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date: 15 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

While the large majority of published research on online communities consists of analyses conducted entirely within individual communities, this chapter argues for a population-based approach, in which researchers study groups of similar communities. For example, although there have been thousands of papers published about Wikipedia, a population-based approach might compare all wikis on a particular topic. Using examples from published empirical studies, the chapter describes five key benefits of this approach. First, it argues that population-level research increases the generalizability of findings. Next, it describes four processes and dynamics that are only possible to study using populations: community-level variables, information diffusion processes across communities, ecological dynamics, and multilevel community processes. The chapter concludes with a discussion of a series of limitations and challenges.

Keywords: online community, population, organization, peer production, ecology, generalizability, Internet, groups, teams, comparative analysis

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