, Volume 46, Issue 3, pp 829-854
Date: 30 Jan 2011

Posting, quoting, and replying: a comparison of methodological approaches to measure communication ties in web forums

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Active involvement in discussion-based communities is nowadays a firm part of people’s online activities. The measurement of communication ties and networks between contributors to such domains is thus becoming a relevant research question in social sciences. However, especially in web forums, very often almost no direct relational information exists that would indicate the presence of communication ties among contributors. In contrast with the reply-to structure of Usenet newsgroup or mailing list conversations that contain explicit relational information created by the contributors, some web forums only enable participants to add new posts to threads or to quote preceding posts in threads. When discussions emerge, it is difficult to identify who is replying to whom. Drawing on the social network studies dealing with the conversational patterns in Usenet and web forums, this paper presents an alternative approach to identifying the ties between authors of posts. Several assumptions are discussed, and different measures are developed and empirically evaluated. The findings provide a starting point for the development of a standardized methodology for studying social networks in online communities where only limited direct information about communication ties is available.