Visible relations in online communities : modeling and using social networks
The Internet represents a unique opportunity for people to interact with each other across time and space, and online communities have existed long before the Internet's solidification in everyday living. There are two inherent challenges that online communities continue to contend with: motivating participation and organizing information. An online community's success or failure rests on the content generated by its users. Specifically, users need to continually participate by contributing new content and organizing existing content for others to be attracted and retained. I propose both participation and organization can be enhanced if users have an explicit awareness of the implicit social network which results from their online interactions. My approach makes this normally ``hidden" social network visible and shows users that these intangible relations have an impact on satisfying their information needs and vice versa. That is, users can more readily situate their information needs within social processes, understanding that the value of information they receive and give is influenced and has influence on the mostly incidental relations they have formed with others. First, I describe how to model a social network within an online discussion forum and visualize the subsequent relationships in a way that motivates participation. Second, I show that social networks can also be modeled to generate recommendations of information items and that, through an interactive visualization, users can make direct adjustments to the model in order to improve their personal recommendations. I conclude that these modeling and visualization techniques are beneficial to online communities as their social capital is enhanced by "weaving" users more tightly together.
DegreeMaster of Science (M.Sc.)
CommitteeZhang, W. J. (Chris); McCalla, Gordon I.; Keil, J. Mark