May 27th, 2015
The social scientist, Himelboim, analysed discussions among more than 200,000 participants in 35 newsgroups over a six-year period. He focused his analysis on political and philosophical newsgroups on Usenet, the oldest Internet discussion platform, and is currently exploring patterns of communication in newer social networking services, such as Twitter.
The results showed that only two percent of those who start a discussion attract 50 percent of the replies. However, only 12 percent of the content that these popular people posted on the net presented their own comments and opinions. Most of the time, they simply imported content from other news sources or blogs and personal sites. 15 percent of posts used content from online-only news sites, and six percent of posts used content from government and nonprofit organizations. Hence, those who start discussions do not necessarily bring new content to the net. Furthermore, Himelboim found out that as the discussion group became larger, just like in offline life, they also became more hierarchical. People exhibit what’s called a preferential attachment toward those with many connections, which suggests that having many connections makes it easier to make more connections. For those having fewer connections, making new connections will be more difficult. Hence, the internet seems to foster inequality.
Himelboim, I., Gleave, E., & Smith, M. (2009). Discussion catalysts in online political discussions: Content importers and conversation starters Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14 (4), 771-789 DOI: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01470.x