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Wednesday, July 13 • 13:46 - 15:15
Insiders or outsiders? The hidden network of sustaining online community

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 314, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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  • Joyce Lee, Yuan-Ze University, Taiwan
  • Shu-Fen Tseng, Yuan-Ze University, Taiwan
  • Chih-Yao Chang, Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts, Taiwan
  • K. Robert Lai, Yuan-Ze University, Taiwan
  • Shih-Yun Chen, Yuan-Ze University, Taiwan
  • Lu Shi, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, CHina


The explosion of social media has changed the ways people communicate and interact. In particular, online communities have enabled people to find the others with common interests, passions, or problems over the Internet, and subsequently to share information, feelings as well give mutual supports. By doing so, online communities can be significantly valuable to the people who use them and hence become a great benefit to society which is regarded as important social capital across multiple dimensions. Despite their increasing value to the society, researchers have noticed that relatively few of them are successful in attracting community members and enhancing interactivity (Phang et al., 2009). To tackle this challenge, we argue that it is necessary to have an in-depth understanding regarding online participation in the communal contexts.


From the perspective of online community sustainability, prior researchers have involved investigating the participation roles along with their particular behaviour (e.g. Preece & Schneiderman, 2009) so that their influences in user interactivities in communities can be understood. Whilst these researchers have shed significant light on this domain, the participation patterns pertaining to both the participation roles and the content of message that constantly intertwine in sustaining community activities have received little attention. We argue that in online communities especially those with particular purposes, the content of posts is one of the drivers of user participation in conversations or discussions, and that consequentially leads to different typologies of content networks to emerge (Kane et al., 2014) as well as facilitating networked communication and user interactivities (van Varik & van Oostendorp, 2013).This is important, because people in an online community are not only connected to other people, for they are also connected to the content, which can be connected to other content (Oestricher-Singer & Zalmanson, 2013). This study, by drawing upon the theory of online participation, aims to understand participation patterns consist of roles and content emerged in the community contexts and thereby increasing the value of online knowledge sharing.


For this research, a mixed method of social network analysis with both qualitative and quantitative strategies has been undertaken on the discussion forum URcar (a pseudonym). Specifically, the discussion topic about the vehicle model Nissan Cefiro entitled “Cefiro’s owners, please come to sign here” is selected as the main case study (not least) for it being the longest car-related discussion, for the period February 2007 to November 2015 (lasting for nine years and still active) and thus can be considered as an online community with sustainability. The development of this long-lasting discussion topic offers a great opportunity for the study of the users’ dynamic behaviour in a communal context.


The findings reveal that: first, in online communities with an open conversation space, an individual can participate in a central role in some circumstances, but in a peripheral way in others. Thus, we argue that participation roles are not a signature of the person but a contextual behaviour that has its distinctive social meanings. Second, by exploring the actor-content networks, we found that the “main channels” within which some participants discussed the issues directly related to the car model and the “side channels” within which participants developed their social relationships by talking about something else. In fact, the co-existence of main and side channels led the community being active.

Future Work: 

In this research, we redefine the meaning of community contribution. Specifically, through reinterpretation of centrality and de-centrality in networks, we have uncovered the hidden influences which contribute the community in knowledge sharing. That is, by considering the message content as well as the role of offline communication alongside the online form, we have identified some people who have a strong impact on maintaining online community sustainability, despite their lack of posting. In order to reach a rigour level of research, more cases are studied continuously.


Kane, G., Alavi, M., Labianca, G. J. and Borgatti, S. P. (2014). What's different about social media networks? A framework and research agenda. MIS Quarterly, 38, 275-304.

Oestricher-Singer, G. and Zalmanson, L. (2013). Content or Community? A Digital Business Strategy for Content Providers in The Social Age. MIS Quarterly, 37, 591-616.

Phang, C. W., Kankanhalli, A. and Sabherwal, R. (2009). Usability and Sociability in Online Communities: A Comparative Study of Knowledge Seeking and Contribution. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 10, 721-747.

Preece, J. and Schneiderman, B. (2009). The Reader-to-Leader Framework: Motivating Technology-Meditated Social Participation. AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction, 1, 13-32.

van Varik, F. J. M. and van Oostendorp, H. (2013). Enhacning Online Community Activity: Development and validation of the CA framework. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 18, 454-475.

Wednesday July 13, 2016 13:46 - 15:15 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 314 Goldsmiths University, Building 2