Social norms in online life!

In the online space, even though our social encounters are not tightly bounded to “offline” social norms, still we try to build a good image of ourselves to be able to maintain our online relationships. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how people create “online” social norms and to what extend such norms resemble our ancient social norms.

In our recent paper, Link, we analyzed 6 years of online communication in a movie based website. We analyzed individuals in the social network when they discuss movies in forums or send personal message to one another.

Such data enable us to study the formation of “online” social norms and it’s evolution.

In this post, which is a short summary of our paper, I am addressing these questions:

  1. To what extend do we create social ties based on the means of the communication in the online space.
  2. How much do we exchange communication with someone based on the public or personal interactions?
  3. Is there any limit on how many unique people one can interact with per day in online space?
  4. Does creating a new social tie demand social investment in online space?

Now let’s turn to some of our analysis and results:

  1. In our daily life we encounter many people in public places. However, people we choose to interact with in our personal space are selective and limited. Similarly, in online space we observe that people create more ties in public forums than in personal messaging space.
  2. 1In our daily life, we socialize with more people in public places; we say hello to our clients and have coffee with our colleagues. In our private life, we interact with fewer people, our family and beloved ones, but we exchange more intimacy and communication with them. We observe similar behavior in online space; the distribution of communicational exchange (number of communications going back and forth between two people) is larger in personal messages.4
  3. If you wonder if there is a limit to how many new people one can socialize with per day in the “online” space, the answer is yes! While majority of the community members socialize with one or two new people per week, the upper limit is about 20 new people per day. In other words, we don’t observe anyone in this community who socializes with more than 20 other members per day. That brings us to the idea of Dunbar’s number [Ref.] that suggests human brain has a certain capacity of creating and maintaining social ties. We dig deeper into the idea of maintaining social ties in the next section.6
  4. One can assume that in the online space, there is no limit on creating and maintaining social ties. We can create and maintain as much ties as we desire (time is the only limit!). But this is not true! Looking at the pattern of creating a new tie, we see that it takes longer to create the next tie in personal space than in public space. And the more ties one has, the longer it takes to create the next tie in personal space. We need to put energy and time to keep our friends, even in online space!


Our study attempts to shed lights in understanding how the means of communication, alter the structure of social networks, how do social norms emerge in online communities and how we communicate and organize our online life.

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