Understanding the emergence of organizations using Reddit
Dr. Annie Stephenson
Social organizations enable us to form communities for sharing ideas and collaborating toward common goals. Some revolve around shared interests, while others coalesce around specific causes. Why are some organizations effective at engaging individuals or driving societal change, while others are not? Understanding what makes real-world organizations productive is challenging due to limited data tracking their structure, interactions, and outcomes. Online communities, however, generate substantial interaction and structural data. Yet, assessing the effectiveness of these groups remains difficult without well-defined, directly comparable measures of success. Reddit's r/place social experiment is a rare case where both community data and productivity can be tracked, as different groups compete to craft compositions, or discernible pixel drawings, on a canvas. These compositions show distinct scaling laws that relate their community size to variables that describe the composition, such as size and complexity. The study of analogous scaling laws in biological and urban systems has enabled the development of theories that explain fundamental characteristics of these systems, and my colleagues and I are now applying this framework to understand social organizations. By exploring the dynamics of user interactions leading to scaling in Reddit communities, we aim to uncover insights into why some organizations excel and others fail at mobilizing individuals to work toward collective goals.