Gender inclusivity in online question and answer communities: investigating community member practices and perceptions to work towards equitable interfaces

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Dubois, Patrick
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Online Question and Answer communities (Q&As) are one resource that people use to learn complex, feature-rich software, such as graphic design software. Community members, both learners and experts, collaboratively create a knowledge base by authoring content in the form of questions and answers. Q&As benefit from a variety of users drawing from their experiences to contribute content, and the users themselves can grow professionally and personally by participating. However, Q&As might not be fully inclusive, with certain user groups not participating to their full extent. As a result, Q&As may be missing perspectives, content may become biased, and users may miss out on opportunities. In this thesis, I investigate how Q&As appeal to people of different genders, and how interface design affects people’s perceptions of, and participation in Q&As. I analyze content of two live Q&As for gender differences in who contributes and in what content is preferred. I interview users to understand how they currently perceive Q&As, and to identify how motivations and deterrents to participating differ between genders. Finally, I conduct a task-based field deployment study using prototype Q&A interfaces to see how people of different genders use and perceive additional community presence information. I find that current graphic design Q&As appeal less to women than they do to men: women participate less frequently than men do; women appear to prefer content which is less valued and often discouraged; and women receive less validation for their contributions than do men. The findings suggest ways to make Q&As more gender-equitable communities. Adding community presence information, as well as social considerations to a Q&A interface design seem to promote a more inclusive and humanized environment, which is more welcoming to women. Despite these positive effects, some participants are uninterested in community presence information, seeing these design changes as unsuitable for Q&As’ purposes and which may implicate privacy concerns. Nevertheless, there is potential in these interface design revisions to promote more gender inclusivity in Q&As.
gender, women, Q&A, social presence and awareness, homophily, community presence, Stack Exchange, Quora