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Throw out your old definition of online communities as comprised only of lurkers and contributors commentards. A team of academics has come up with seven categories of people who hang out online, and the same number of post types.

The new classification reached the light of day in the February 2012 issue of International Journal of Managing Information Technology, in which Xuequn Wang and Yanjun Yu collaborated on a paper titled Classify participants in online communities (PDF).

The paper's premise is that “ … relatively few studies have tried to understand what kinds of participants constitute online communities [and] the previous way to classify participants is not sufficient and accurate...”

Specifically, Wang and Yu feel that there are more types of online community members than just “lurkers” and “contributors.” The pair end up defining seven, based on how often they contribute and the quality of their posts.

To assess posts, the pair devised the following taxonomy:

Type 1: Posts which provide new information

Type 2: Posts which ask questions

Type 3: Response posts which answer questions

Type 4: Response posts which provide feedback

Type 5: Response posts which thank for help

Type 6: Response posts which say something bad

Type N: Non-posts by those who read but don't post.

From that taxonomy the pair then offer the following seven categories of community members.

Outsiders: Don't know about the community and may or may not care

Non-interested knowers: Know about the community but don't visit

Trouble makers: Occasionally make Type 6 posts, often amid Type 1 and Type 3 contributions

Lurkers: Consume content but don't add anything new

Non-contributing Participants: Ask questions and thank fellow members but don't contribute new information

Partial-contributing participants: Post using Types 1 to 5, but aren't regulars.

Contributor: Lots of Type 1 and Type 3 posts, combined with regular visits.

The paper goes on to say that a mix of these types is desirable, but that online communities need each type of members in different proportions as they grow and age. To that end the study says online communities have four life cycle stages:

1. Attraction

2. Build-up

3. Maintenance

4. Deterioration.

Please ensure that The Register can be considered to be well and truly in the second phase by going nuts with lots of comments from Types 1 to 5.

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