Motivations Underlying the Creation of Personal Web Pages : an Exploratory Study

George M. Zinkhan, University of Georgia
Margy Conchar, University of Georgia
Ajay Gupta, Federal Express
Gary Geissler, University of South Alabama
ABSTRACT - The Internet and the World Wide Web have the potential to change the way that consumers live. Using a projective technique, we investigate the motivations that drive consumers to create their own personal Home Pages on the Web. In general, we find that McClelland’s theory of motivation is broad enough to account for most of the motivations expressed by consumers. We have a special interest in integrating some accounts of postmodernism into McClelland’s theory. Here too, we find that McClelland’s theory is compatible with several postmodern accounts of consumer behavior as it relates to computer use.
[ to cite ]:
George M. Zinkhan, Margy Conchar, Ajay Gupta, and Gary Geissler (1999) ,"Motivations Underlying the Creation of Personal Web Pages : an Exploratory Study", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 69-74.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 69-74


George M. Zinkhan, University of Georgia

Margy Conchar, University of Georgia

Ajay Gupta, Federal Express

Gary Geissler, University of South Alabama


The Internet and the World Wide Web have the potential to change the way that consumers live. Using a projective technique, we investigate the motivations that drive consumers to create their own personal Home Pages on the Web. In general, we find that McClelland’s theory of motivation is broad enough to account for most of the motivations expressed by consumers. We have a special interest in integrating some accounts of postmodernism into McClelland’s theory. Here too, we find that McClelland’s theory is compatible with several postmodern accounts of consumer behavior as it relates to computer use.


The Internet heralds the arrival of a ew information age and offers unique opportunities both to businesses and to individuals. Several organizations have created their own Web pages and have incorporated product and company related information on their Web pages which then serve as interactive brochures, written in hypertext. At the same time, there has been a surge of interest in the Internet on the part of consumers. One manifestation of this interest is that individuals now create their own personal Web pages, often referred to as home pages. These pages exist on a certain Internet site and are like informal resumes which contain a mix of personal and professional information.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the motivations and reasons behind the creation of personal Web pages by individuals. We attempt to integrate two streams of scholarship: a) motivation research (as exemplified by the work of McClelland 1953, 1955, 1961, 1987) and b) post-modernist inquiry (as provided by Venkatesh 1989). We then use a projective technique to learn about consumer motivations for constructing personal Web pages, classifying these motivations into three broad groups: a) those motivations which are related to one of McClelland’s four basic needs (i.e., achievement, affiliation, power, and uniqueness); b) motivations related to postmodernism; and c) motivations that are not related to either of these conceptual schemes. We further subdivide the motives so as to identify sub-categories of McClelland’s four motivations as they are specifically manifested in the domain of computer use by consumers.


David C. McClelland is a preeminent scholar in the motivational area, having authored several articles and books on the topic. McClelland defined a motive as "a recurrent concern for a goal state based on a natural incentiveCa concern that energizes, orients, and selects behavior" (McClelland 1987, p.590). McClelland’s work is utilized here primarily to classify different motives and to follow his lead in the use of projective techniques to identify and measure motives. The enduring strength of McClelland’s conceptualization is that it can be applied to phenomena that have evolved only recently (e.g., consumer use of the World Wide Web). Four major motive systems conceptualized by McClelland (1953, 1955, 1961, 1987) and his colleagues are used as the primary, theoretical grounding for the current study. These motivations are the need for: 1) achievement, 2) affiliation, 3) power, and 4) uniqueness/novelty. We analyze consumer responses to a survey instrument using projective technique to identify these sub-categories.

The Achievement Motive

The achievement motive is defined as "affect in connection with evaluated performance" (McClelland 1953, p. 79). Creating a home page may provide one with a feeling of accomplishment. It has been shown that individuals with a high need for achievement strongly value personal accomplishment (McClelland 1955, 1961). Other characteristics of individuals with a strong need to achieve include personal responsibility for performance, need for performance feedback, and innovativeness (McClelland 1987). In addition, performance is perceived in terms of standards of excellence. For example, a student may learn to use a computer more efficiently than some of her classmates.

Firat and Venkatesh (1993) describe "postmodern literacy" as "requir(ing) the postmodern generation to be able to manipulate and construct, as well as recognize and grasp, multi-layered, multi-faceted, multi-media images using all kinds of signs (visual, sonic, tactile) to impress upon all senses" (p. 243). Constructing a personal Web page is a new type of problem-solving which has the potential to provide customers with a sense of accomplishment in our postmodern society.

The Motive for Affiliation

The need for affiliation is defined briefly as "the need to be with people" (McClelland 1987, p. 347). Some characteristics of individuals with a strong need for affiliation include maintaining interpersonal networks, avoiding conflict, and fearing rejection. A postmodern perspective suggests that consumers are becoming more detached as the 20th Century unfolds (Firat and Venkatesh 1993). In one sense, new technologies allow people to communicate with many others, while maintaining some physical distance. Thus, detachment is not necessarily a negative experience. Communication via new technology can be viewed, in post-modern terms, as a kind of "reproduced reality" or a simulation of the self via the World Wide Web. A personal Web page may become a replacement for other kinds of human interaction. In this sense, a personal Web page may represent an attempt to overcome the postmodern effects of detachment, depersonalization, and isolation, assuming that these are undesirable feelings for some.

The Power Motive

The need for power is defined as the need to have "impact, control, or influence over another person, group, or the world at large" (Winter 1973; Veroff 1982). Researchers have reached the general conclusion that people who have a high need for power strive to be assertive (McClelland 1987), or frequently enter occupations which allow them to exercise control or influence over other people and objects. For the postmodern consumer, a personal Web page may be viewed as a symbol of power. It is a way to call attention to oneself and a means to represent oneself to others (even to a global audience). As Firat and Venkatesh (1993) state:

The postmodern quest is one of imaging (representing), not one of being or knowing. In this "postmodern turn" (Hassan 1987), the consumer becomes aware that it is the image which determines life and one’s position in it.  (p. 244)

The Uniqueness/Novelty Motive

The need for uniqueness has been called the "pursuit of difference".... individuals want to perceive themselves as having some differences and are constantly struggling with cultural and social forces that inhibit the expression and self-perception of uniqueness...and the resulting overt and covert attempts to reestablish our self-perceptions of uniqueness have been the focus of the theory.  (Snyder and Fromkin 1980, p. 198)

One way that a person can differentiate herself is through attitudes and beliefs. Another way a person can be different is through uniqueness attributes (e.g., physical, informational, experiential). For example, consumers may seek to express uniqueness through the acquisition of a scarce commodity. That is, individuals with a high need for uniqueness are especially attracted to scarce products (Lynn 1991). Snyder (1992) conceptualized a cycle in which consumers continually search for new and special products to maintain a sense of specialness relative to others. In a broader sense, clothes, cars, computers, and other commodities may signal a person’s uniqueness as part of one’s extended self (Belk 1988, Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981).

The need for novelty or "newness" might be expressed in many different ways. Possible underlying dimensions are originality, change, sensation-seeking, stimulus-seeking, change-seeking, and cognitive innovation (Acker and McReynolds 1967). Here, we focus on an individual’s innovativeness and creativity as manifestations of the novelty motive. Respondents with a need for uniqueness/novelty my view creating a personal Web page as "new and different." Personal Web pages might represent "a form of entertainment" for some. Designing one’s Web page is generally seen as a unique and novel experience yielding a new "product," which helps to differentiate an individual.

The emphasis of postmodern culture is on irreverence, non-conformity, non-commitment, detachment, difference, and fragmentation (Venkatesh 1989). Increasingly fragmented life experiences offer the potential for many choices of self-images. When a person develops a Web home page, she is essentially creating and marketing a unique image.

Postmodernism and Human Motivation

In a broad context, the creation of a personal Web page is a direct manifestation of postmodern society. Postmodernism has been described as the "...complex conjuncture of cultural conditions...(that have arisen from the)...postwar restructuring of capitalism in the West and in the multinational global economy..."(Ross 1988). New technology provides the means by which cultures are symbolized and transferred from one locale to another. The Internet and World Wide Web are the most prominent forms of the network of global communication systems. Consequently, today’s global culture is becoming less bound by time and space (Firat and Venkatesh 1993).

As described by Firat and Venkatesh (1993), postmodernism "is characterized by the disappearance of authority, unity continuity, purpose, and commitment" (p. 228). In the place of these stabilizing factors, consumers experience "complexity, multiplicity, fragmentation, resistance, negation, (and) rupture" (p. 228). One aspect of postmodern culture is that consumers often prefer a simulation to a real event. Both Disneyland and Las Vegas are frequently mentioned as examples of simulated environments. Of course, the World Wide Web is a new example of a simulated experience. For instance, visitors to a Web page could look at personal photographs of people that they don’t know, or they could watch videos which contain scenes from their lives. Thus, there is an opportunity for a simulated meeting.


A story completion-based projective technique is used here to collect data (see Figure 1). Following exposure to a scenario in which an imaginary person purportedly displayed affect related to the development of a Web page, respondents are asked to write brief "stories" or "commentaries" about the likely motives of the imaginary Web Page creator. These consumer accounts are then analyzed to identify the impact, control, or influence themes which are indicators of the achievement, power, affiliation or uniqueness motives.

A projective technique is appropriate in this instance because we are interested in both conscious and unconscious motives (McClelland 1987). The approach is based on the thematic apperception test approach of Murray (1938), and uses the scenario to arouse motives, which are then coded from the stories that are written by respondents in response to arousal. Indicators of the presence of a motive were drawn from the discussions of achievement, power and affiliation motives by McClelland (1987), and the need for uniqueness by Snyder (1977).

The questionnaire was distributed to a sample of 90 technologically-sensitized college students, who had been exposed to the Internet and personal Web pages. Some of the respondents had authored their own Web pages, while others had not. The questionnaire was distributed to two groups of students: a) 30 who were enrolled in business classes at a major university in the U.S.; and b) 60 who received the instrument via electronic mail.

In classifying motives, it is crucial to detect affect in connection with evaluation. An indication of affect over enhanceent of performance helps assure that: 1) there is personal involvement; 2) one’s performance is viewed in terms of certain standards; and 3) the affective result which defines a motive theoretically is, in fact, present. Therefore, when analyzing the content of projective statements, the researchers looked for some sign of involvement such as directly-stated feelings or desires (McClelland 1953). Examples of statements meeting these criteria follow:

"He feels proud that he was able to set up a home page."

"She wants to be involved in the new opportunities presented by the Internet."

Responses were assigned to McClelland’s four categories of needs: 1) need for affiliation; 2) need for power; 3) need for uniqueness / novelty; and 4) need for achievement. Once these motivation responses had been classified under one of the four broad categories of McClelland’s need classification, sub-group classifications were completed. In addition, as the coding process proceeded, we found that two other categories were necessary to account for the full range of responses. These two additional categories were labeled as: Utilitarianism and Postmodernism. These new categories are discussed in more detail in the Results section. Two graduate students completed the coding process. Reliability scores were high; and the two coders were able to resolve all discrepancies in coding after a brief discussion.




A total of 126 possible motive statements were suggested by the respondents. Of these, 74 percent (93 responses) were classified into one of McClelland’s four motives. Thirty responses pertained to the Need for Affiliation, 29 pertained to the Need for Power, 22 pertained to the Need for Uniqueness, and 12 pertained to the Need for Achievement. Thirty-three statements were not related to McClelland’s classification system. We classified these statements into two separate categories: Utilitarianism (17 responses which largely related to doing business on the Web); and Postmodernism (16 responses which involved either a concern with technology or a concern with global trends ). As we describe our categories below (starting with the motive category classified most frequently), we enclose examples of actual comments from the respondents in quotation marks.

Need for Affiliation

The need for affiliation contains 30 motive statements which were grouped by the coders into four distinct subgroups:

a)  Personal portrayal. The need for personal portrayal has been a deep-rooted trait in humans and the well developed market for cosmetics and clothing is an indicator of this fact. The Web is one of the first environments where individuals can construct their personal identities using information rather than using consumer goods as their palette. Consumers can say whatever they want to say about themselves on their Web pages. With the advent of Internet technology, more and more consumers have the opportunity to create a summarized autobiography in the cybercosm. Respondents in our survey expressed their personal portrayal motives for authoring a Web page via the projective technique as: "to present himself to the rest of the world," "to communicate different dimensons of your personality," or "his way of showing others who he is."

b)  Social interaction is expressed as a desire to "communicate with friends" and "associates". The Web page is also seen as a venue for seeking social interaction, establishing rapport with, and learning about, people who have similar interests. Possibilities for social interaction have taken on a new dimension with the introduction of the Internet, and the Web page offers one method of establishing new contacts. Because it offers the opportunity to interact "in the global commune," the Web extends the individual’s range of communication across communities and cultures around the world. Instances of strong cyber-friendships cutting across race, religion, and national boundaries are reported in the media. The proliferation of personal Web publishing should serve to increase the number and quality of electronic friendships.

c)  Social acceptance includes motives that relate to acceptance in society due to being technologically savvy, wanting to be recognized and trying to be a part of the cyber-active group. It is the new standard for "keeping up" with the latest trends C doing the "done" thing. The author of a personal Web page might create a home page in order to impress a reference group and thereby gain acceptance. Links from a personal home page often point to socially- salient pages, embodying a social logic by providing a view of the person’s network of friends, colleagues, and concerns. The pages contain pointers to interesting people, places, and other Web sites, thus telling the Internet surfer a lot about the home page creator (Erikson 1996).

d)  Disalienation is expressed by those who want to be connected to the world through the Web and who want interaction in cyberspace. These people seek their "place in the world" of the "Internet surfers." The home page on the Web serves as a means of breaking through barriers of loneliness for some who are afraid to meet new people face-to-face, and reach out for social contacts through their home pages. By placing a home page on the Web an individual is also able to avoid the awkwardness of "going out" to meet new friends. Shy individuals might create a home page so that others will approach them BAI want people to come to me" and form friendships in cyber-space. At the same time, there is a fear of being alienated if a personal Web page is not created. In fact, this classification serves more as a punisher than a strict motivator.

Need for Power

As revealed in 30 responses from our sample, the need for power contains five distinct subgroups of motives for creating home pages. These groups express some of the characteristics of people who have a high need for power, as suggested by previous researchers (McClelland 1987):

a)  Ego-enhancement. It is possible to pander to one’s ego by having a personal home page. Some consumers are motivated by the feeling of importance that a home page on the Web provides. They use it as an opportunity to "show off," "to impress others," to look "cool." They enjoy the awareness that many people will be looking at their home page. The belief that they are one of an elite group who have accomplished this feat gives them a feeling that they are a "cut above the rest." Some respondents indicated that the Web provides a way of "getting their identity out there."

b)  The motive of social status/prestige serves as an extension of the ego-enhancement motive. This motive is expressed by the claim of "recognition" from society for achievements or activities. Individuals who are motivated by social status feel that a home page on the Web provides "prestige" and establishes a place for them in society.

c)  One way in which people express a high need for power is by taking actions that gain attentio / notice of others. The creation of a Web page provides an opportunity to attract attention to the home page owner on two levels. First, it is a topic of conversation which can attract attention and admiration related to the achievement of being at the cutting edge of the new technology. Second, the author expects to gain attention through the exposure that will be forthcoming when others visit her home page. As our respondents put it, " It’s like having your 15 minutes of fame," or "He gets a kick out of the attention".

d)  Control / Mastery over the environment. Some consumers gain a feeling of having "conquered technology" by creating a personal home page. Responses in this subgroup relate to a feeling of increased power which will result from mastering this technology, in that understanding now will create leverage in the future, allowing the person with the knowledge attained to take full "advantage (i.e., increased control) of the benefits the Internet has to offer."

e)  The final sub-category related to need for power involves a desire to have an impact on the environment. Respondents explain motives in this area as "he wants to share what he knows with the world," or of "benefit to me and my company." The person with a high need for power is often prone to focus on his occupation or business influences to wield that power via his impact on the environment. Taking this view, the utilitarian responses related to business goals may have been suitably classified under this heading insofar as the Web page user is concerned with business contacts and information. We did not include these utilitarian responses in our control of the environment category because the primary focus here is on the motives behind the creation of personal Web pages. Thus, we considered it appropriate to highlight separately the group of motives strictly related to business and/or economic uses of the home page.

Need for Uniqueness/Novelty

The need for uniqueness/novelty motive, which included 22 responses, may be expressed via differentiation of the self through uniqueness, stimulus-seeking, novelty-seeking or cognitive innovation. We identified five groups of responses that fit into this category.

a)  Innovation / creativity is one avenue for expression of one’s uniqueness. By creating a home page, an individual shows that she is both creative and innovative. Producing something creative within a new technology extends the concept of innovation even further to bring the author to the "leading edge" of innovation. Thus, an outstanding home page on the Web represents "the newest, most up-to-date" form of creativity and innovation which is within reach of the individual. A person with a high need for uniqueness will be driven to participate in such innovation and to excel in the production of an outstanding or different Web page as an expression of his unique image. Some examples of comments coded here were "people like to create things," "to express his modernness," or "to be involved in new opportunities."

b)  Novelty / change. Consumers, to varying degrees, seek variety-bearing stimuli. The Internet is seen as something new and different. It is the "wave of the future." Reasons of novelty/ change given for creating Web pages indicate persons who would score highly on McClelland’s basic motive of uniqueness/ novelty.

c)  Sensation / stimulation: Some people create Web pages because the very act of doing so is exciting. They are "fascinated" by the idea of being part of the phenomenon of communication in cyberspace. Participating in "the action" gives them great "satisfaction." These are all emotive expressions of people with a high need for novelty, who claim that "it’s exciting to have a Web page."

d)  Time use / entetainment: Not all who indulge in creating a Web page are as emotively involved in the experience. In our coding system, we recognize a difference between those who derive time use / entertainment value from those who seek sensation/ stimulation though the Web. The former group does not seem to be especially excited or stimulated by the home-page experience. They simply did it for something different to do. They tend to be people who "enjoy the computer" in general, had "time on their hands," and so created a Web page as a form of entertainment. For these people, the novelty of the activity, rather than the output or concept behind the World Wide Web, appeared to be the motive for authoring a home page.

e)  Detachment contained only one response that indicated that the Internet was a unique resource because a Web user can simultaneously achieve two goals: find out new information and communicate indirectly. Thus, this response could be included under (a) above (Innovation), but we classify it separately since it contains an additional motivation (i.e., to communicate indirectly), and because this response represents a manifestation of the postmodern effect of detachment. Detachment could also be seen as an "anti-social" expression of a need to differentiate oneself from others.

Need for Achievement

The 13 responses which could be classified as expressions of a high need for achievement were divided into three distinct subgroups, according to the type of performance evaluation suggested.

a)  Personal accomplishment. This response implies satisfactory completion of a challenging activity. Positive affect is demonstrated in the descriptions of respondents, such as "likes to feel personal accomplishment," "accomplished a great task," or " a great achievement." For those who have a high need for achievement, the feedback of seeing their completed home page might be the intrinsic reward they seek. One respondent compared the sense of achievement from creating a home page to that obtained from "reading a good book."

b)  Problem solution/ learning: This group obtain their feedback from the task of creating a home page by considering the "expansion of their knowledge" base as a result of the exercise. The achievement here is in "learning" something difficultCsomething linked to an "up-and-coming technology," an adaptation to the ever-changing environment. Such expressions of enhanced performance are associated with persons who have a high need for achievement.

c)  Autonomy relates to an aspect of personal accomplishment and achievement. The motives suggested in this category deal with personal responsibility for achievement, pride, autonomy in being able to cope with the challenge of new opportunities presented by the Internet. People like to feel that they have mastered a task independently, and the creation of a home page offers the opportunity to receive immediate feedback and to feel competent with new technologies.


The utilitarian group is not related to McClelland’s system of needs. We classified 17 responses into this group. In general, the utilitarian motives are based on rational objectives and the utility functions of respondents. Fourteen of the seventeen statements are related to the prospect of doing business on the Web (e.g., the Web is a good way to advertise). Four are purely business-related, while an additional ten statements combine a business and a personal orientation. Some respondents feel that it is important to put a resume on the Web because that activity would assist them in an upcoming job search. These statements could be grouped with the achievement motive, since they are related togetting a job (i.e., achieving a personal goal). Alternatively, these statements could be classified as need for power, because in this instance the Web presence has the potential to influence the environment. Nonetheless, we kept these classifications separate, since they were business-related.


We classified 16 responses into our final group. Half of these responses refer to the innovative technology that is the Web. Postmodern consumers often engage in a never-ending search for what is new and different. The second component of postmodernism, as revealed in the responses that we analyzed, has to do with globalization. The concept of globalization is key for both postmodernism and the Web. Consider the following description of postmodernism offered by Firat and Venkatesh (1993). "Today’s global culture has ties to no place or period. It is contextless, a true melange of components drawn from everywhere and nowhere, realized through the network of global communications systems" (Firat and Venkatesh 1993, p. 245). Not surprisingly, this description of postmodernism is also a description of the World Wide Web.


As we predicted, the majority of responses about Web pages were non-utilitarian. In fact, less than 20% of the responses pertained to rational or utilitarian reasons for creating personal pages. To a large extent, consumers feel a need to create Web pages in order to satisfy their need to construct and convey their identities. The Web provides a way to stay in touch with the world, a way to experience variety, and a way to satisfy the need for power by #conquering technology.’ In addition, mastery of the Web provides a sense of achievement and personal progression. Our use of the projective technique was instrumental in obtaining several of these #hidden’ or socially sensitive motivations.

In general, we find support of McClelland’s theory, which was originally proposed almost 50 years ago. First of all, McClelland’s list of four needs seems to be broad enough to account for the major portion of consumer motives in cyberspace in the late 20th century. Second, we find that many of McClelland’s notions are quite consistent with recent postmodern accounts of consumer experiences.

Future researchers may want to take the six categories that we have identified (e.g., affiliation, power, uniqueness, achievement, utilitarianism, and postmodernism) as a starting point for data collection. Do these same 6 categories of needs apply in other settings and with other media? In particular, researchers may want to adopt our subcategories as indicators of McClelland’s needs for use in a protocol or content analysis. For example, we report that there are 4 indicators of Need for Affiliation: personal portrayal, social interaction, social acceptance, and disalienation. In his 1987 book on human motivation, McClelland did not enumerate indicators of his needs; and such indicators are potentially useful for directing future research in the social sciences.

As personal home pages grow more popular, there will be changes in technology and changes in marketing practice. Changes in the marketing environment include the following trends: a) the growth and commercialization of home page editors; b) the increase in the sales of computers and dumb terminals; an increase in Web surfing activities; c) an increase in the number of online services offering the Web page creation facility; the creation of a new professionCthe home-page consultant. In addition, the future may see the advent of search engines on all registered personal Web pages, enabling access to prospective users to find out people of a certain type, with particular interests or certain political or religious predispositions. Motivation research can be expanded to try and understand the psychologyand sociology related to the Internet and all of its myriad forms.

Our study is not without its limitations. We used a convenience sample of Web browsing students. In future studies, it would be interesting to interview users from different Internet user segments. There are limitations associated with the projective technique that we used here. McClelland himself used projective techniques to understand the process of human motivation. Nonetheless, other techniques could add new perspectives. There are many opportunities for research on the World Wide Web. Technology is changing the way that we live, and social science researchers have the opportunity to study this new kind of consumer behavior with innovative research methods.


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