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Asynchronous discussion groups as Small World and Scale Free Networks (14 Sep 2004)
We found that the discussion groups organize naturally in a stable social structure which fits their purpose. This structure allows us to keep the social order along with increasing the level of control of the members of the network. The target audiences are larger but the order still remains. This research shows that even forty years after Milgramís findings, and in an environment in which the communication technology is more sophisticated and updated than that of physical mail, this is still a small and efficient world.

The research reported here has some methodological limitations. The data refer to a large number of participants and groups; however they are all associated with the same organization and function, for the same purpose using the same platform. The links used in this study are not a representative sample; therefore generalizing the finding is problematic. Further, the connections that form the model here, as in most research about online communication to date, focus on written activity and do not capture reading activity (Rafaeli, et al., 2004).

Further research on the topology of online discussion groups should take into account comparing groups across organizational boundaries and especially across time. What are the organizational antecedents of Scale Free and Small World patterns? What are their temporal dynamics (Schoberth, et al., 2003, 2004)? Further inquiry into the identity and nature of hubs is strongly suggested by the documentation of hub prominence in discussion groups. How do hubs emerge? Are participants in online discussions aware of the Small World nature of their groups?

In sum, the significance of the support provided here for the hypotheses is rooted in the development of a formal expression of growth, survival potential and preferential attachment in the connection patterns in discussion groups.
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