People are cautious in exchanging favours and items with other people in their community. Researchers, who studied an online gift exchange service, say that many people buy services because it does not occur to them that someone in their community could help them or they are too shy to ask for a favour.
For instance, even though someone in the neighborhood may be happy to help with a broken bike in exchange for another favour or simply for the joy of helping, people may feel more comfortable with leaving their cycle to a repair shop.
Researchers Emmi Suhonen from Aalto University and Airi Lampinen from Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT studied with Coye Cheshire and Judd Antin from the University of California, Berkeley, what motivates people to take part in an online gift exchange service in their local community. The study focused on users of the Kassi favour and item exchange service. The service is used by students in the Finnish Aalto University. Members may post an ad, for instance, they may ask for a course book to borrow or for help in repairing a cycle. In addition to answering requests for help a member of the service can give away unnecessary goods or offer to help out other members of the community in tasks he enjoys. By using the service people can stretch out a helping hand to a larger community than to just their own friends.
According to the study, students like the favour exchange service even though their uncertainty of the right ways to use it sometimes hindered use. People were afraid of becoming indebted to other people and they were wondering why an unknown person would like to help them. Besides, people were doubtful if their own skills could be of use for someone in their community or worth a favour in return.
"Exchanging favors within a community may benefit everybody and increase a sense of communality. The biggest obstacles in the way of the gift exchange service seemed to be attitudes and a lack of examples. It can take a little learning to get into the habit of asking for help from one's student community," says researcher Airi Lampinen.
The study will be published in November at the ACM Group 2010 conference. Kassi service and the research related to it are a part of the OtaSizzle research project and Aalto University's MIDE research program funded by donated money from private companies and communities.
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