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Jennifer Preece

Jennhy Preece OLnet Fellow


Jennifer Preece

Project Title

Collaboration on the Reader to Leader framework

Project Summary

This project involved sharing ideas to better understand how to motivate contributions in user-generated content online sites. The reader-to-leader framework (Preece & Shneiderman, 2009) identifies four main stages that many people pass through from the time that they join a site as readers to the time they become leaders. Of course, not everyone goes through all four stages on every site. Some may stay as readers or move to being contributors but never become leaders. Many permutations are possible. For example, others jump from one type of activity to another depending on the topic of interest and their competence in that topic within a single site. A key contribution of this paper that was interesting to researchers in OLnet is that, based on a review of the research literature at that time, it suggests usability and sociability features that help to explain and motivate participation. Several OLnet researchers have modified this approach to explain their data.


Fellowship period: 7 April to 15 September 2010 including two short (2 day) visits in that period to the Open University, UK


University of Maryland, USA

Biographic information

Jennifer Preece is Professor of Information Studies in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, and Dean of the College of Information Studies – Maryland’s iSchool (see  She completed her PhD in 1985 at The Open University, UK.  Her research focussed on information systems, computer-mediated communication, human-computer interaction, and online communities.  She was also an expert in distance education up to the mid 90s having spent some 15 years at the Open University, UK.

In 1994, Jenny became Research Professor of Information Systems and founding Director of the Centre for People and Systems Interaction at the South Bank University, London, UK.  In 1996 she moved to the USA and became Professor and Chair of the Information Systems Department at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in January 1997.  During the six years that she was department chair, they doubled the number of faculty, revised all of their programs, developed a distance Masters program, increased research productivity, and began to plan new programs in human-computer interaction.

Her current research focuses on the design and management of digital social media.  She is particularly interested in what motivates participation and the relationship between usability (design of the human-computer interface for ease of use) and sociability (technical design and social management – eg moderation, policies, support for evolving norms – that support social interaction) in online social spaces.

Jenny is currently the principle investigator on two National Science Foundation funded projects. One is entitled Extreme Ethnography, which focuses on understanding the challenges of doing ethnographical work in large online social spaces where there are millions of participants, content changes continually and the design of the supporting platforms also change frequently. The aim of this project is to develop guidelines to support researchers. The second project, entitled Biotracker, addresses two research questions:

  • Q1 How can a socially intelligent system be used to direct human effort and expertise to the most valuable collection and classification tasks?
  • Q2 What are the most effective strategies for motivating enthusiasts and experts to voluntarily contribute and collaborate?

Further information about these projects and publications can be found on the website.

Main Output

Working with OLnet members they identified several shared interests that they continue to discuss and collaborate on, particularly in the areas of citizen science and how to motivate contributions in user generated content sites. For example, the reader-to-leader framework developed by Jenny Preece and Ben Shneiderman (2009) was used by Dr. Clough to analyze data from her doctoral study on geocaching.

During her visit Jenny met with OLnet doctoral students, faculty members, and staff to discuss OLnet projects and exchange ideas. She also gave a presentation about her own work, attended a project meeting and co-organized a workshop with Dr. Ann Jones. A working paper was written based on that workshop which is coauthored by Gill Clough, Ann Jones and Jenny Preece.

Jenny has continued to maintain contact with the iSpot team and she attended the Cross-roads meeting hosted by the iSpot team in October 2011. This meeting brought together members of citizen science researchers and developers from across the world including colleagues from the Encyclopedia of Life, who are collaborators on the Biotracker project. Jenny has also continued to work with Ann Jones and has provided comments on a draft proposal related to citizen science that is waiting funding.


  • Workshop/meeting recorded in Flashmeeting April 2010


Cropper, Karen (2010), ‘OLnet Fellow Jenny Preece Visit April 2010’,, 13 April [online], (Accessed 2 Feb 2012)

Preece, J and Shneiderman, B (2009), ‘The Reader-to-Leader Framework: Motivating Technology-Mediated Social Participation’, [online], (Accessed 2 Feb 2012)

Update Since Fellowship

The collaborative activities mentioned in the previous section on outputs are being continued.

Other Reference of interest

Jones, Ann and Preece, Jenny (2006). Online communities for teachers and lifelong learners: a framework for comparing similarities and identifying differences in communities of practice and communities of interest. International Journal of Learning Technology, 2(2-3), pp. 112–137. Available online from: