Nov 30: Steven Johnson to present on The strength of words online: Emergent leadership in online communities

Steven Johnson
Assistant Professor, MIS
Fox School of Business, Temple University

November 30, 2012
Speakman Hall 200, 1000am – 1100am
Seminar Title : The strength of words online: Emergent leadership in online communities

Compared to traditional organizations, online communities lack formal power or leadership positions. Instead, leadership in online communities is an emergent process resulting from influencing others. The objective of this paper is to investigate how network structure and language usage lead to influence in online communities. Communication online occurs almost exclusively through written words. The study of online influence has been dominated by a focus on structural network position with surprisingly little research addressing how the comparative use of language shapes community dynamics. Using participant surveys to identify influential members, this study analyzes a year of network history and message content to identify if leader utterances have unique qualities compared to the utterances of other core community members. Analysis supports the conclusion that online leadership derives from more than network position; it is also associated with distinctive written communication patterns. The composite view of emergent leaders in online communities is: they are in a central, core position in a network; they concentrate participation in fewer message threads than others; and, they provide a large number of positive, concise posts that include an above average number of external links and use simple language familiar to other participants. Online community leaders emerge through both the context and content of online communication.

Please email for a copy of the paper

Feb 25: Steven Johnson to speak on How do power law distributions arise in online communities?

Steven Johnson

Assistant Professor,
Fox School of Business,
Temple University

February 25, 2011

Speakman Hall 200, 1000am – 1130am

Seminar Title : How do power law distributions arise in online communities?


Power law rank/frequency distributions appear ubiquitous in online communities but the mechanisms of their formation are not well understood. This study models online communities and multiple network formation mechanisms that can lead to the emergence of power distributions. First, we establish the presence of power law distributions in twenty-eight online communities. Next, we develop a simulation model of the formation of thread-based asynchronous online communities and provide results based on over 4,500 runs of the model simulating a total of over 3,200,000 messages generated by over 340,000 participants. Finally, we evaluate if these network formation models generate simulated networks with power law distributions. To validate that these models are consistent with the observed networks we use multiple measures of network structure: the power law distribution degree, network density, mutuality index and clustering coefficient. This study contributes to our understanding of online communities and other social communication networks by illuminating the relationships between specific behavioral tendencies of participants and emergent structural network characteristics.

We find no evidence that preferential attachment explains the presence of power laws in online communities but instead that a generalized social exchange mechanism is the participant behavior most consistent with observed power laws.

Please email me for a copy of the full paper (

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