Sustainable Online Communities Exhibit Distinct Hierarchical Structures Across Scales of Size
26 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2017 Last revised: 15 Oct 2017
Date Written: April 4, 2017
Online communities exist in many forms and sizes. Yet, there is limited insight into why some online communities are sustainable, while others disappear. We find that in order to maintain sustainability, online communities exhibit a typical hierarchical social circle structure that balances cohesiveness across size scales. We develop a method that maps social groups (circles) across size scales, from the level of small network cliques to the level of the whole community. We then use this method to map 10,122 real-life online communities, with a total of 134,747 members, over a period of more than a decade. We find that there is a “stability valley” that marks a range of mapping profiles in which communities preserve sustainability. Moreover, it turns out that mapping profiles based only on the first 30 days of a community’s lifetime can predict the community size up to ten years in the future.
Keywords: social networks, online communities, heirarchical social structure, network stability, network sustainability, cohesiveness
JEL Classification: D85, C61
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation