Emergence of online communities: Empirical evidence and theory

Yaniv Dover*, Guy Kelman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Online communities, which have become an integral part of the day-to-day life of people and organizations, exhibit much diversity in both size and activity level; some communities grow to a massive scale and thrive, whereas others remain small, and even wither. In spite of the important role of these proliferating communities, there is limited empirical evidence that identifies the dominant factors underlying their dynamics. Using data collected from seven large online platforms, we observe a relationship between online community size and its activity which generally repeats itself across platforms: First, in most platforms, three distinct activity regimes exist-one of low-activity and two of high-activity. Further, we find a sharp activity phase transition at a critical community size that marks the shift between the first and the second regime in six out of the seven online platforms. Essentially, we argue that it is around this critical size that sustainable interactive communities emerge. The third activity regime occurs above a higher characteristic size in which community activity reaches and remains at a constant and higher level. We find that there is variance in the steepness of the slope of the second regime, that leads to the third regime of saturation, but that the third regime is exhibited in six of the seven online platforms. We propose that the sharp activity phase transition and the regime structure stem from the branching property of online interactions.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere0205167
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright: © 2018 Dover, Kelman. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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