Toward an Understanding of Online Community Participation through Narrative Network Analysis

Toward an Understanding of Online Community Participation through Narrative Network Analysis

Michael R. Weeks (The University of Tampa, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0312-7.ch006
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This chapter proposes the narrative network analysis methodology for application in the examination of online communities. The narrative network analysis provides a basis for systematic examination of online communities that has been missing from the literature. The chapter describes three online communities and their characteristics to demonstrate the possibilities of the methodology. From these descriptions a proposed model of the communities is presented, and then an abbreviated narrative network analysis is developed. The network analysis demonstrates how an ethnographically informed model may be tested in a systematic manner with the narrative network analysis techniques. The chapter then concludes with a number of questions for future research in this area that have been proposed by other authors. These unanswered questions are likely candidates for future research using this promising methodology.
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The Emergence Of Online Communities

Online communities have developed over the past decade as an emergent internet phenomenon, largely created by the user community through incremental development processes (Baym, 1998; Rheingold, 1993). These groups are not randomly assigned the nomenclature of community without cause. As mentioned earlier, these online forums operate as virtual communities with many of the same characteristics of a traditional community such as moral voice, rights, responsibilities, and a public interest (Etzioni, 1993). Technological, sociological and economic forces have contributed to the emergence of online communities in the last decade.

The technological forces that contributed to this online phenomenon revolve around the development of the internet and World Wide Web and the adoption of graphical user interfaces. Early online communities adopted the simple text-based user interfaces of the time due to the limited bandwidth and processing capabilities of existing information communications technologies (ICTs) (Timm, 1976). The introduction of the Netscape Navigator internet browser in the mid-1990s and the penetration of broadband communication channels into the market in the late 1990s allowed more complex communities to develop. The communities became very specialized and the social identities of the members were quite well developed (Koh, Kim, Butler, & Bock, 2007).

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