Effects of anonymity, ephemerality, and system routing on cost in social qestion asking

Haiwei Ma, Hao Fei Cheng, Bowen Yu, Haiyi Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Online platforms provide new channels for people in need to seek help from friends and strangers. However, individuals often encounter psychological barriers that deter them from asking for help. For example, people might have different concerns about asking for help, including acknowledging incompetence, bothering others, and accruing social debt. These perceived social costs limit the potential benefits of help solicitations. In this study, we attempt to investigate whether anonymity (posting a question anonymously), ephemerality (allowing questions to be visible for only a short period), and system routing (having the system handle the question routing) could reduce social costs in a typical online help-seeking behavior - question asking. We built a platform to support these three features and conducted a controlled within-subjects experiment to test their effects on the social costs of posting questions. Results suggest that the presence of anonymity, ephemerality, and system routing reduce social costs. Further, we find that employing anonymity and system routing features did not lower the quality and quantity of answers to the questions in our system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number238
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Issue numberGROUP
StatePublished - Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1566149.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Copyright held by the owner/author(s). Publication rights licensed to ACM.


  • Anonymity
  • Ephemerality
  • Q&A site
  • Social cost


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