Sustainable online communities exhibit distinct hierarchical structures across scales of size

Yaniv Dover*, Jacob Goldenberg, Daniel Shapira*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


As humans, we are uniquely competent at incorporating ourselves into groups that scale up from a few members to millions of individuals to engage in joint activities in social circles of varying sizes. Yet, the question of how a group's survival depends on its social structure is not well understood. In an analysis of more than 10 122 real-life online communities (with a total of 134 147 members) hosted by a leading platform over periods of more than a decade, we observe a prominent structural difference between stable and unstable communities, enabling the prediction of sustainability up to a decade ahead. We find that communities that fail to maintain a typical hierarchical social structure that preserves cohesiveness across size scales do not survive, while communities that exhibit such balance prevail. This difference is observable in as early as the first 30 days of a community's lifetime, enabling prediction of community sustainability up to 10 years in the future. We theorize that communities comprising distinct social structures that balance global and local factors across scales of sizes are more likely to maintain sustainability.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number0730
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2239
StatePublished - Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).


  • hierarchy
  • network structure
  • online community
  • size scale
  • social network
  • stability


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