The Social Data in Conversations
A community is traditionally defined by its membership, the relationships between members of that community, and the mode, form, and quality of communication between members (to name just a few of defining characteristics). A Usenet newsgroup may be viewed as such a community of people, who are bound to each other by a common interest in the subject of the newsgroup.
Analyzing the newsgroup netscape.public.mozilla.rhapsody, we can make clear these aspects of this community of people.
This is a fairly technical newsgroup: interactions tend to be rather brief, dealing mostly with specific inquiries or posting of information. This is not to say that there are no discussions, however. There regularly are posts that ask questions or make suggestions that cause debate, although this debate generally does not turn into a flame war between participants.
The participants in this newsgroup are driven by personal interest in the project represented. This means that the discussions tend to be information rich, and rarely get out of hand. The participants utilize the newsgroup to intelligently discuss pertinent topics related to the development of their software.
The participants in the netscape.public.mozilla.rhapsody newsgroup identify themselves by real name. There are no anonymous posts to the group--participants are comfortable presenting themselves as they would in real life (this is of course not absolutely verifiable, but seems to be true based on the quality of the posts).
There are a handful of participants who are very active--these are the members of the group that are most heavily involved with the software being developed. They take leading roles when issues are discussed, and usually are the ones that are most informed about related topics. Their opinions and positions are respected: When a heated discussion does begin, their views, when presented, are taken to be the most factual.
When the conversation begins to get off track, or there seems to be an argument developing on a topic not directly related to the newsgroup, a person usually steps in (of their own accord), and tries to mediate the discussion. These posts usually start out with "Relax", and tend to present the facts in an unbiased manner. There rarely is any use of expletive language; rather, when tempers flare, participants in a conversation will write long messages presenting their point of view (presumably in an attempt to convince others of the intelligence of their view).
There is a high degree of collaboration and support between the participants of the newsgroup. When a post is made people agree with, they post supporting messages, usually beginning with "Agreed" or "Definitely", that take the original message's idea and expand on it, giving their own twist on the topic.
When a topic has been discussed enough (as gauged by the members of the community), conversation related to that topic drops off markedly. Usually this occurs when a question has been answered or a decision has been made by the group, however in cases where there is no definite end to a discussion, the conversation merely stops abruptly. The members of the group generally accept this form of closing; there are rarely posts that ask "What ever happened to...".
This image shows a particular conversation that took place between four members of the group. Each person involved in the conversation is represented by a color. Green began the conversation with a post, which was followed shortly by a response by Yellow. Blue and Orange entered in the conversation later. Entering into a conversation is represented by the convergence of the colored lines onto the line of the person who began the conversation. Three things to note about this diagram: First, all four participants are present for the start of the conversation; This is inferred by the fact that they are subscribed to the newsgroup (which also exists as a mailing list), as well as the fact that they have participated in other conversations both prior and subsequent to the current one. Second, the length of the colored lines represent the relative lengths of the posts in this conversation. Third, the conversation end abruptly with Green's last post. This is typical of conversations in this newsgroup; There is no formal end to a conversation--it merely stops.
This diagram shows the participation in the newsgroup of four members. Each member is represented by a different person, and the persons participation in the group is graphed over time. Heavier participation (which is metered by the rate of posts to the newsgroup) results in a darker color. The diagram shows that over the course of membership, a person's participation in the community varies: At times, there is heavy participation. This perhaps represents an intense discussion about a particular topic, or a person communicating with many different people in the community. Other times, there is very light, or no participation. This may be due to the absence of a person from the community (not reading the newsgroup), or just a change in status from a participant to a listener.
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