***** To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org ***** A timely question, for me :) On Jan 10, 2006, at 9:48 AM, Antonella Cascio wrote: > ***** To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org ***** > > Dear All, > We are two students at Politecnico di Milano (Italy), working on > our master > thesis. We want to map conversation threads (specifically from forums > residing in the intranet of the company we're studying) in order to > visualize communication flows and run analysis on them. We know it's > something that has been done many times before but we can't find a > way to > operationalize the very first steps in this process: how to create a > communication matrix from the forum istself. For instance: how to > code the > message that starts a thread? As a communication of the one-to-all > type? > and > what about a reply to a message? is this considered a message from the > poster to the thread initiator, from the poster to all other > posters in the > same thread or from the poster to everybody? I think that it matters what you wish to analyze because Forums are quite different from the social networks that were the archetypical data for the development of most of the measurements. For example consider just betweenness centrality, it is a flow concept that makes sense in situations where the dyad is a private communication, however I don't think it makes sense in a forum situation where the dyad of 'replied-to' is quite different. We can't, for example, interpret dyads-in-public as a route for information flow. In our work[1,2] we analyze bug-tracking forums and were interested primarily in measurements of contribution, rather than information flow (they are, of course, related but remain distinguishable). We decided to analyze the dyads as contributions, where outdegree centralization becomes a measure of the inequality of contribution; we have tried to stay away from measures whose interpretation relies on flow (such as betweenness centrality). We therefore were able to avoid coding one-to-all semantics, sticking with reply-to-sender. Thus the first message (only one half of a dyad) is coded as the direction of the second message, or not coded at all if there were no replies. The second dyad is between the sender of the 3rd message and the sender of the 2nd message. Yes, it is simple but suits the research question (we hope!). We have considered weighting the replies on the basis that senders to bug forms are often added to a 'group reply' so that all posters earlier in the list get all the replies. However while this is true, it is also arbitrary because some bug tracking forums post all message to, say, the developer-list, so that everyone sees them. The 'lived experience', if you will, of each forum is different. For example, if one were analyzing MySpace blogs, it would be tempting to measure a post as a communication to all friends; but one has no data on whether the post was actually read by each friend. One could reformulate one's research question to deal with this (create a node labeled "Jane's Friends"?) or perhaps a question can work with dyads with the semantic of "attempted communication" or "potential communication". In short I think there cannot be an over-arching answer, it is going to depend on the semantics of the dyads, your research questions and the specific practices of the forum you are examining. So, what are your research questions? Of course I am equally sure that there is more to be said and look forward to hearing from others ;) Cheers, James Howison, PhD Candidate School of Information Studies Syracuse University http://james.howison.name  Kevin Crowston and James Howison (2005) "The social structure of Free and Open Source software development" in First Monday, volume 10, number 2 (February 2005). http://floss.syr.edu/publications/first- monday-sna/  Crowston, K. & Howison, J. (In press). "Hierarchy and centralization in Free and Open Source Software team communications". Knowledge, Technology & Policy (in press). http://floss.syr.edu/ publications/ktp2005.pdf  Certainly one can infer that the post was read if the friend posts a replay, but what of those that don't post a reply, did they read it? Perhaps one's research questions can cope with a dyad that has the semantics "B was moved to reply by A's post" but how could one know that a non-link didn't mean "B was too annoyed to reply to A's post" rather than "B did not read A's post" or "B was uninterested in A's post" or, in a Knowledge Management context, "B already knew what A was suggesting". One could continue with this, for example when analyzing IRC messages it is common for clients to be set to alert (say Bounce in the dock, or pop-up notification) when a user's nym or word of interest is mentioned. Should one then assume that they read every message with their nym in it? What about immediately surrounding messages? Or is the act of attempted communication enough? It's almost enough to make one turn to survey research ;) _____________________________________________________________________ SOCNET is a service of INSNA, the professional association for social network researchers (http://www.insna.org). 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