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Personal Growth

In Search Of Online Communities’ Good Samaritans

University of Iowa researchers studied years’ worth of posts on an online health network and came up with a way to rank members based on their contribution to others’ emotional health.

What’s the Latest Development?

Online health communities often provide emotional support to those in need, but a team of researchers at the University of Iowa found a way to quantify that support and create an index that ranks members according to their “Good Samaritan” skills. Kang Zhao and his colleagues examined 50,000 threaded discussions that took place on the Cancer Survivors Network between 2000 and 2010, searching for changes in tone from the start of a discussion through to the end. The data allowed them to identify those users who, through their responses, had significant influence on the originator of the discussion as well as the other discussion participants. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Tools exist that help moderators identify the most important users in a network, but the research team says that they don’t usually distinguish those who provide the most emotional support. “Knowing who the best Samaritans are and when they leave the community (perhaps through death) is important for judging the utility of the community and how it is changing. As is the ability to spot when new Samaritans that are becoming influential.”

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