Why do people participate in small online communities?

by   Sohyeon Hwang, et al.

Many benefits of online communities—such as obtaining new information, opportunities, and social connections—increase with size. Thus, a “successful” online community often evokes an image of hundreds of thousands of users, and practitioners and researchers alike have sought to devise methods to achieve growth and thereby, success. On the other hand, small online communities exist in droves and many persist in their smallness over time. Turning to the highly popular discussion website Reddit, which is made up of hundreds of thousands of communities, we conducted a qualitative interview study examining how and why people participate in these persistently small communities, in order to understand why these communities exist when popular approaches would assume them to be failures. Drawing from twenty interviews, this paper makes several contributions: we describe how small communities provide unique informational and interactional spaces for participants, who are drawn by the hyperspecific aspects of the community; we find that small communities do not promote strong dyadic interpersonal relationships but rather promote group-based identity; and we highlight how participation in small communities is part of a broader, ongoing strategy to curate participants' online experience. We argue that online communities can be seen as nested niches: parts of an embedded, complex, symbiotic socio-informational ecosystem. We suggest ways that social computing research could benefit from more deliberate considerations of interdependence between diverse scales of online community sizes.


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