Content Diversity and Sustainability in Local Online Groups

How do we maintain sustainable content streams in local online groups? While there is significant potential for social technologies to enhance local information sharing, maintaining a reliable content stream is challenging for local communities because of their bounded emphases and limited population of potential contributors.

How to maintain sustainable social systems for local communities?

How to maintain sustainable social systems for local communities?

Our study examines

  • how content diversity – a system characteristic
  • affects level of activity – one aspect of system sustainability
  • in local Facebook groups —  a single type of social systems for local communities.

We collected, coded and analyzed more than 750 posts from 16 Facebook groups associated with five neighborhoods in an US city.

Our results show that:

  • Greater variety of content diversity, in terms of communication goals, is associated with higher levels of activity in subsequent time periods.
  • Local Facebook groups contained a variety of contents with 45% of posts about events and 24% about services; and 64% requesting some action and 20% providing information.
  • Group owners accounted for more than 70% of the posts in the groups with high frequency of posts, revealing inequality of contribution in active local groups.
  • There is a continuous involvement of 48% of contributors (on average) in the local online groups, which shows that repeated contributions from core participants is not uncommon.
  • Surprisingly, none of the neighborhoods’ characteristics were significant predictors of the frequency of posts, including the population (ranging from 5 to 10 thousands inhabitants) and the median income.

This study is an initial step in an ongoing effort to gather data from a diverse sample of local social systems that make up a neighborhood’s communicative ecology. Our sample includes neighborhood-oriented Facebook groups, websites, e-mail discussion lists, and offline bulletin boards from different neighborhoods. Our research agenda focuses on determining how design decisions and community characteristics affect the viability and impact of locally-focused social systems.

For more, see our full paper, Consequences of Content Diversity for Online Public Spaces for Local Communities.

Claudia López, University of Pittsburgh
Brian Butler, University of Maryland

Credits: © Scootz | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

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About Claudia López

I am a PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Information Sciences. My research has recently focused on systems for supporting online and offline communities. I am specially interested in understanding how neighborhoods can benefit from using social information systems.

2 thoughts on “Content Diversity and Sustainability in Local Online Groups

  1. Did you find that local participants also knew each other in real life, and did these connections influence the frequency of local content-sharing?

    I’m also curious how these results compare to non-Facebook local communities like /r/BayArea or /r/oakland on Reddit — how much of this is unique to Facebook?

  2. A great blog post and this makes me interested in the research. A few things came up to my mind through reading the blog post are:
    (i) Do you have a gut feeling of what factors would most stimulate communications in the local communities? (ii) Are there certain topics that particularly stimulates the participation of members in the community? (iii) Do you have an idea of how to increase the power users of the group page so the community becomes more active?

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