Abstract: Danmu commenting is a new feature of the streaming industry, popular in East Asia. Danmu comments are displayed as streams of comments superimposed on video screens and synchronised to the specific playback time at which the users sent them, moving horizontally from right to left. Interestingly, users do not have options such as “replies” to structure their comments; their interactions commonly include poor addressivity, hidden authorship, and unmarked sending time. The ways in which users actually interact with each other and, more importantly, the implications of such danmu-enabled social interactions on building virtual communities are so far understudied. Through a case study centred on Bilibili, a leading Chinese danmu platform, this article argues that in spite of their visually chaotic manner, the social interactive patterns of danmu commenters contribute to community building. Under the theoretical framework of “sense of virtual community,” the study adopts a data-driven methodology to qualitatively analyse such fragmented data. Results show that Bilibili users have discovered various ways to initiate social contact with each other through the creative use of linguistic and semiotic resources. Their ritualised performance in the Bilibili community is centred around the social aims of danmu comments, danmu clusters, and danmu language, all of which strengthen their sense of virtual community on the dimensions of membership, influence, and immersion. This article contributes to the research on this emerging media phenomenon by illustrating a new mode of watching and engaging in a participatory online community of practice that this platform encourages.
Keywords: Bilibili; community-building; danmu; digital culture; unstructured comments