Virtual Belonging in Web 2.0 Projects, and its association with Online Behaviour

  • Hamed Mohagheghi-Fard

Student thesis: Phd


The behavioural changes which result from expansion and popularity of online platforms can be observed in day to day activities such as buying tickets, ordering food, and communicating with friends and family. From a technical perspective these platforms utilise similar technologies and infrastructures (e.g. the Internet, servers, and databases), however there are numerous conceptual and functional differences which can be identified between them. This research is associated with specific types of online platforms which are commonly referred to as Web 2.0 platforms. Popular examples of such platforms include Wikipedia, YouTube, and Facebook. These platforms rely upon user generated content and benefit from users' collaborative efforts.Users' efforts can be considered as a resource, and a possible objective in associated projects could be to optimise the outcome of such efforts. In many cases, this can be accomplished by influencing users' Online Behaviour (OB). In Web 2.0 platforms, OB can be influenced by various factors, and among them Sense of Belonging (SB) has been highlighted by many previous researchers as a significant factor. While the literature suggests a significant association between SB and OB in Web 2.0 platforms, this research identifies a gap in the existing literature in regards to SB due to its qualitative nature and the dependency of associated investigations on human interaction. In addition to the subjective nature of such investigations, other practical challenges can be associated with measuring SB in Web 2.0 projects. Firstly, considering the demographical, cultural and lingual diversity of users in many Web 2.0 platforms, such investigations can be complex and therefore expensive. Secondly, investigating SB cannot be performed in real time which can result in extended timelines for gathering data. Thirdly, in early stages of Web 2.0 projects in which the concept is being defined and the platform is being developed, the users might not yet exist, and hence investigating their SB and OB may not be an option. Finally, without an existing platform and community, there is nothing to belong to, and hence SB might not exist to measure or investigate.As an attempt to fill the identified gap and provide practical solutions for highlighted challenges in Web 2.0 projects, this research introduces a new factor, and investigates its association with OB. Virtual Belonging (VB) is proposed as a factor built upon suggested elements for SB, and based on a new perspective towards Web 2.0 features. Furthermore, in any Web 2.0 platform, VB can be quantitatively defined, compared, and analysed. This research suggests three dimensions for VB, and their associations with OB are hypothesised. To test the research hypotheses, a Web 2.0 platform was developed in association with a student poetry competition in the University of Manchester, and it was used as the vehicle for an experiment (available at The platform includes a bespoke Tracking System that has been specifically designed and developed to assist with this investigation. Also, Ethical Approval was obtained from the University's Ethics Committees for the use of the data collected by the Tracking System from the individuals who have agreed to take part in this research and used the platform between March 2013 and July 2014.VB's dimensions are presented in this research as a hierarchy with three distinct levels, namely Inclusion, Involvement, and Influence. The results show a significant association between every dimension of users' VB and their OB. On this basis, this research proposes VB as a predictive factor for OB in Web 2.0 projects. The findings can provide practical guidance and directions for Web 2.0 project managers, particularly in the early stages of such projects in which the existence of users and their interactivity with the platform can only be an assumption, and hence obtaining qualitative data (such as SB) may not be an option.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorFrancis Fenn (Supervisor) & Oscar De Bruijn (Supervisor)


  • Online Behaviour
  • Virtual Belonging
  • Web 2.0 Projects
  • Web 2.0 Platforms

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