Hanging out in a bad neighbourhood : Does the perceived credibility of online business directories affect user attitudes toward the services they represent[?] : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Information Systems at Massey University, Albany

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Massey University
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The effect of aesthetics on the overall credibility of a website is reasonably well studied, but there is little understanding of the degree to which the user's perception of the credibility of a website may result in a transference of attitude to the subject of the website, particularly towards the people, products or services it may represent. This issue is particularly unexplored with regard to web business directories that mediate between users and services and third party advertisers in a Multi Sided Online Market. This research studies the impact of different qualities of aesthetic appeal, content relevance and content reputability on the user's affect and their perception of the credibility of services represented by such intermediary websites. Four variations of a fctional web business directory were employed, three of which reduce either the visual appeal or relevance and reputability of content compared to a control version. This website was used by participants in the study to assess the credibility of services depicted on the website while each of the versions was displayed, and to gather qualitative comments. The results showed a signifcant impact on user's impressions of the credibility of services shown, especially in the case of the presence of irrelevant advertising, but also in the case of an unattractive intermediary website, demonstrating that users do not consider the services truly distinct from their context, but see them as part of a wider unifed social system. Users were found to be judging the implied credibility of all the participants in a Multi Sided Online Market by their associations with each other and also by the aesthetic condition of the marketplace they are mutually inhabiting. This behaviour mirrors similar credibility assessments seen in true social contexts like a physical neighbourhood. The implications of this result for the designers and owners of Advertising supported and 'Freemium' Online Directories is discussed and directions for future credibility and aesthetic research proposed.
Website credibility, Business directories, Multi-sided market, Online directories