’s own knowledge (r=.370). However, it is somewhat surprising that they also correlate to expectations for quick responses (r=.229). It is interesting to note that the expectation for a quick response experiences significant positive correlations with each sub–level except looking for attainment of information based on personal thoughts or ideas within the affective motivations category.
Additional motivations such as personal integrative needs, social integrative needs, and tension–free needs are only statistically correlated with two expectation factors (looking for social and emotional support, looking for verification of one’s own beliefs or knowledge). However, if motivated to ask a question in Yahoo! Answers to pass time, users are more likely to expect to receive additional or alternative information to their given question (r=.276).
One finding of importance is that only high–level cognitive motivations and all related sub–levels experience significant correlations to an expectation of trustworthy sources (overall cognitive motivations r=.498). Interestingly, all high–level categories and their sub–level categories experience a moderate significant correlation to expectations for sources that verify one’s own beliefs or knowledge; in addition all high–level categories and their sublevels, with the exception of motivations for cognitive needs, experience moderate to strong significant correlations to expectations for social and emotional support. This suggests that more objective criteria influencing expectations of information within SQA (i.e., accuracy, trustworthiness) correlate to related motivations that are more cognitive in nature, while more affective elements inherent to this kind of medium appear to foster expectations related to inter-subjective understanding (i.e., verification of one’s own beliefs or knowledge, social and emotional support). Table 5 illustrates a summary of the details of relationships between motivations and expectations.
Table 5: Relationship between motivation and expectation in Yahoo! Answers.
Note: ** Indicates significance at p<.001.
Quick responses Additional or alternative information Accurate and complete information Social and emotional support Verification of own belief and knowledge Trustworthy sources Cognitive needs .444** .383** .307** .271 .403** .498** Finding relevant information in immediate surroundings, society and the world .303** .184 .415** .130 .354** .332** Seeking advice or opinions for making decisions .348* .159 .157 .364** .280** .282** Learning; self–education through acquiring information .156 .395** .094 -.133 .090 .352** Gaining a sense of security through knowledge .425** .339** .208 .361** .397** .431** Affective needs .229** .119 .042 .515** .370** .130 Looking for social and emotional support for personal issues .269** -.010 -.030 .513** .264** .139 Looking for social and emotional support for someone (e.g., family, friends, etc.) .266** .149 -.002 .422** .246** .078 Looking for attainment on personal thoughts or ideas .071 .187 .150 .434** .485** .127 Personal integrative needs -.040 .061 .073 .424** .324** .080 Finding support for one’s own values -.004 -.023 .089 .458** .413** .048 Gaining insight into one’s own life -.030 .083 .073 .281** .292** .066 Experiencing empathy with others’ problems -.040 .061 .029 .376** .144 .098 Social integrative needs -.014 -.001 -.093 .543** .409** -.081 Identifying with others and gaining a sense of belonging .020 .062 -.033 .479** .375** -.037 Finding a basis for conversation and social interaction .006 .028 -.086 .550** .334** -.052 Having a substitute for real–life companionship -.113 -.141 -.049 .390** .347** -.154 Feeling connected with other people .033 .040 -.155 .481** .336** -.044 Tension free needs .178 .228** .021 .536** .368** .053 Having fun asking a question in Yahoo! Answers .077 .208 .031 .277** .337** .079 Filling time .145 .276** .009 .345** .295** .075 Emotional release .211 .073 .012 .684** .273** -.023
Other information seeking activities when the users’ needs and/or expectations are not met in social Q&A
This study also attempted to examine what other information seeking activities Yahoo! Answers users identified as performing when their needs and expectations are not satisfied within Yahoo! Answers.
It was found that the most frequently identified activity is searching for information through search engines (n=66, 44.9 percent), followed by asking a new question on Yahoo! Answers (n=31, 21.1 percent) and contacting other people (e.g., friends, family) to ask a question (n=29, 19.2 percent). Note that the survey asked the participants to identify multiple activities, if applicable (see Table 6).
Table 6: Other information seeking activities. Information seeking activities N Asking a new question on Yahoo! Answers 31 (21.1%) Using different social Q&A services to find information 21 (14.3%) Searching for information through search engines (e.g., Google) 66 (44.9%) Contacting other people (e.g., friends, family) to ask a question 29 (19.2%)
The primary motivations for asking questions in SQA are to fulfill cognitive needs. For those motivated to fulfill cognitive needs, users tend to expect that they will acquire relevant information, learn through acquiring information, and receive others’ opinions and advice. It is not surprising that the motivation of acquiring information plays an important role choosing to use SQA services since these services constitute a knowledge exchange community (Adamic, et al., 2008) that facilitates a user–driven environment for information seeking and sharing (Choi, et al., 2012). The study also found that another significant motivation for asking a question in SQA is to have fun while asking a question that seeks information (Mean=3.56). One respondent explained this motivation by stating:
Sometimes I get great answers and other times the replies are silly or really stupid. It’s an adventure when you get an answer and that’s part of the fun.
Combining this observation with the significant, moderate levels of correlation found between different affective levels of motivation and what could arguably be considered subjective elements of users’ expectations, it would be interesting for future research to analyze the interplay between users’ emotional and affective conditions and subsequent expectations and motivations exercised within the unique context of SQA environments.
With regard to what users expect to receive from others when using SQA, the most identified expectation of users when asking a question is to receive additional or alternative information (Mean=4.03) related to an information need. Relative to this, one respondent provided the following comment:
Yahoo! Answers provides opinions and answers to questions from many people, as opposed to just one person. This really helps as you get lots of insight to your question.
This observation and analysis of findings conforms to a previous work (Shah and Kitzie, 2012), which indicates that provision of alternative information constitutes one of the significant determinants of information quality as identified by users. In addition, this study found that the second most significant expectation is to receive accurate or alternative information (Mean=4.01), which is also similar to results found by Kim, et al. (2007) and Shah and Kitzie (2012) that accurate and complete information is regarded as indicative of high information quality in SQA. In regard to the relationship between motivation and expectation, it was found that motivations to fulfill cognitive needs are significantly correlated to all of the expectations identified in the current study. This may signify that SQA enables users, with varying degrees of success, to fulfill cognitive needs, such as finding relevant information in one’s immediate surroundings, society and the world; seeking advice or opinions for decision–making; learning; or gaining a sense of security through acquiring knowledge. Even though the strength of the relationship between the sub–levels of cognitive needs and expectations is varied, the relationship between the expectation of receiving trustworthy sources (r=.498) and quick responses (r=.444) ) is moderate to strong. The moderate correlation between the motivation to fulfill cognitive needs and the expectation to receive trustworthy sources supports findings from a previous study by Rieh (2002) that identifies cognitive authority (e.g., trustworthiness) as a significant factor employed in evaluating information quality.
It was also found that users who are motivated by emotional and social support expect quick responses from other users (r=.229), predictably, social support (r=.515), and verification of their own beliefs and knowledge (r=.370). This signifies that when people use social Q&A to receive emotional and social support, they not only look for human responses, but also look for a quick delivery of answers. Therefore, future studies should continue to parse apart the relationship between contexts in which individuals are soliciting emotional and social support, and timeliness, as well as to investigate approaches that fulfill this expectation.
Another interesting finding concerning the relationship between motivation and expectation is that no matter what motivates the user to ask a question in Yahoo! Answers, it seems one of the expectations they have is verification of their personal beliefs or knowledge. It is interesting to compare expectations for obtaining such verification to confirm personal beliefs and knowledge to more objective questions that do not require as much subjectivity. One participant vocalized the difference between these expectations when using Yahoo! Answers versus a search engine by stating:
I used Yahoo! Answer for a very specific question AFTER I searched for relevant information on Google (without getting a satisfying answer). I sense Yahoo! Answers can provide a detailed, tailored answer for my specific situation.
Another respondent added to this, stating:
The best search engine in the world can’t tell you why your knitting is suddenly growing sideways or what to expect on your first day of college. Sometimes, I will use Yahoo! Answers to figure out what to search for on a search engine.
This signifies that people tend to develop their own information seeking strategies that they are reliant on within a specific context (e.g., use of Yahoo! Answers for more subjective questions, use of search engines for more objective questions) despite the fact that ostensibly, a similar answer can be received within different types of platforms. This confirms to Vakkari’s (1999) findings that people employ different information seeking strategies contingent on the task. Future studies may investigate how SQA users seek information both within this environment and outside of it, and why they might employ certain strategies based on their information needs.
One of the possible implications from the findings concerning the relationship between motivations and expectations is to consider information seeking within outlets outside of SQA. Previous studies attempting to analyze information quality in SQA have paid much attention to textual (e.g., length of the answer’s content) and non–textual features (e.g., information from the answerer’s profile) as determinants. Even though the recent research has also focused on affective criteria (e.g., politeness, novelty, timeless, etc.) that can be employed to assess the quality of information in order to analyze how information satisfies an asker’s need (Kim, et al., 2009; Liu, et al., 2008; Shah and Pomerantz, 2010), there still lacks consideration of how an asker’s specific information seeking problems or situations might motivate them directly to choose SQA to ask a question.
As Agichtein, et al. (2009) suggested, the importance of cognitive approaches in evaluating the quality of information can yield recommendations regarding the assessment of information quality in SQA. Identifying the motivations and expectations of users when seeking information can help identify why and how users are engaged in information seeking within an SQA context to satisfy their information needs. Understanding the motivations behind and expectations of asking a question has applications for building upon a framework of assessing information, which includes not only question content, but also users’ backgrounds (i.e., motivations and expectations), which influence where they choose to ask a question in a given situation.
The study also identified what other information seeking strategies Yahoo! Answers users would perform to satisfy their information needs when the service failed to gratify them. It was found that SQA users tend to search for information through search engines, followed by asking a new question within the same service, and contacting family members or friends. There are few studies that attempt to investigate when information seeking activities are unsuccessful within SQA sites, with the exception of recent studies by Choi, et al. (2012) which performed content analysis in order to determine why certain questions do not receive answers within SQA. This finding suggests it would be necessary to investigate how people adapt to online information searching and seeking environments including SQA, and within these latter contexts, how they develop their information searching and seeking strategies (Wilson, 2006).
The Internet has introduced new ways to “seek and distribute information and communicate with others” . SQA has received its recognition and unique placement in the information seeking landscape by allowing people to communicate with others for seeking and sharing information. The fact that these sites facilitate human–to–human interaction poses a key difference from search engines that facilitate a keyword–based search (e.g., Google). This has led to a wide range of studies investigating the unique characteristics of SQA. Despite the increased interests of the academic community in SQA, fundamental questions for information seeking behaviors within this platform remain to be addressed. This study specifically looked at the motivations behind — Why do people visit SQA to ask a question? — and expectations of — What are the users’ expectations with respect to the responses to their questions? — an SQA service.
This study started with an assumption of which types of people may be motivated to use SQA and what their expectations of these sites might be. The study then attempted to investigate how the SQA users’ motivations and expectations are enacted and interrelated when using an SQA platform. The following findings pertaining to the research questions asked will now be addressed.
Motivations behind asking a question in SQA (RQ1)
Findings indicate that people are mostly motivated to ask a question to Yahoo! Answers in order to fulfill cognitive needs, specifically learning; self–education through acquiring information, seeking advice or opinions for making decisions, finding relevant information, and gaining a sense of security through knowledge. In addition, the factor having fun asking a question in Yahoo! Answers from high–level category tension–free needs also provided a significant motivation for asking a question.
Expectations from others to fulfill his/her needs (RQ2)
Not surprisingly, given that most of the motivational factors identified as important within this survey are cognitive–based, identified expectations also happen to be cognitive–based. These included looking for additional or alternative information, looking for accurate or complete information, looking for a quick response, and looking for trustworthy sources. The least significant expectation is looking for social and emotional support. These findings are particularly surprising given the past literature on SQA, which identified socio–affective characteristics as being important to users (Kim, et al., 2007; Shah and Kitzie, 2012).
Relationship between motivation and expectation (RQ3)
However, when examining the correlations between factors influencing motivations for asking a question and expectations of the answer received, findings indicate that the expectation–based socio–affective characteristics seeking advice or opinions and gaining a sense of security through knowledge correlate to the cognitive–based motivation categories. What this suggests is that there are socio–affective expectations inherent to cognitively motivated tasks depending on the type of task.
Other information seeking activities (RQ4)
Interviews with users indicate that if Yahoo! Answers does not meet their needs, they usually will pose their question to a search engine. However, this strategy often is framed with reticence in the sense that users desired to have their questions answered within the SQA platform. This observation signifies that users might rely on Yahoo! Answers specifically to facilitate their own distinct information seeking strategies despite the fact that a similar answer can be received by using other platforms.
These findings provide a useful step in understanding the situations behind asking a question within a specific online environment. Further, they indicate that the relationship between motivations and expectations also exists within an SQA context. Yet the relationship between these two factors within such a context sheds light onto some of the more unique elements of SQA, particularly its social aspects and how these are becoming integrated into how people are motivated to solicit information and how they evaluate this information.
About the authors
Erik Choi is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey. He received his Masters in Communication Management and Technologies from New York University. His research interests include information seeking behavior, social media, and online Q&A services.
E–mail: erikchoi [at] gmail [dot] com
Vanessa Kitzie is a Ph.D. student at Rutgers University in the Library and Information Studies program. She received her Masters in Library and Information Science from Rutgers University and her Bachelor’s Degrees in Advertising and Sociology from Boston University. Her research explores how people assess information using mediated forms of communication, such as question answering services.
E–mail: vkitzie [at] gmail [dot] com
Dr. Chirag Shah is an assistant professor in the School of Communication & Information (SC&I) at Rutgers University. His research interests include studies of interactive information retrieval/seeking, especially in the context of online social networks and collaborations, contextual information mining, and applications of social media services for exploring critical socio–political issues. He is also interested in various theoretical and practical aspects of information as a dynamic construct, and online information propagation.
E–mail: chirags [at] Rutgers [dot] edu
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Received 9 August 2013; revised 29 January 2014; accepted 11 February 2014.
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Investigating motivations and expectations of asking a question in social Q&A
by Erik Choi, Vanessa Kitzie, and Chirag Shah.
First Monday, Volume 19, Number 3 - 3 March 2014