What does social science tell us about how to make thriving online communities? Quite a lot, it turns out—but only if we listen very closely and, at times, employ a translator. Economics and various branches of psychology offer theories of individual motivation and of human behavior in social situations. The theories generalize from observations of naturally occurring behavior, from controlled experiments, and from abstract mathematical models. Properly interpreted, they can inform choices about how to get a community started, integrate newcomers, encourage commitment, regulate behavior when there are conflicts, motivate contributions, and coordinate those contributions to maximize benefits for the community.

This book makes it easier for us to hear what social science has to tell us. It amplifies relevant theories and experimental evidence and then translates them into specific claims about the likely impact of particular design choices for online communities.