EMAC Professor and Undergraduate Student Design Study to Find Effect of Meetups.

Have you ever met up “in real life” with friends from an online community? Despite the fact that 75% of adults between 18 and 24 participate in online social networks and offline gatherings have become increasingly common in groups ranging from couch surfers to MMORPG gamers, there’s been surprisingly little research into the effect of these “meetups” on the health and function of online communities.

A visualization of the meetup network

EMAC Assistant Professor Cuihua (Cindy) Shen and undergraduate Chuck Cage designed a study to find out the effect of meetups. Using longitudinal data of both public and private communications in an online forum of science fiction fans, their study represents one of the first systematic assessments meetups’ impact on community participation and online social capital. Results show that the enhanced bonding social capital—the stronger bonds shared with closer friends—experienced by meetup attendees comes at the expense of bridging social capital—weaker relationships which connect dissimilar people, offer a source for new information, and glue together clusters of tight-knit members. They presented their study, “Exodus to the Real World? Assessing the Impact of Offline Meetups on Community Participation and Social Capital,” at the Annual Convention of International Communication Association in Phoenix in May 2012. Chuck Cage is also the recipient of the UT Dallas Undergraduate Research Award.