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A popular view of online communities is that they transcend time and place. As threads and comments are posted, however, the ensuing online-discussions unfold over time. Not only does timing determine which threads participants will see first when they arrive, but also which comments have not already been extensively replied to.
By affecting who interacts with whom during the circadian cycle, time-pressure at the level of threads could in turn shape the social ties that form. Coupled with time-zone differences, this would make online communities a lot less global than generally believed.
A case-study of the Hacker News community was conducted to measure time-effects. Hacker News caters to people interested in web-startups. It has approximately 100,000 unique daily visitors from all over the world, and receives about 2,500 posts per day. Fourty days of data was collected, and geo-locations were acquired for three thousand users.
In a preliminary analysis, strong time-pressure effects were found at the thread-level. For social ties between users, moderate, but statistically significant effects were found as well; especially for users at the edge of the network. Even the two-week gap between the introduction of daylight savings time in the US and UK, was found to have an impact on peoples network distance during that time.
These findings might limit the validity of purely social interpretations of on-line reply structures, as well as the extent to which (large) on-line communities can be considered real communities, rather than imagined communities that are primarily shaped by the flow of conversation.