fortune or its reverse the seldom-updated lackaff.net blog

28Jun/060

Heterarchy and online social norms

I've finally gotten around to posting my master's thesis: Norm maintenance in online communities: Analysis of heterarchical moderation regimes. Abstract:

Like offline communities, online communities need structure and social norms to remain useful and viable for their members. The technology that has enabled these new types of social formations to emerge has also created new types of problems for these communities. Online communities can be vulnerable to several types of abuse, including malicious postings and spam, and present new problems of information overload. As online communities grow from dozens of individual participants to thousands, the technical workload of limiting abuse can become problematic. Heterarchical moderation (whereby many, most, or all community members are given a small amount of power and responsibility for maintaining social norms and useful discussion) has recently emerged as an option to help limit abuse and promote community goals. This thesis examines three different online communities that employ heterarchical moderation regimes to help maintain community discussion norms. A large sample of conversations from each community is subjected to both quantitative and qualitative analyses to provide an overview of the implications heterarchical discussion moderation.

I looked at a six-week sample of comments posted to Slashdot, Kuro5hin, and the now-defunct(?) Plastic.com to try and get at some of the discursive and social dynamics of distributed comment-rating systems. Looking back at it, I recognize a lot of things I could have done better, especially with my so-called "quantitative" analyses (hey, I was in a humanities program). But I had a lot of fun with the project, and some very smart referees were generous enough to pass it, so I'm not too embarrassed to open it to wider scrutiny.

I trimmed the lengthy appendices from the PDF -- the Slashdot and K5 data are still available in those sites' archives.

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