One of the side benefits of having a nearly 2 million member community network is the opportunity to collaborate with leading academics to leverage this data source for research.
At the 2009 SAP Sponsored Academic Research Conference, we heard from top academic and industry experts on research and trends they've observed in enterprise software and services. Gerhard Fischer, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, presented his research paper, titled "Toward an Analytic Framework for Understanding and Fostering Peer-Support Communities in Using and Evolving Software Products," which focused specifically on SAP Community Network (SCN). I've provided a brief synopsis below, but I encourage you to check out the slides from his talk, read the full paper here, and offer your thoughts in the comments below.
With Andrew Gorman, also with the Center of LifeLong Learning and Design at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Fischer analyzed the culture of peer support in the SAP communities using four dimensions: responsiveness, engagement intensity (timeliness), role distribution, and impact of reward systems.
Responsiveness: Compared to open-source communities Apache Commons and Lucene Java, SCN forums have an 86% response rate (versus 67% and 80%).
Engagement intensity: The median response rate for the 86% of answered SCN threads was much shorter than Apache Commons and Lucene Java at 23 minutes (compared to 3 hours, 56 minutes and 1 hour, 27 minutes).
Role distribution: Over the years, the asker to helper ratio has increased. The authors say, "Although a smaller percentage of helpers are required to support community, each helper is relied on more heavily."
Reward system: The researchers found that the point system "did not cause an increase in contributors, but did improve response time and the percentage of threads that were marked as ‘answered.'"
Within SCN, Fischer and Gorman noted that "the motivation to participate goes beyond the simple need to find technical solutions. There is a greater sense of community." This is exactly what I like to hear - it keeps our community network vibrant and self-sustaining, and it makes in-person meetups like at SAP TechEd more interesting.
We're talking to a couple other universities about using our communities as a place to study social networks and value to participants (of course, with appropriate anonymity and privacy protections). You may see some additional insight coming from SCN in 2010.