Free interactions, hierarchical structure: Factors explaining replies attraction in online discussions

Itai Himelboim, Stephen McCreery


Given the opportunity to interact freely, individuals conform to a structure, in which a few actors attract a large and disproportionate number of ties or relationships. Drawing from literature on preferential attachment and scholarship about online discussions, this study examines patterns of replies, which are one aspect of the disproportionate attraction of replies in forums, as predicted by two factors: number of existing replies and content of posted messages. In two 2X2 experimental designs conducted via a custom developed online discussion platform, 198 subjects participated. Findings show an interaction, where the number of replies increased replies attraction only for the high–interest messages, illustrating the balance between the individual and group dynamics levels in evoking discussions.


Discussion forums; preferential attachment

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