The importance of the few – how a minority of power users shapes most of the discourse in CS forums

by | May 11, 2022 | Beta Graphical article

  Reading Time: 2 minutes

Analysing the discourse in discussion forums of CS projects can help to understand underlying patterns of collaborative knowledge creation and to identify highly engaged users. We ask the question: What can the quantitative analysis of forum data tell us about these patterns?

A minority of power users is responsible for most of the discourse.

Volunteers shape the discourse to a larger extent than anticipated

In CS Track, we analysed the discussion data of the “Talk” pages of seven CS projects with similar forums on the Zooniverse platform. One point was  to distinguish the share of different user groups in the discourse and in collaborative knowledge creation. In the discussion forums, citizen scientists can take on different user roles, specifically volunteers, scientists, moderators and admins. In addition to examining which users make most of the comments, we also considered their specific user roles.

Figure 1.

An important distinction to be made is between volunteers and moderators. These roles are publicly indicated on the platform, and moderators are either recruited from the volunteer group (13% of total cases) or are professional scientists (14% of total cases). In Fig. 1 we can see that the top 5% of users (arranged by individual comments made) across our seven analysed projects are responsible for 75% of the total comments. In other words, the majority of users only marginally influences the discourse in the forums. On the right we can see the distribution of user roles among these top users. About 60% are volunteers (i.e., regular citizen scientists), whereas 37% are moderators, roughly composed to equal parts of professional scientists and moderators which were recruited from the volunteer group.

Graphic Legend 

The above figure shows a combination of multiple bar charts. The bar on the left shows the distribution of the total comments across our seven analysed projects. In the middle, we see the top users, to the right the distribution of user roles among them and on the very right their composition.

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