Archive for the 'online communities' category

Why FriendFeed Rocked

If you're a librarian or into open access or scholarly communication, at some point you've probably heard of FriendFeed. The service closed today after seven years and it was kind of like the final episode of Cheers or MASH. It had been acquired by Facebook a while ago and development had stopped. Reliability was down. The number of active users was down and had never been anywhere near Facebook even in its prime. There was no way for it to make money - no ads, no premium features, no subscriptions.

With that said, there are a lot of people who are really torn up about them shutting it down. We built a community there - a stay at home mum from Australia, an engineer from Detroit, a software developer from Alberta, several ministers, lots of other neat people, and the LSW. The Library Society of the World is sort of an anti-association. Read Walt's discussion of that in his May 2015 Cites and Insights (pdf)

So why did it work? When I started with it, there were lots of social software things all over - blogs, Twitter, Flickr, and there were more and more as time went on. Many of these act like they will be your one and only place. But that's obviously not true. They have different functions, different communities, different affordances... Used to be you could share things from your Google Reader account but that wasn't the same.

What FriendFeed did is to bring all of these feeds in to one place, with a little snippet or picture, and let you comment and reshare and like. You could share something right there, but you didn't have to. It would try to group things if you had your blog posting directly and your Twitter stream duplicated that. You could see what your friends liked and find new and interesting people that way. For the first few years I was on there I was only going to follow library people, well, and of course Heather, and Cameron, and Neil, and Egon, and ... but I was glad I did get to enjoy and eventually follow some really neat people.

If someone posted something you didn't want to see, you could hide just that post, or you could hide things they shared via a particular feed. You could block someone completely so you wouldn't have to see their comments.

I've played with a lot of other tools, but FriendFeed just worked for me.  It was a great source of recipes, if nothing else!

There was a team of savvy folks archiving as much as they could. So far, the best way to see what it was like is to see Micah Wittman's . That's really pretty cool.

So where is LSW now? We're trying Discourse at (doesn't allow you to bring feeds in but you can get a cod badge). We're also trying which is really, really cool... but we don't know how sustainable. And we followed each other on Twitter... but it's not the same.

I miss it already!

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How not to write your community policy

On ChmInf Nan B points to this bit you have to agree to in order to join the ACS online communities:

You do not have to submit anything, but if you choose to submit something,including any user-generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques, and data,you must grant, and you actually grant by agreeing to these Terms of Use, a non-exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, assignable, sublicenseable, fully paid-up, and royalty-free right to ACS to copy, prepare, derive work of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, and use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered, anything that you submit to ACS without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to your or any third parties..."

Nice. Why won't anyone join my community?

4 responses so far

More on Geobloggers

Anne Jefferson from Highly Allochthonous pointed me to a new essay from Geoscientist Online, the member magazine of the Geological Society (UK). That essay points both to the survey of women geobloggers (previously mentioned here) and a survey done by Lutz Geissler, Robert Huber, and Callan Bentley. (probably haven't mentioned before).

In the Geoscientist essay by Michael Welland, he discusses his own slowness in taking up blogging, but also his enjoyment of the geoblogosphere and the community he finds there. He learns of new things he wouldn't come across in his other readings and he engages with the 'interested public'... this quote is nice:

I subscribe (largely online) to several professional journals, but, for sheer breadth of supplementary coverage, the geoblogosphere is unequalled.

He also praises blogging - that is, the act of blogging - as a learning tool. This also came up in my qualitative study.

I have a much more selfish reason for investing my time in writing a blog: it makes me a better scientist. I have discovered that my thinking about science - my research, the work of others, basic concepts in our field - becomes much more coherent after I have been forced to properly articulate it.....writing regularly for my blog has greatly improved my communication skills in the conference hall and the lecture theatre

On to the survey done last fall by Geissler, Huber, & Bentley. A few interesting things:

  • in the GSA abstract for the women geoblogger work, they quote an article (~700kb pdf) that has 45% undergrad geosciences degrees earned by women and 14% of tenure track faculty in geosciences are women. This survey finds that about 20% of the geobloggers are women. Are women participating at a greater rate, are women with different degree levels participating more? hmm.
  • the biggest two groups are grad students and faculty - no surprise there. Seems like industry scientists in all areas of the sciences do not blog as much.
  • it's fascinating that 59 out of 78 respondents say that >70% of their posts are on geosciences. In my study there were a lot more hobby posts mixed in. Likewise, my participants mostly did not blog about their own work, whereas 73% of these bloggers do.
  • the respondents complained that there were too few geoblogs and no good way to keep up with them (or get an overview). maybe the societies should have blogging 101 sessions and have some post-genomic type of blog aggregator? (I also suggested this in my qualitative study - darn, i really need to publish that somewhere)
  • a bunch of the bloggers started in feb 2008 - what happened then?
  • the blog posts typically don't get a lot of comments - are they uncontroversial? are the comments on twitter or friendfeed or in person/offline?
  • as was found elsewhere, almost half the women post anonymously whereas few men do. definitely worth more study.

3 responses so far

My qualitative study of science blogging

Sometimes you have to just let go and release something to the wild. I have mentioned on a few occasions a qualitative study I did prior to the network study. To be honest, I think I actually did it in the Fall of 2007 ?! I thought (and was encouraged to believe) that I could get a journal article from it, but at this point, I've moved on.  With the recent publication of another article on science blogs, I thought that this needed to be out there. Plus, it's really not fair to the participants who gave me their time.

After re-reading this just now, I don't think it's bad, but the title is horrible :)  I've deposited it in e-lis (should show up here).  For now, you can download the pdf from my University of Maryland pages.


How and Why Physicists and Chemists Use Blogs

This study examined how and why chemists and physicists blog. Two qualitative methods were used: content analysis of blog and "about" pages and in-depth responsive interviews with chemists and physicists who maintain blogs. Analysis of the data yielded several cross-cutting themes that provide a window into how physicists and chemists use their blogs and what value they receive from maintaining a blog and participating in a blogging community. The article concludes with a discussion of implications for supporting scientists' work.

Update 3/11/10: The research report has now been made available in E-LIS, a disciplinary repository. This is probably a longer lasting url than UM - which is notorious for deleting doc students immediately after they stop paying

One response so far

scio10: Online Civility and its (Muppethugging) Discontents

Jan 17 2010 Published by under Conferences, online communities

Dr Free-ride, Sheril Kirshenbaum, and Isis the Scientist

SK – definition of civility at your site – if you want children to feel welcome, for example. You have to set the tone. Some topics seem more important to be civil about.

F-r -  politeness or is it being a decent human – in philosophical circles someone may rip your heart out and jump on it in perfectly polite language – so it’s not just being polite. It’s more like taking each other seriously, assuming good faith, considering others feelings. Hard to engage when you don’t feel welcome.*

Hard to engage when you don’t feel welcome – language ( profane, technical, religious), composition of the community, am I being dismissed out of hand.

But respect doesn’t eliminate disagreement or hurt. Fundamental disagreements may surface, speaking up about experience may make you feel worse. Sometimes modeling good behavior is tedious – respect your own limits and interests – sometimes you just have to sit out of some

I - @sshats aren’t useful 🙂

Call to civility has been used to suppress/repress minority groups.

She likes definition: personal attacks, rudeness, aggression or other behaviors aimed at disrupting a community’s goals that lead to unproductive stress disorder and conflicts.

q to the audience – what stands out to you as uncivil?

difference between using naughty words within discussion vs. making a personal attack

audience – they work in Congo and civility is used as a tool of white oppression

Chafee from Duke wrote a book about the civil rights movement and about how civility was used as a tool of oppression

q: how do you control – can you control civility on your site, and what effect does that have on the discussion on the blog. F-r says she moderates all of her comments and she also sets the tone – she doesn’t seem to get the really serious trolls. Need to show your presence

S-k can’t be online all the time and there’s been a problem with commenters fighting each other and legal language ensuing.

I has some self policing among her commenters. She will ban someone who threatens physical violence.

q: what about ignoring them?

a: silence sometimes becomes assent and if you leave something unaddressed, it will scare other commenters away

q: we’ve been talking about commenters, what about blogger civility to civility

a: we conflate incivility with heated discussion.

q: if you meet each other f2f will you be more civil online

q: in the UK extremely tricky libel situation.  Bloggers set policies – this is my house don’t pee on the carpet

“recreational outrage”,  intimacy and distance

see the terrible bargain series of posts (here, I think) – how you can’t say things that need to be said in person because of social structures.

what if you’re not the person who can set the policies for the space? If you can’t set the policy about who can pee on the carpet. – there was then an extended discussion of the value of policies and whether they promote civil discussion or whether they are exclusionary **

from the audience – need a group of people who buy into a set of collective norms that work in that environment

* how much of SH’s comments on the OSTP blog prevented others from participating?

** there is research that shows that policies are helpful in creating successful communities – see Preece.

6 responses so far

A scientist talks about requirements for social software for scientists

I've weighed in a few times on how to build online communities or support scientists online, but it's really worth paying attention to when you get an actual scientist who is also very involved in and interested in social software tell you what he thinks. Cameron Neylon did just that in a recent blog post (comments on ff). I'll quote liberally from his blog and feedback some ideas.

(he uses SS4S to stand for social software for science) All of the numbered paragraphs are direct quotes from his post.

1.  SS4S will promote engagement with online scientific objects and through this encourage and provide paths to those with enthusiasm but insufficient expertise to gain sufficient expertise to contribute effectively (see e.g. Galaxy Zoo). This includes but is certainly not limited to collaborations between professional scientists. These are merely a special case of the general.

There are a couple of interesting thing there - first that "citizen scientists" and interested non-scientists are welcome and encouraged to participate in the same tool. They are provided support to move from legitimate peripheral participants [1] to more central contributors. So contrast this with the concern about "the public" seeing how the sausage is made. I found in a study I did for a class a few years ago that the quickest way to kill an online community of engineers was to have undergrads inundate them demanding homework help.[2]

On the other hand, many scientists do want to engage with the public for lots of reasons, so supporting that is a good thing. This all feeds into some stuff I've been thinking about recently about how to sort of merge scholarly communication models with popular communication since your communication venues are findable and useable by the public (I like a lot of what Meyer and Schroeder say [3])

2. SS4S will measure and reward positive contributions, including constructive criticism and disagreement (Stack overflow vs YouTube comments). Ideally such measures will value quality of contribution rather than opinion, allowing disagreement to be both supported when required and resolved when appropriate.

Good policies [4], good moderators, charitable reading, a way to comment on the specific thing you mean and to do so clearly.

3. SS4S will provide single click through access to available online scientific objects and make it easy to bring references to those objects into the user's personal space or stream (see e.g. Friendfeed "Like" button)

Absolutely. And then be able to interact with these things, annotate them, and then re-mix them into other things.

4. SS4S should provide zero effort upload paths to make scientific objects available online while simultaneously assuring users that this upload and the objects are always under their control. This will mean in many cases that what is being pushed to the SS4S system is a reference not the object itself, but will sometimes be the object to provide ease of use. The distinction will ideally be invisible to the user in practice barring some initial setup (see e.g. use of Posterous as a marshalling yard).

5. SS4S will make it easy for users to connect with other users and build networks based on a shared interest in specific research objects (Friendfeed again).

What metadata is required for this?  What data must the system store and use to make this work?

6. SS4S will help the user exploit that network to collaboratively filter objects of interest to them and of importance to their work. These objects might be results, datasets, ideas, or people.

Or models or equations or modules...

7. SS4S will integrate with the user's existing tools and workflow and enable them to gradually adopt more effective or efficient tools without requiring any severe breaks (see Mendeley/Citeulike/Zotero/Papers and DropBox)

8. SS4S will work reliably and stably with high performance and low latency.

Well, yeah!

9. SS4S will come to where the researcher is working both with respect to new software and also unusual locations and situations requiring mobile, location sensitive, and overlay technologies (Layar, Greasemonkey, voice/gesture recognition - the latter largely prompted by a conversation I had with Peter Murray-Rust some months ago).

That's pretty cool. I mean mobile is fairly common, and location sensitive things are not uncommon, but these with overlay (like augmented reality? hmm, that could be very useful for sharing protocols)

10. SS4S will be trusted and reliable with a strong community belief in its long term stability. No single organization holds or probably even can hold this trust so solutions will almost certainly need to be federated, open source, and supported by an active development community.

Stability, reliability, and clear policies and provisions for preservation are important.


If you have comments on any of these or other suggestions, please leave them on Cameron's post or on friendfeed (or on here, I'll pass them along).


[1] Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning : legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[2] (word document)

[3] Meyer, E. T., & Schroeder, R. (2009). The world wide web of research and access to knowledge. Knowledge Management Research and Practice, 7(3), 218-233. doi:10.1057/kmrp.2009.13

[4] Preece, J. (2000). Online communities : designing usability, supporting sociability. New York: Wiley.

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Wednesday, feeling sort of old, but overly paranoid/panic-y

Why Friendfeed's acquisition by Facebook concerns this user.

The title is an imitation of Walt's Monday, old, and insufficiently paranoid. I love friendfeed. It's really the porous boundaries between the groups that really does it. You get to know people because things they share/post are "liked" by people you know and trust. I've been introduced to tons of librarians and scientists I would never have met in other settings. A few scientists and I also wrote an abstract for a paper about how friendfeed works - each of us was from a different country!  Blogs that never get any comments are "liked" 20 times and have 62 comments in friendfeed for multiple posts. It somehow gets over the commenting barrier.  THIS is more like what people were talking about 5 years ago with aggregating conversations from across the web.

Cameron Neylon and Deepak Singh describe this better than I ever could. Please do read their posts.

Friendfeed is not just like anything else and I have zero desire to migrate these talks to Facebook. For one thing, I actually can't access Facebook at work. For another, I'd have to convince like a million scientists to accept me as a "friend".  Oh, and fend off freakin' little green patch bs. Sigh.  (although I do actually enjoy throwing sheep, but anyway).

Some ideas are to start a new open source project, but I don't know. These guys already have a lot on their plates. You'd have to get a lot of people to try it for it to really get to critical mass.

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An overview of the Polymath projects so far

I've been fascinated by these projects, but I felt that I didn't have sufficient time to really do them justice here. Michael Nielsen has discussed them in several venues so it wasn't clear what I could add. Then I thought about it some more, and I realized that I probably do have different readers than Michael and my view is definitely different than his (plus he nudged me on friendfeed) so here's a discussion for you.

After that rambling preface - you might ask, what's Polymath? It's the name of this project to do massively collaborative mathematics first suggested by Tim Gowers on his blog. He suggested that even a problem that isn't easily segmented might be worked collaboratively online by mathematicians distributed throughout the world. Individual contributions might be like brainstorms - ideas thrown out - not thoroughly completed proofs done offline and uploaded. That having a diversity of people participating would increase creativity and increase the diversity of skills and knowledge brought to bear.   Individual contributions of time and energy would be small, but the actual problem solving would be fairly fast because of the number of collaborators. Some of the concerns about credit and attribution would be addressed by keeping all of the communications public.

This sounds great but the core group has to solve some problems to get this to work. First, they have to find problems that are amenable to this type of work. Second, they have to get participation from knowledgeable mathematicians (these problems aren't something anyone with calc 101 can help with).  Third, they have to find a software tool (or group of tools) that does what they need - that is, once they know what they need.

This is a work in progress, with everyone learning as they go. Learning about collaboration and communication as well as about social software and about math.  Even in this first post linked above, Gowers lays out some policies for the project that, IMHO, provide great value in increasing sociability. He emphasizes being polite, keeping the work online, and keeping focus.

The first project was wildly successful with lots of participation. There are lessons learned on Gowers' blog.

On the plus side, the mathematical result of the project has far exceeded what I thought would be possible in a mere six weeks. ...

Also on the plus side, the project has been genuinely collaborative, and has led, to a remarkable extent, to the kind of efficiency gains that I was hoping for. To give one example, Randall McCutcheon made some very useful comments, but they were in the language of ergodic theory, which I understand only in a very limited way. But Terence Tao is a master at translating concepts back and forth between combinatorics and ergodic theory, so I was able to benefit from Randall's contributions indirectly.

But something I found more striking than the opportunity for specialization of this kind was how often I found myself having thoughts that I would not have had without some chance remark of another contributor. I think it is mainly this that sped up the process so much.

It was also successful in pointing out the shortcomings of doing this work on the original WordPress blog (+wiki and spreadsheet). Some of these shortcomings included:

  • it was too fast paced, so some potential contributors gave up
  • the question might not have been ideal - required lots of specific background knowledge
  • threading vs. no threading
  • being in a browser vs. a mailing list, for people who don't live online (intentionally so they aren't distracted)
  • no ability to vote contributions as useful or needs work
  • long strings of comments - difficult to keep up with when there are more than 50-100 comments
  • comments weren't numbered
  • comments were a bit narrow so lots of scrolling

Currently the rules are at There's a polymath blog and a polymath wiki. Interestingly, they see publications as being authored by "polymath" - sort of like Bourbaki, I guess.

It's not clear if they have solved the problem of encouraging more people to contribute. It's also sort of ambiguous about the role of moderators and summarizers. People who summarize contributions thus far are highly valued.  Other concerns from the comments include:

  • Seems like there is some intimidation (unintentional!) due to the contributions of the Fields Medalists. There is concern that if/when they contribute, the entirety of the project will be credited to them.
  • The low participation of women mathematicians (if, indeed, there was more than 1?)
  • The conflict if you happen to pick the same problem an individual mathematician is working on for his or her dissertation
  • Fear of asking questions that are not even wrong  - that show a misunderstanding of the problem. The answer to this, it seems from the comment thread, is to have a critical mass of stupid questions 🙂
  • Stability and archiving of the threads (hosted on - a free hosting site)

There has been a miniproject since, and they're trying to figure out a good question for the next full "official" polymath project.


I haven't spent a lot of time studying how mathematicians work. Those at my place of work are applied mathematicians and statisticians, so they publish in SIAM journals, IEEE conferences and journals, and in biomed places (like for syndromic surveillance).  Walsh and Bayma studied the role of CMC in math way back (actual interviews were in like 1991-2). At that time, the specialization in math was an important factor. Even at larger schools, there often would only be one person with that specialization, so there would be isolation.  Some of this was countered by visiting other institutions and going to lots of conferences. A quote from (1996a), page 666:

Respondents noted that it is difficult to grasp the meaning of a piece of research if one relies only on published articles. Respondents argued that transferring mathematical ideas requires face-to-face communication, generally in front of a black board.

Learning math can be an enculturation process, though informal conversation (they cite Sheehan (1990)).

E-mail was widely adopted early on in math and this led to a dramatic increase in co-authored papers.  People might think peripherality is not as big a deal in subjects like math in which you often do not have to buy big expensive equipment. The participants in Walsh and Bayma's study say it's even bigger, because you need access to the big guys to get in early on new research and to share information. Here's a quote from (1996b), page 355

E-mail helps. If you' re sentenced to Podunk, wherever that is, it's not the death sentence it used to be

The publication lag in math at the time was like 19 months, but the in crowd had pre-prints way before. So this created a have and have not situation.

Just like in other studies of CMC, meeting at the beginning in person was really important to building trust (1996a). The use of TeX to transmit mathematical symbols was seen as an important early innovation (do note this,  overlords


the success so far, and what we knew about CMC in math in 1996, I'm curious to see how polymath will evolve. Will attribution and credit re-surface as an issue for less established contributors?  Does there have to be some separate relationship building exercise if the potential contributors haven't met in meatspace?  Could bloggers use their blogs and what do non-bloggers do? How to get to critical mass in stupid questions (maybe allowing anonymous stupid question submission)? How can these threads be preserved for future use? How can these threads be used in education? Is "official" endorsement of a polymath project a good thing or not? Should polymath projects be centrally managed by a coalition of the willing?


Walsh, J. P., & Bayma, T. (1996a). Computer networks and scientific work. Social Studies of Science, 26(3), 661-703.

Walsh, J. P., & Bayma, T. (1996b). The virtual college: Computer-mediated communication and scientific work. Information Society, 12(4), 343-363.

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Comps readings: community detection

Jun 02 2009 Published by under comps, Information Science, online communities

Last set of comps readings, I talked about sense of community:
belonging, having influence, fulfillment of needs, and emotional
support.  Now, let's talk about the physics version of
"community" - cohesive subgroups.  In a graph, these are
groups of nodes in a graph that are more connected to each other than
to other parts of the graph. Clumpy spots.  If you read old Wasserman and
, you'll probably think of cliques, cores, and lambda
sets... some how these didn't do it for me - literally, when I was
trying to locate
communities in science blog networks
, it didn't work..
 If you have a computer science or maybe even sociology
background you'll probably
just look at some sort of clustering (agglomerative or divisive).
 The hot thing for the
past few years comes from physicists and that's what's covered here.
 I did other posts on SNA
articles, so those are mostly
elsewhere. (BTW - if you ever take stats for the social sciences and
can substitute R for stata, do so and take the time to learn it. The
igraph package for R has all of the coolest community detection
thingies in it) (note, too, that these readings are not necessarily for
the dabbler in bibliometrics or social network analysis!)

Newman, M. E. J., & Girvan, M. (2004). Finding and evaluating
community structure in networks. Physical Review E (Statistical,
Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics), 69(2), 26113-21.
(just go here)
This article, like the ones from Barabasi, sort of kicked off this
flurry of research.  They use a divisive clustering technique
- so they start with the whole network, and break the connections with
the highest betweeness.  See figure. bowtie.png
See how if you remove
that one line, how you completely break up the thing? That line has
high betweenness. So they calculate that for all of the lines using
whatever method, then take the line with the highest out, then
re-calculate and remove, and again. They then go on to talk about the
actual algorithm to use to efficiently do all of this betweenness
calculating and give some examples.  There's a lot in this
article, though, because they next talk about how to figure out when
you're done and if you've got decent communities. This measure is
modularity (see the article for the definition), but basically it's 0
if random and 1 is the maximum. If you calculate Q at each step, then
you can stop when it's highest. Note that any given node can only be in
one community, unfortunately. (in real life, people are nearly always
in multiple communities)

Reichardt, J., & Bornholdt, S. (2006). When are networks truly
modular? Physica D, 224(1-2), 20-26. doi: 10.1016/j.physd.2006.09.009
(or look here)
They review Newman and Girvan and suggest a new way that groups
connected nodes and separates non-connected
nodes.  They go through a process and end up
with an equation that's apparently like a Hamiltonian
for a q-state Potts spin glass (dunno, ask a physicist if you need more
info on that!).  This method allows for overlapping
communities because there could be times when you could move a node
from one community to the next without increasing the energy.
 They compared it for some standard graphs and it did better
than N-G. Instead of just stopping by minimizing modularity, they
compare the modularity to a random graph with the same degree

Reichardt, J., & Bornholdt, S. (2007). Clustering of sparse
data via network communities-a prototype study of a large online
market. Journal of Statistical Mechanics: Theory and
Experiment, P06016. doi:10.1088/1742-5468/2007/06/P06016
In this one they test the spin glass community detection method against
the German version of ebay to look for market segmentation. The network
has bidders as nodes, and if they bid on the same item there is an
edge.  The spin glass method was successful at pulling out
clusters and using odds ratios, the authors showed that these clusters
corresponded to groupings of subject categories. The Q was much higher
than it would be for a random graph.

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Comps readings: virtual communities

May 31 2009 Published by under comps, Information Science, online communities

Sunday morning I was all set to do another essay - just had to pick a
question source and question - when my mother in law called to say she
would be stopping by at about the same time I would be finishing up the
2 hour window, leaving no time for emergency house cleaning (no, I
haven't grown out of that yet despite being married for >10
years). So here are a few readings on "community" which I'll drop like
a hot potato and then run to clean the house.

Both Wellman and Rheingold dispute the idea that we're all "Bowling Alone"
and assert that virtual communities appearing in computer mediated
communication are
real communities, but what does "community" look like online?
 Is the implementation of a "community" software tool enough?
 We're in a second wave of all sorts of vendors offering their
own online communities - this was also done in the 90s.  Are
these communities?  Only when they succeed?  Never?
It depends?  On what?  At the same time, there are
lots of articles coming out in the physics literature on mathematical
ways to identify cohesive subgroups in networks and they
call this process identifying communities.  Are they
identifying communities or only cohesive subgroups? Could you develop
an algorithm to locate a community?  How would you test what
you found to see if it's really a community (or maybe it's a group of
people all disputing a knowledge claim, what Collins called a core
set)?  Is a binary yes or no enough or do we need to know what
participants feel and why?

Blanchard, A. L., & Horan, T. (1998). Virtual Communities and
Social Capital. Social
Science Computer Review
, 16(3), 293-307

This article is more or less in direct response to Putnam's Bowling Alone.
 His thesis was that increasing online activity lead to
decreasing community participation and civic engagement and that this
low participation hurts the community as a whole.  They look
at three possible outcomes of online communities: 1) that online
communities enhance f2f
communities, 2) that online communities detract
from f2f communities, or 3) that they are unrelated. Since this was
written, social capital has been defined (and operationalized) at an
individual level, a group level, and then a societal level.
 Putnam looks really at the societal level. They quote him
describing it as "the features of social organization such as networks,
norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation
for mutual benefit."  When they define virtual communities,
they differentiate between online places for physical communities (my
neighborhood has a Yahoo! Group) and online-only communities.

Networks in virtual communities might be larger and more geographically
dispersed.  They might also encourage participation by some
who might not participate in f2f..  Norms in communities
include reciprocity - doing favors and having favors returned.
 The idea in this article is that generalized reciprocity (not
direct, Mary does for Bob, but Mary does for Bob, Sue sees, and
 Sue does a favor for Mary) is increased in virtual
communities because helping acts are visible (see, however, Wasko
& Faraj, discussed on my old blog - they found that reciprocity
didn't really explain any variance in contribution to a professional
virtual community).  Blanchard and Horan also discuss lurking
as a negative social norm, akin to free riding (see, however, various
discussions by Nonnecke and Preece as well as those by Lave and Wenger
on legitimate peripheral participation).  With respect to
trust, it might be increased by increased social identity in virtual
groups and decreased social cues (less stereotyping by physical
attributes), but it will be decreased by flaming, trolls, and deception.

Blanchard, A. L. (2004). Blogs as Virtual Communities: Identifying a
Sense of Community in the Julie/Julia Project. Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric,
Community, and Culture of Weblogs
, Retrieved from

When I talk about blogs as communities, I mean like between blogs, or
collections of blogs, or bloggers linking to each other and commenting
on each others' blogs.  In this paper, Blanchard looks at a
community that formed within the comments of a single blog (that became
a book, and isn't there a movie coming out)?  The comments in
this blog were like a forum and sometimes wandered from the topic of
the post and had a life of their own.  She asks the question
whether this is truely a community or only a virtual settlement.
 Virtual settlement comes from a paper in JCMC by Jones. It is
defined as when there is "a) a minimal number of b) public interactions
c) with a variety of communicators in which  d) there is a
minimal level of sustained membership over a period of time."
Communities, on the other hand has a sense of community, which includes
a) feelings of membership, b) feelings of influence, c) integration and
fulfillment of needs, and d) shared emotional connection.
 This "sense of community" comes from f2f research on
communities (the next article discusses measuring it in virtual
situations). She did a survey of the commenters after the blog had been
around for 11 months.  Some respondents who commented
frequently felt strongly that it was a community while others who kind
of read it like they would a newspaper, thought not (oh, really? 🙂 )

Blanchard, A. L. (2007). Developing a Sense of Virtual Community
Measure. CyberPsychology
& Behavior,
10(6), 827-830. DOI:
This one was done a few years later (obviously) and she was trying to
develop a valid and repeatable sense of community measure for virtual
communities. In previous work, people pretty much just adapted the f2f
sense of community, but it turns out that community might feel
different in virtual settings than f2f. This measure was developed like
others - f2f scales were modified, and new questions were added to
address things that are different in virtual settings. There was a
pilot, and then it was tested with other groups (total n=256, 7 usenet
groups and listservs).  Factor analysis with maximum liklihood
factoring and a promax rotation.  Once things were dropped
that didn't load where they were supposed to, the internal reliability
coefficient for the SOVC scale was 0.93.  Tested with the
groups, it explained 53% of the variation while the standard sense of
community only explained 46% (better, but eh.)

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