Participation in online forums varies greatly: a few students post many messages, some post a few, and many only read. A rough ‘rule of thirds’ has been suggested (eg Mason 1989), but it is possible that this rule of thumb hides interesting structure.
However, similar patterns can be seen when analysing the abundance of species in ecological communities, so maybe indices of ecological diversity could also provide a useful characterisation of an online community. Such indices can unpick both ‘species richness’ (here number of participants) and equitability / dominance.
To explore this, 36 forums containing 27,000 messages were analysed to see if an ecological approach to online communities could offer useful insights.