The dynamics of mass interaction

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Citation: Steve Whittaker, Loren Terveen, Will Hill, Lynn Cherny (1998) The dynamics of mass interaction. Proceedings of the 1998 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1145/289444.289500
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1145/289444.289500
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1145/289444.289500
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): The dynamics of mass interaction
Tagged: Computer Science (RSS) USENET (RSS), innovation (RSS), collaboration (RSS)


Published in Computer Supported Cooperative Work in 1998 by a series of authors from AT&T research labs, The dynamics of mass interaction is a major quantitive analysis of USENET.

In many ways, the article can be seen as building on Kollock and Smith (1996). While the previous work was largely theoretical, descriptive, and qualitative, this paper is more analytically focused and aims to answer a long series of hypotheses about how cooperation works online.

The paper uses a dataset taken from a random subset of 500 news groups on USENET taken over a 6 months period. They first present "demographic" information characterizing the nature of interaction on USENET (e.g., average of 24 posts per day) and the fact that vast majority of initiating messages on USENET never get a response.

Most of their article tests the "common ground model" that explains that establishing common ground will be important to mass interaction. They measure the need for common ground through size, number of posters and moderated-ness. They measure common ground increasing techniques through FAQs, lower cross-posting, and longer messages. These are tested in a series of 9 hypothesis with mixed results.

They find evidence for a large degree of participation inequalities and find frequent evidence of cross-posting. Most hypotheses about conversational strategies are confirmed but dis-confirming evidence for a relationship between conversational strategy and interactivity. Confusingly, they find that strategies like cross-posting seem to be good for interactivity. They conclude with a reference to Granovetter and a call for the incorporation of weak ties into a theory of "common ground".

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

The paper has been cited over a hundred times, and primary by literature discussing either USENET or online discussion groups more broadly.