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Wybo Wiersma.net

Wybo is a sociologist and PhD/DPhil student at the Oxford Internet Institute.

He studies online social behaviour. Especially: How social media affect protest movements such as the Arab Spring and Occupy Wallstreet. More...

Also: MSc in Social Science of the Internet, MA in Digital Humanities (distinction), 3 BAs (firsts/cum laude) in History, Philosophy of Information Science and Information Science

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Simulating the Emergence of Critical Mass:

How Forums Grow by Stimulating User Contributions

Attaining critical mass is notoriously difficult for online platforms, and many online communities fail because of this. A common feature of most successful communities, are threads, which are found on forums, Facebook, and on Quora, among other places.

In this paper Agent-Based Simulation was used to examine the impact of variations in thread-structures on growth and critical mass attainment.

What was found was that threads perform better than no threads at all, and indented thread-structures that allow users more control over what to read, improve engagement even further.

The Invisible Hands of Time:

How Timezones Shape Online Communities

A popular view of online communities is that they transcend time and place. As threads and comments are posted during the circadian cycle, however, participants will see different (new) threads as they arrive, which then affects who interacts with whom and the social ties that form.

A case-study of the Hacker News community was conducted to measure these effects. Strong time-pressure effects were found at the thread-level. For social ties statistically significant effects were found as well; especially for users at the edge of the network. Even the two-week gap between the introduction of daylight savings time in the US and UK had an impact.

These findings indicate that online communities may not be as global as generally believed, and might limit the validity of purely social interpretations of online reply structures.

The Validity of Surveys:

Online and Offline

Online surveys are generally considered cheaper, faster, and more convenient. They also have a potential for international reach, allow for elaborate skip-logic, and eliminate errors in data-entry, to name a few of their benefits.

But many wonder about their validity.

In this paper all the important threats to the validity of both online and offline surveys are assessed. Such as lack of a sampling frame, and things such as experimenter effects.

As long as the pros and cons are taken into account, there is room for both, and with the arrival of smartphones, there might be a sampling frame for web-surveys soon.

Enclosures of the Mind:

Intellectual Property from a Global Perspective

The copyright system has become morally problematic and alternatives should be developed.

It is outdated first of all: Copyrights were initially introduced as regulation for the printing industry. But due to the spread of digital technology, copyrights now reach into all personal communication. Making upholding it not only impossible, but also mutually exclusive with privacy.

Second, in essence it consists of creating artificial scarcity. It negates the third reasons for why markets are effective in the physical realm: 1) decentralized decision-making, 2) efficient allocation of investments, 3) efficient use of resources. Not restricted use, but ubiquitous use is efficient for digital goods, because they can be multiplied at zero cost.

A levy-system could replace it.

Another exciting year at the OII

A swim with friends in the river at Port Meadow

Last year at almost any time there was something more interesting to do in Oxford than updating this blog. Such as friends to meet, papers to read, famous speakers to hear at the Oxford Union, or a sunny swim in the river ...read more

Back to the City of Dreaming Spires for a DPhil

This September I will be going back to Oxford to do a DPhil. I will study the appearance of critical mass in budding on-line political communities.

Online communities can greatly impact society, as the recent events in the Middle East, and the rise of global online social movements such as Occupy Wallstreet, suggest. But in order to thrive, and become a community at all, online communities have to attain a critical mass of initial users. The central problem of which is that until a certain number of participants are present, joining the community is not going to affect outcomes, or be socially rewarding to newcomers.

Also, more in general, the exact factors that determine growth in the early stages of online communities, are still ill understood. Even internet giant Google has failed to attain critical mass for some of its platforms, such as Google Wave. ...read more

Academia.edu and San Francisco

While still working on my MSc thesis, I went to San Francisco this summer. I first attended the Digital Humanities 2011 conference at Stanford University. It was great to see many known faces there again, and the talks and posters were ‘not bad’ either. Especially impressive was the keynote on Culturomics, the quantitative analysis of culture using millions of digitized books.

Then I started work at Academia.edu, a well-funded startup which now has over a million users. Academia.edu is a social network for scholars, which – besides the usual social network-features – organizes people by their department and research-interests, and enables scholars to present their publications in a beautiful way. Not only does it allow direct subscription to the news-feed of individual researchers (as in a personalized journal), but it also makes uploaded papers more widely available, as user-pages are indexed by Google, and thus easy to find by researchers and other interested parties. ...read more

Best time to post on HN & other time-effects in the HN community

Trinity term (the 3rd) has just started in Oxford, and I (Wybo) have just handed in two 5000-word papers.

The first paper is about circadian (24-hour scale) time-effects on Hacker News. Its main hypothesis is that the time at which people arrive on the site (greatly) impacts whom they are most likely to interact with. This because replies that make very similar points as previous replies to the same post, are generally not appreciated very much, and visitors thus can only (productively) reply to relatively new posts (not older than 2 hours). ...read more