About Me (Nate TeBlunthuis)

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington and member of the Community Data Science Collective. My research covers ecological analyses of online communication, lifecycles and governance in online communities, and the analysis of field experiments in online community platforms. I practice computational social science and have a background in mathematics and computer science.

Many people invoke “ecosystem” as metaphor to emphasize complexity and interdependence in communication systems like the Internet. However, there is also a huge natural science called “ecology” which successfully learns about biological ecosystems. Organizational sociologists and communication scientists have already appropriated theories, models and methods from ecology to understand interdependence between human organizations like firms and social movements. I draw both from these social science literatures and from bio-ecology to understand how environmental contexts and interdependence between online communities shapes their growth, survival and organizing processes. My master’s thesis applied this approach using topic models to study competition between online petitions. My research group's work in this area was just awarded an NSF grant to fund work in this area.

My second interest is in understanding the interplay between growth and governance in participatory online communities. Just as organizations have stages of development (e.g. Tuckman’s forming, norming, storming, performing), online communities may have lifecycles of their own. For instance, Wikipedia’s editor community started taking off and grew rapidly through 2008 when it abruptly began declining as it grew more oligarchical and closed to newcomers. My work suggests that this pattern of rise-and-decline accompanied by barriers to newcomers generalizes to other peer production projects.

Part of the explanation for rise-and-decline patterns may be the need for governance technologies in large or advanced communities. I am currently analyzing a natural experiment to study technologies that make problematic contributions to Wikipedia more visible may shape the experience of new and anonymous contributors

Methodologically, I am interested in Bayesian modeling, dynamical systems, dimensionality reduction, and field experiments. In addition to the aforementioned natural experiment, I also collaborated on a study of a natural quasi-experiment where Wikis made a design change which seems to lead to changes in communication behaviors.

My main hobbies are skiing, rock climbing, guitar playing, listening to music, and cooking. I’m married to Amanda, a community organizer and student at UW medical school.

I care deeply about the free software and free culture movements. I’ve been using Linux for 15 years. I also contribute to Wikipedia.

I am a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow.


I grew up in Kennewick in eastern Washington state. After high school, I worked in a glass laboratory at PNNL where I contributed to a number of material science papers. I went to college at Whitworth University where I received a double-B.S. in Mathematics and Computer Science in 2012. As an undergrad I was part of a bioinformatics research group and contributed to research on structured search engines. Afterwards, I worked at Microsoft for a couple of years where I mostly worked on search suggestions for Bing multimedia and learned about machine learning and big data.


nathante <at> uw <dot> edu
he/him, they/them