The concept of a virtual economy is most commonly associated with multi-player online gaming communities, for example, Second Life and Gaia, where virtual objects are traded for virtual or real money. The total amount of assets in virtual worlds is estimated to be approaching US$2 billion (Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 2009). Many social networking websites, including Facebook and Digg, use some form of a virtual economy to motivate user participation in the life of their cyber-communities. In the scientific arena, there is a growing body of research in economic mechanisms to manage distribution of computing resources in large distributed networks. nanoHUB.org has borrowed the concept of a virtual economy to address its own community-building, resource management and sustainability goals.
A virtual economy system was introduced and partially deployed on nanoHUB.org during the course of the year 2008. This economy-driven system motivates users to contribute quality content and feedback by offering virtual points for their effort. The goal of this Master's Directed Project was to evaluate the early impact of the new virtual economy system at nanoHUB.org on user behavior, as well as to help establish a generic assessment model for a HUB site economy.
The study analyzed site usage data for equal time periods before and after the introduction of the first several components of the system. Two different approaches were used. One approach applied statistical tests to determine whether the new system helped establish or increase a positive correlation between individual usage and contribution levels across the user population. The second, simplified, approach examined the ratios of contributions per users in different user categories. Both approaches indicated some positive impact of the system, and both may be used repeatedly to help in future development of the system.
Mathias J. Sutton, Advisor and Committee Chair, Technology
Gerhard Klimeck, Electrical Engineering
Diane Beaudoin, Electrical Engineering
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