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N E W S G R O U P   C R O W D S   &   A U T H O R L I N E S


Newsgroup Crowds and Authorlines are two related visualizations of authors’ activities in Usenet newsgroups. Current news browsing interfaces display minimal, if any, information about the authors of messages. When reading a post, users get no sense of the author’s history; how active they are in the particular newsgroup, how long they have contributed to the community, in what other conversations they have engaged in the past, etc. Instead, current systems for newsgroup browsing focus on the message unit and the message structure of conversational threads; thereby forcing users to pay attention to the organization of conversations instead of their social significance.

Our approach is to provide tools to support social awareness in online spaces by combining metrics of authors’ activity with data visualization that feed these patterns back to community. We contend that large social cyberspaces such as Usenet are already so packed with information that social metrics need to be presented in ways that lower, rather than raise the cognitive load of users navigating these space

Newsgroup Crowds

Newsgroup Crowds is a graphical interface that shows the activity of participants in a given newsgroup over a specific period of time. The visualization is a scatter plot of all authors who were active (i.e. posted messages) in the chosen newsgroup during the month being visualized. Each author is represented by a circle whose placement is determined by two axes: number of days an author has been active during the chosen month – vertical axis – and the author’s average number of posts per thread in the newsgroup – horizontal axis. 

The aim is to convey, at a glance, how densely inhabited, active and conversational a given newsgroup is. The visualization also makes other patterns explicit such as which authors are consistent contributors, and the color of circles represents how recently authors have been active in the newsgroup and their overall posting activity in Usenet as a whole. 



AuthorLines functions very much like a histogram showing intensity of posting activity over time. It is a visualization of an author’s posting behavior across newsgroups over an entire year. It shows a horizontal timeline with vertical monthly dividers. Vertical lines of circles represent weekly activity: each circle stands for a conversation thread to which the author has contributed during that week. In other words, a vertical lineup of 20 circles means that the author has contributed to 20 different conversations during that week. The size of the circle represents the number of messages contributed by the author to that thread; the more messages the author posted, the bigger the circle is. 

AuthorLines differentiates between threads that were initiated by the author and those that were not. Orange circles placed above the timeline represent threads that were initiated by the author whereas yellow circles underneath the timeline are threads to which the author has contributed but which were not initiated by him/her. Because authors’ activity is presented over time, it becomes very easy to spot periods of intense posting as well as weeks and months when there was no posting activity at all. 


Newsgroup Crowds and Authorlines: Visualizing the Activity of Individuals in Conversational Cybersapces
Fernanda Viégas and Marc Smith. HICSS-37, Hawaii, January 2004.

Awarded Best Paper in the Digital Documents and Media Track

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