What Makes People Share Information?

Diane Loviglio

We’re starting another research study this week.  We’re interviewing 8 users in their homes, for 90 minutes each, to understand how people define their online life.  It’s purposely broad as we’re trying to learn more about how people discover and organize websites from both online and offline sources.

It wouldn’t be a successful interview without some artifacts to help us collect this data, so we came up with a two fun activities – the timeline and “me in the middle”.  At the beginning we’ll start with a simple timeline and have the participants walk us through their yesterday – what they did, where they where and we’ll prompt for what tools and devices they used – but that is just a way to get all the raw data on paper quickly.  What we are really after is their stories – why they checked Facebook on their phone in bed instead of their tablet or why they post updates to LinkedIn every few days but can’t be bothered with Facebook.


Next we’ll have participants tell us about the last 6 people they shared information with – whether it be them commenting on a grandchild’s photo on Facebook or them texting their friend to say that they’re going to be late.  They’ll draw arrows from themselves in the middle to the people around them annotating the “share”.  And then we’ll ask them to draw arrows from the people back to them with what that person shared with them last.  Here we’ll get to understand the frequency and subject matter of the shares with these particular people, but again that is just the raw data.  We’re much more interested in learning about why they shared these pieces of information with the people they noted.  For example did the participant share a link to a new lamp from an interior design blog because her and her husband are redecorating or did she send her mom a photo of her grandson on the playground because he climbed on the jungle gym for the first time and wanted to share that moment.

After our interviews are done, we’ll be synthesizing this data over the course of two weeks, to try to better understand what makes someone share information and what situations and contexts are they in when the most significant sharing happens.  We’re collecting these stories for the Pancake project so we can build a better solution to manage your online life.  If you want to learn more about our project, sign up for the Google group.