Trust in Online Collaboration

By Joan Hunter,2014-04-01 19:05
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Trust in Online Collaboration

Trust and Knowledge Use in Online

    Collaboration Tools


    Fon Sundaravej

    College of Business Administration, University of Missouri St. Louis

    8001 Natural Bridge Road, St. Louis, MO 63121

    Phone: 314-516-7322


    Jessie Cheng

    College of Business Administration, University of Missouri St. Louis

    8001 Natural Bridge Road, St. Louis, MO 63121

    Phone: 314-516-6626



    Wiki and blog have been used in some organizations as collaboration tools. The reliability and accuracy of the posted messages on these tools are majors concerns. This study investigates the factors affecting trust on the posted messages and the influence of trust on knowledge use. While future research is needed, results from this study should indicate how to implement an online collaboration tool for greatest trust and knowledge use in an organization.

1. Introduction

    The number of online collaboration tools is rapidly growing these days and companies are increasingly adopting these tools as platforms where data, information, and knowledge in a particular topic can be shared among employees (Gordon, 2006). Widely recognized examples of the online collaboration tools being used in organizations nowadays are wiki and blog. Wiki and blog are relatively new forms of organizational online tools, compared to e-mail and instant messaging. The organization that currently uses these online collaboration tools is perceived as an early adopter.

    The online collaboration tools come with pros and cons. These tools are used to promote internal collaboration and enhance knowledge management in organizations. However, the quality of messages shared on an online collaboration tool is claimed to be average because some visitors may contribute useful information, while others may post irrelevant responses (Wen and Wen, 2006). The accuracy of posted message also becomes a critical concern (Cherry,


    2003; Denning et al., 2005). The poster may post their subjective opinions on the online collaboration tools. Still, with this controversy and skepticism concerning the quality of the posted message, a growing number of wikis and blogs has emerged.

    The quality and accuracy of exchanged information have been proved to have a significant effect on user understanding and perceived effectiveness of communication (Daft and Lengel, 1986). Pertaining to a Website, the content on a site is a major parameter influencing users’ attitudes toward the particular site

    (Mithas et al., 2007). As a result, in the current view, it is extremely interesting to investigate what makes people trust the posted message on an online collaboration tool used in an organization. Studying the factors affecting trust on such posted message informs managerial decision makers on prioritizing improvements in the online collaboration tool redesign to reach the maximum effective usage. Furthermore, we expand our research to expose a benefit of applying an online collaboration tool into an organizational environment. It is worth to observe how trust on the posted message on an online collaboration tool affects the knowledge use in the organization. Studying the association between trust and knowledge use in an organization helps potential adopters on an online collaboration tool make a better decision on the tool adoption so as to increase collaboration among employees.

    The rest of the paper is organized as follows. Before the theoretical development is introduced, results of prior research regarding wiki and blog are presented. The theoretical development section represents justifications into


    research hypotheses. The research method and findings will be revealed. The research discussion is provided at the end of this paper.


    Wiki comes from the Hawaiian word “Wiki Wiki” (Shannon et al., 2006),

    meaning quick (Gordon, 2006). Wiki is a tool developed by Ward Cunningham in 1990’s for authoring Web pages collaboratively (Kawamoto et al., 2006; Louridas, 2006; Zhang and Jin, 2006). It allows collaborative authoring with simple content management features through Web browsers. Some features of wiki are different from blog. Wiki enables tracking down a particular author and enables users to create their own forum or space to share opinions, while blog does not allow users to perform these two tasks. As a result, wiki can serve as an online repository for shared knowledge, including its knowledge evolution. The overall value of wiki is that its content will be improved as more contributors edit the information.

    To implement a wiki in an organization, a variety of custom-made wikis such as wikish, MoinMoin, MediaWiki, TWiki, UseMod, and Confluence, can be chosen to fit project requirements (Louridas, 2006). Among these types of wikis, TWiki and Confluence are the most popular wiki engines nowadays. TWiki is developed as a dynamic Intranet tool that allows easy reporting and creation of workflows and access control (Raygan and Green, 2002). Confluence, an enterprise wiki, structures contents in different spaces, allowing multiple linked wikis. It also offers space and page-level security restrictions. Pages, comments,


    blogs, and attachments on Confluence are all searchable (Atlassian Software Systems Pty Ltd., 2007).

    Unfortunately, there is no empirical research attempting to study wiki as an online collaboration and repository for exchanged knowledge among employees in organizations. Most studies discuss about Wikipedia, a well known wiki served as an online collaborative encyclopedia where anyone can edit and update the site contents, and they exploit Wikipedia as a case study (Wagner and Majchrzak, 2006-2007; Lim et al., 2006; Wagner and Prasarnphanich, 2007; Viegas, 2007). Another research studies wiki as an online learning tool in classroom (Ruth et al., 2005).


    The term blog, Web log, or Weblog refers to an automated, personalized, and community-supported Webpage, kept in reverse chronological order (Du and Wagner, 2007). It allows individuals to submit and share text, images, or video with others through the Internet or even a mobile phone (McFedries, 2003; Bamford et al., 2006; Cemerlang et al., 2006). A blog is enabled through a blogging software. Common features of blogs include searching, posting, and commenting on blogs. Blogs differ from forums, message boards, and newsgroups in the way that only the blog owner is permitted to post entries, whereas readers are restricted to only comment to the posted entries (Gordon, 2006). The additional comments are appended to each posted message (Torrey et al., 2007). In terms of patterns to use, a blog usually links to other blogs in the same category or interest.


    The empirical research on blogs is thus far limited. The results of an analysis of blogs suggest that the primary purpose of blog usage is a personal journal, while the blog usage for collaboration is fairly rare (Herring et al., 2004). However, existing studies on blog, including its collaboration among users yield positive results. Du and Wagner (2007) empirically examine the relationship between use of blog as an online learning tool and student learning performance. The results represent that effective use of blog promotes the constructivist models of learning by supporting both cognitive and social knowledge construction. Lin et al. (2006) study the implementation of blog system in an international distance course. The findings suggest that blog is an effective tool to document the student’s learning, to share experience and knowledge, and to have direct interaction with long distance peers.

2. Theoretical Development

    Several researchers have investigated the association of social network and trust. Strength of tie is an aspect of social network that correlates to a degree of trust. It can be measured by various criteria such as the length of time two actors spend together, the emotional intensity between two actors, the degree of trust and acquaintance, the frequency of interaction, or the time of relationship (Kristiansen, 2004). Strong ties are considered as actors who likely to be connected (Grannovetter, 1983). They are defined as people with acquaintance such as family members, close friends, co-workers, etc. This study focuses on strength of tie between the message poster and reader.


    Many studies have shown that strong ties are important channels in transferring useful knowledge (Brass and Burkhardt, 1993; Droege and Anderson, 2003). Relationships between strong ties, as a result, are beneficial. Levin and Cross (2004) claimed that when trust exists, people are more willing to give useful knowledge and also more willing to listen to and absorb others’ knowledge.

    McGrath et al. (2003) found that software executives who were looking for an advice tended to urge people they knew well mostly from relationships formed through previous work settings, educational settings, or mutual contacts. In the current study, we intend to measure the message reader’s perception on the relationship between the reader and the poster, not mutual perception between them. It is assumed that messages on an online collaboration tool posted by strong ties increase the reader’s degree of trust.

    H1: Strength of tie of message posters increases trust on posted messages.

    Reputation has been studied by many researchers in different perspectives. Barnett et al. (2006) defined corporate reputation as observers’ collective judgments of a corporation based on assessments of the financial, social, and environmental impacts attributed to the corporation over time. Helm (2005) proved that corporate reputation involved a variety of different measures and it correlated to stakeholders’ loyalty towards the company. Johnson et al.

    (1993) analyzed a relation between executive’s reputation and firm financial

    performance. They defined executive’s reputation as the expected value of true managerial ability conditional on all previous productivity observations.


    Study on reputation and trust recently becomes fruitful in information system research, especially in the electronic market area. Reputation helps to build trust and cooperation among loosely connected and geographically dispersed economic agents (Dellarocas, 2006). Portal affiliation with a famous Website as a strategy to increase trusting beliefs in online stores is based on the idea of trust transference (Lim et al., 2006). The concept of portal affiliation is applied from the concept of reputation of linker in online trust. Reputation of the linker is partially proved to have a positive effect on the perceived relationship between linker and linkee (Stewart, 2006). That means, trusting beliefs in linker affect trusting beliefs in linkee.

    Reputation in this study refers to overall quality or character of the message poster as seen or judged by people in organization. In other words, reputation of the message poster is perceived as recognition by other people of some characteristics or abilities. According to the prior studies, it is assumed that messages on an online collaboration tool posted by a person with high reputation in an organization increase the reader’s degree of trust.

    H2: Reputation of message posters increases trust on posted messages.

    Previous research in multiple disciplines has a long history in studying power. An interesting study that measured the interpersonal power construct had been conducted by Garrison and Pate (1977). They measured power in different contexts, including co-worker context which is defined as someone a person has communicated with on a regular basis in the present job. The results of the study


showed that perceptions of interpersonal power would vary across

    communication context.

    In this study, power is conceived as relationships between two or more actors in which the behavior of one is affected by the behavior of the other (Jasperson et al., 2002). In other words, power is perceived or attributed characteristic possessed by a social actor with a definite potential or capacity which may be used to influence or even control the behavior of others in some manner within some context (Brill, 1992). A person who holds more power can draw on rules and uses techniques of production and discipline through social relation (Backhouse et al., 2006). Regarding to trust in the online collaboration, it is therefore assumed that messages on an online collaboration tool posted by a person who asserts more power increase the reader’s degree of trust.

    H3: Power of message posters increases trust on posted messages.

    Apart from the characteristics of the message poster mentioned above, features and elements used in an online collaboration tool are believed to affect trust and eventually to knowledge use from the online collaboration tool. In recent years, several studies have shown that Website features and elements such as graphics, colors, links, tabular forms, frame location, background, navigation, organization, uniformity, etc. influence beliefs and behavior of Web customers (Song and Zahedi, 2005), user efficiency and frustration level (Pratt et al., 2004), perceptions of customer service, information privacy, and product quality (Resnick and Montania, 2003), and visual search performance (Schaik and Ling, 2001). Interestingly, Everard and Galletta (2006) studied how Website


    presentation flaws affect perceived site quality, trust, and intention to purchase from an online store. The flaws included poor aesthetics, quality, and reliability of a Website. Each of these flaws was found to prevent users from using the system in a meaningful manner.

    Aesthetic aspects of a Website should possess the same priority as functionality aspects in Web design (Thorlacius, 2002). The organization of a Website was found to have the greatest impact on the users’ experience visiting

    the Website (Lynch and Horton, 2002). Several prior studies suggested that customers are more likely to enjoy orderly Websites due to ease of use and navigation (Song and Zahedi, 2005). In contrast, poor style of online commercial Website was found to be inversely related to the users’ level of perceived quality, trust, and intentions to purchase from an online store (Everard and Galletta, 2006). The elements of Website poor style contain interfered graphical and visual elements such as background, font size, columns, words, line spacing, etc. As a result, in this study, it is assumed that poor style of posted message on the online collaboration tool such as unusual background color, font style, font size, words, line spacing, or frame layout, reduces the reader’s degree of trust.

    H4: Poor style of posted messages decreases trust.

    Incompleteness of a Web site is another factor that discourages confidence and trust of visitors (Everard and Galletta, 2006). Incompleteness refers to a Website that includes obsolete content or links, non-loading pictures, or missing information. Information provided on a Website should be accurate, detailed, up-to-date, and relevant (Li et al., 2002). A Website with high


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