Online spaces that enable shared public interpersonal communications are of significant social, organizational, and economic importance. In this paper, a theoretical model and associated unobtrusive method are proposed for researching the relationship between online spaces and the behavior they host. The model focuses on the collective impact that individual information-overload coping strategies have on the dynamics of open, interactive public online group discourse. Empirical research was undertaken to assess the validity of both the method and the model, based on the analysis of over 2.65 million postings to 600 Usenet newsgroups over a 6-month period. Our findings support the assertion that individual strategies for coping with "information overload" have an observable impact on large-scale online group discourse. Evidence was found for the hypotheses that: (1) users are more likely to respond to simpler messages in overloaded mass interaction; (2) users are more likely to end active participation as the overloading of mass interaction increases; and (3) users are more likely to generate simpler responses as the overloading of mass interaction grows.The theoretical model outlined offers insight into aspects of computer-mediated communication tool usability, technology design, and provides a road map for future empirical research.
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