Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands
Online spaces that enable public shared inter-personal communications are of significant social and economic importance. This paper outlines a theoretical model and methodology, labeled cyber-archaeology, for researching the relationship between such spaces and the behaviors they contain. The methodology utilizes large-scale field studies into user behavior in online spaces to identify technology-associated user constraints to sustainable patterns of online large-scale shared social interactions. Empirical research was conducted to assess the validity of both the theoretical model and methodology. It was based on the analysis of 2.65 million messages posted to 600 Usenet newsgroups over a six month period, and 478,240 email messages sent to 487 email lists managed by Listserv software over a 5-month period. Overall, our findings support a key aspect of the model, namely that individual ‘information overload’ coping strategies have an observable impact on mass-interaction discourse dynamics. Further, that it is possible to demonstrate a link between technology type and information overload impacts through field studies of online behavior. Cyber-archaeology is discussed in terms of its ability to offer insight into aspects of CMC-tool usability, technology design, and to guide future empirical research.