Asynchronous discussion groups as Small World and Scale Free Networks

Gilad Ravid, Sheizaf Rafaeli


What is the network form of online discussion groups? What are the topological parameters delineating the interaction on such groups? We report an empirical examination of the form of online discussion groups. We are interested in examining whether such groups conform to the Small World and the Scale Free models of networks. Support for these expectations provides a formal expression of growth, survival potential and preferential attachment in the connection patterns in discussion groups. The research questions were tested with a sample of over 8,000 active participants, and over 30,000 messages. We find that the social network resulting from discussion groups is indeed a Scale Free Network, based on In, Out and All Degree distributions. We also find that, for the same sample, discussion groups are a Small World Network too. As expected, the clustering coefficients for these groups differ significantly from random networks, while their characteristic path lengths are similar to random networks. Implications of the topology for the design and understanding of discussion groups include the stability and control of such groups, as well as their longevity.

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