Dialogues/Learning from Small and Overlapping Communities

From CommunityData

Please read the Virtual Event Code of Conduct. We will be recording the event presentations, but not discussions.

The Community Data Science Collective is organizing a series of events called The Science of Community Dialogues with community leaders, organizers, and experts. The first Dialogue, "Learning from Small and Overlapping Communities," will be held online Friday February 11 from 15:00-17:00 ET (UTC-5). We are inviting a small number of leaders from across open source communities, online platforms, activist groups, and research organizations to participate.

This event is being paid for by a National Science Foundation grant, and will be held at no cost to attendees. A code of conduct will be shared with participants prior to the event. Discussions will be held under Chatham House Rule. Presentations will be recorded, though discussions will not. We are currently planning on hosting the event using jitsi (meet.jit.si).

If you are interested in attending, please contact molly [dot] deblanc [at] northwestern [dot] edu.

The topic of the Dialogue series will be The Science of Communities. The goal of the Dialogues is to build a network of practice and research focused on the exchange, discovery, and application of evidence-based strategies to support thriving communities. Each meeting of the series involves a combination of short presentations highlighting recent research or cases and what they can mean for your community. We will then shift into breakout groups to talk with one another about your experiences. Think of it as an opportunity to learn, share, and understand a bit more about how communities work. Our first Dialogue will focus on building communities in a world of many communities and will involve two one-hour dialog sessions: (1) Finding Success in Small Communities and (2) Why People Join Multiple Communities.

Finding Success in Small Communities (Slides)[edit]

Jeremy Foote and Sohyeon Hwang

When we think of successful online communities in places like Reddit, Twitter, or Wikipedia, we often think of large communities. Most communities are small, but does that mean they are unsuccessful? When is smaller better? How does the fact that people tend to participate in multiple communities simultaneously complicate this?

In this session we will discuss the lessons we can learn about participation in small communities. We will facilitate a conversation that draws from results from several empirical studies showing:

  • Community founders do not always start communities looking to achieve massive growth
  • Large scale is rarely the outcome for most communities.
  • Small communities can help users filter their experiences and expectations on large, multi-community platforms (e.g. Reddit, Fandom/Wikia);
  • Communities of different sizes and shapes help users find the right spaces for themselves;
  • User autonomy over their own experience can improve experience;
  • Metrics of growth are not the only way to understand your community.

Why People Join Multiple Communities (Slides)[edit]

Nate TeBlunthuis and Charlie Kiene

Does your project need one place for community gathering, or multiple? Will people use multiple spaces if you create them? Will overlaps make things redundant?

A single community cannot fulfill all of someone's needs. Instead, participating in multiple communities can best serve the needs of individual members. This is why people turn to multiple online communities that are complementary. You find the same people in several communities about the same or related topics. These overlaps and complementarities can benefit communities in the long run.

Key takeaways include:

  • Shared platforms can help people find homes in connected communities;
  • Communities use multiple channels, but these can introduce risks and tradeoffs;
  • Design plays an important role in community discovery and organizing participation;
  • Boundaries and distinctions between communities are still important;
  • Concrete suggestions for design to organize participation in multiple communities.


  • Welcome
  • Introductions
  • Finding Success in Small Communities
  • Discussion (Small Communities)
  • Break
  • Why People Join Multiple Communities
  • Discussion (Overlapping communities)
  • Wrapup


Thanks to speakers Charlie Kiene, Jeremy Foote, Nate TeBlunthius, and Sohyeon Hwang! Kaylea Champion was heavily involved in planning and decision making. Benjamin Mako Hill had the original idea, and, along with Aaron Shaw, helped direct the high level vision of the event. This event and the research presented in it were supported by multiple awards from the National Science Foundation (DGE-1842165; IIS-2045055; IIS-1908850; IIS-1910202), Northwestern University, the University of Washington, and Purdue University.