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  • Writer's pictureDr. Tammara Combs

Social Cyberspaces

Serendipity Interactive Founder, Tammara Combs in collaboration with Marc A. Smith, Danyel Fisher, and Howard T. Welser were all on a project focusing Social Cyberspaces. Their paper was published in the Oxford Academic Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

The three general research objectives:

1.) to characterize and measure interaction in the online authors

2.) to develop typologies of interaction that take place

3) to describe how these types of interaction are distributed across actors, newsgroups, threads, and hierarchies.

One key component of this paper is describing social authors. See how many of these you have in your forums and social channels.

Answer Person

Answer People provide advice to strangers without the promise of a return on their investment: They find questions and provide answers. We can identify these valuable participants through their posting behavior. An Answer Person primarily replies to threads initiated by others, is primarily involved in short threads, and tends to contribute only a few posts to the threads that they touch. They also tend to be surprisingly consistent in their posting behavior—contributing to a fairly high number of threads every week.


A Questioner is an individual who mostly posts new threads that seek help, information, or clarification from other members. Many legitimate Questioners post a single request, never to return. Others return consistently to particular newsgroups, and post a couple of questions per week. Many of their replies are clarifying statements or some type of follow-up to their original question. They have, therefore, only occasional ties to others.


A Troll is someone who mostly initiates threads with seemingly legitimate questions or conversation starters. However, the ultimate goal of a Troll is to draw unwitting others into useless discussions. Because of this, Trolls are at the risk of being detected as cynical or manipulative Questioners. If recognized, they are quickly labeled by communities and ostracized by verbal sanctioning followed by filtering (in which members of the group can choose to ignore all messages from the Troll). Because of this, a Troll will look like a legitimate Questioner, but will post more often and be visible in more groups. That is, the Troll will post actively in different newsgroups, starting provocative conversations.


Spammers post irrelevant messages to groups, just as they do to email. Spammers can be easily identified from the pattern of their posts. Spammers are defined by high volumes of initiated threads, in which they contribute a single message, and highly consistent posting behavior.

Binary Poster

Binary Posters are similar to spammers but they use automated tools to post hundreds of parts of binary files (such as music tracks and movies) to groups. These mass posts make them, presumably, valuable members of their communities. However, it is hard to see the difference between a Spammer and Binary Poster. We can tell, however, that this is a unique identity that initiates lots of messages but never replies to messages.


A Conversationalist comes to discussion venues to discuss, carry on conversations with others, enjoy communion, and evaluate ideas. They generate valuable social interaction, a sense of belonging for other members, and a sense of community. Conversationalists tend to have widely fluctuating rates of posting, both in terms of number of threads per week, and in terms of posts per threads. They initiate new threads and they reply to others' threads.

Flame Warrior

In contrast, Flame Warriors violate the open spirit of conversation and the acceptance of communion with harsh, negative debate. The primary goal of a Flame warrior is to “win” an argument and thereby make him/herself appear superior to others involved in the conversation, especially those who oppose them.


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