For many, the old saying “do unto others...” now applies to the web as much as it does the offline world.  New research by TalkTalk, the phone, broadband and mobile company, has found that online forums and communities are powered by the good nature of just 5.2 million Brits. Whilst just under half of the population (42%) regularly ask questions online and read people’s answers, only one in ten actually share their skills and knowledge with others.

In the absence of financial gain, such communities, forums and social media websites are run mainly on karma: almost half (44%) of those who answer questions or post advice say they do so because they themselves might need help in the future. Two-in-five (41%) cite a feel-good factor as the reason to help others, whilst a quarter (24%) say it’s their duty since they have specialist knowledge.

The study, which supports the launch of TalkTalk Digital Heroes Awards, identifies four groups which Britons have a pre-disposition to belong to:

§  Givers: who mainly give advice online (14%);

§  Fishers: who mainly ask questions of the community (13%);

§  Sharers: who act as signposts directing others to answers (6%); and

§  Spongers: who absorb information from previously resolved issues (67%).

Karma vs kudos

Perhaps surprisingly, the TalkTalk research shows the noble few are more likely to be male.  Almost a quarter (24%) of men who use such sites to exchange information are ‘Givers’ or ‘Sharers’, compared with just 17% of females.

Yet when it comes to the reasons behind helping others, almost half of women (49%) say they are seeking good karma. Men on the other hand, are more likely to driven by the kudos of being seen as an expert (30% compared with 19%) or to gain a high website ranking (8% compared with 4%).

Additional trends

  • On average, ‘Givers’ and ‘Sharers’ log on twice a day to post answers and advise others where to get information.
  • Someone goes onto the web once every six seconds to ‘give’ or ‘share’ information with others. 
  • Scots are the most generous with their time.  Over a quarter (28%) consider themselves ‘Givers’ or ‘Shares’, almost twice as many as in those in the South East (15%).
  • People are more likely to become ‘Givers’ in their middle years. 45 is the age when people tend to answer more questions and post more links than they ask for, or receive, help.
  • Forums are the most popular type of site for people to exchange information on (57%). Facebook is the second most popular site with 44% of people using it  to give or receive advice; however Twitter languishes behind in last place with just 15% of people using it for this purpose.

You can find out more information on TalkTalk Digital Heroes Awards, working with Citizens Online, and how to enter at digitalheroes.talktalk.co.uk/. Entries are welcomed until 11th September 2011.