No Community Can Do Everything: Why People Participate in Similar Online Communities

Nathan TeBlunthuis, Charles Kiene, Isabella Brown, Laura, Levi, Nicole McGinnis, Benjamin Mako Hill

Large-scale quantitative analyses have shown that individuals frequently talk to each other about similar things in different online spaces. Why do these overlapping communities exist? We provide an answer grounded in the analysis of 20 interviews with active participants in clusters of highly related subreddits. Within a broad topical area, there are a diversity of benefits an online community can confer. These include (a) specific information and discussion, (b) socialization with similar others, and (c) attention from the largest possible audience. A single community cannot meet all three needs. Our findings suggest that topical areas within an online community platform tend to become populated by groups of specialized communities with diverse sizes, topical boundaries, and rules. Compared with any single community, such systems of overlapping communities are able to provide a greater range of benefits.

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