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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Social Role Temporal Dynamics and Interactions in Online Communities: How are leaders and members different?

  • Author(s): Compton, Ryan
  • Advisor(s): Whittaker, Steve
  • et al.

Prior literature on online communities proposes an important function for social roles. Theoretical models argue that specific roles are critical for community success, and claim that individual roles shift in predictable ways over the lifetime of the community. However these models are currently hard to assess, as they do not provide systematic definitions of roles, nor empirical work evaluating the impact of roles on community success. Further they do not specify interrelations between different roles. This thesis addresses these questions in the context of enterprise online communities. Using gold-standard systematically-defined social roles, we explore role behaviors and their impacts using both quantitative and qualitative measures of community success. We find evidence contradicting prior theoretical claims about role shifts and the division of labor between roles. We also examine language styles within communities, finding a complex relationship in the types of support language that engender success. To develop new models of relations between roles, we utilize graphical methods to discover important community subgroups centering around leadership. These subgroups are important predictors of community success, significantly extending the explanatory power of existing network theories. Furthermore, subgroups serve as sources of significant topic-setting language. This work elucidates the workings of online communities at a user level, increasing theoretical understanding and suggesting how new community tools might be developed that promote community success.

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