Article Review: Design for social presence in online communities: A multidimensional approach

As part of my doctoral process, I have to review a lot of literature. A LOT. To motivate me to keep track of the resources as I read them, I am going to try to post summaries of the pertinent articles here. My hope is that I will get in the habit of writing and summarizing so that the literature review portion of my dissertation is easier to write. We’ll see if that works, and if I can keep up with the summaries!


Shen, K., & Khalifa, M. (2009). Design for social presence in online communities: A multidimensional approach. AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction, 1(2), 33–54. Retrieved from


            According to the authors, previous research into social presence in online communities is based too heavily on traditional face-to-face models. They propose three dimensions to online social presence: awareness, affective social presence, and cognitive social presence. Awareness is the knowledge a participant has of the existence of other actors. Affective social presence refers to emotional responses to virtual social interaction, in so far as emotional reaction is evidence of social presence. Cognitive social presence is the user’s belief about their relationship with others in the social community.

The authors consider three categories of artifacts present in online communities: self-presentation (allows the user to tell others who they are), deep profiling (demonstrates activity, reputation and/or ranking), and virtual co-presence (creates a feeling of being together with others). A fourth artifact, persistent labeling, is ignored, because the authors feel it is part of self-presentation. In this study, the authors examine the relationship between members’ perceived usage of these three artifacts and the three dimensions of social presence. They hypothesize that the members’ perceived use of self-presentation and deep profiling artifacts will positively correlate to their sense of the three dimensions, and that the perceived use of virtual co-presence will correlate positively with sense of awareness.

            To gather information about perceived use of community artifacts and self-reported values for the three dimensions of social presence, the researchers conducted an online survey with four Hong Kong-based online communities that use vBulletin. By standardizing for the software package, the researchers hoped to control for differences in community artifacts available in different online spaces.

The researchers used Partial Least Squares Overall, the model of community artifacts accounted for 15.3 percent of the variance of awareness, 18.9 percent of affective social presence, and 12.2 percent of cognitive social presence. In addition, each artifact had a significant impact on each of the dimensions of social presence, with one exception. Perceived use of virtual co-presence did not have a significant impact on cognitive social presence, which was not part of the original hypotheses.

The results validate that there is a relationship between the three social dimensions and the three community artifacts. The model can guide further research into community presence. It can also provide guidance for managers of online communities. Communities can combine the artifacts in different ways to increase community engagement along the three dimensions.

Potential Application/Relevance:

Many MOOCs are more similar to online communities than traditional courses, given the large number of users and the open accountability for participation. This is model for community presence could provide insight for designing a MOOC. It can also be a potential framework for examining how course design or learning environment features impacts community formation and student retention.


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