A Time Decoupling Approach for Studying Forum Dynamics

Andrey Kan, Jeffrey Chan, Conor Hayes, Bernie Hogan, James Bailey, Christopher Leckie

Online forums are rich sources of information about user communication activity over time. Finding temporal patterns in online forum communication threads can advance our understanding of the dynamics of conversations. The main challenge of temporal analysis in this context is the complexity of forum data. There can be thousands of interacting users, who can be numerically described in many different ways. Moreover, user characteristics can evolve over time. We propose an approach that decouples temporal information about users into sequences of user events and inter-event times. We develop a new feature space to represent the event sequences as paths, and we model the distribution of the inter-event times. We study over 30,000 users across four Internet forums, and discover novel patterns in user communication. We find that users tend to exhibit consistency over time. Furthermore, in our feature space, we observe regions that represent unlikely user behaviors. Finally, we show how to derive a numerical representation for each forum, and we then use this representation to derive a novel clustering of multiple forums.

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