Community Identity and User Engagement in a Multi-Community Landscape
A community’s identity defines and shapes its internal dynamics. Our current understanding of this interplay is mostly limited to glimpses gathered from isolated studies of individual communities. In this work we provide a systematic exploration of the nature of this relation across a wide variety of online communities. To this end we introduce a quantitative, language-based typology reflecting two key aspects of a community’s identity: how distinctive, and how temporally dynamic it is. By mapping almost 300 Reddit communities into the landscape induced by this typology, we reveal regularities in how patterns of user engagement vary with the characteristics of a community. Our results suggest that the way new and existing users engage with a community depends strongly and systematically on the nature of the collective identity it fosters, in ways that are highly consequential to community maintainers. For example, communities with distinctive and highly dynamic identities are more likely to retain their users. However, such niche communities also exhibit much larger acculturation gaps between existing users and newcomers, which potentially hinder the integration of the latter. More generally, our methodology reveals differences in how various social phenomena manifest across communities, and shows that organizing the multi-community landscape can lead to a better understanding of the systematic nature of this diversity.