Monday, November 24, 2008

Small World Networks

When meeting someone new, have you ever thought about the odds that you might have a friend in common? After reading chapter 9 of Here Comes Everybody: The power of organizing without organizations by Clay Shirky, I began to realize this is not as unlikely as it may seem. Social networks are on the rise with the creations of Web 2.0 websites such as Facebook and MySpace. Shirky also mentions another social networking tool called Dodgeball. What these social networks have in common is that they all use the “Small World network.”

A Small World network is efficient because the best form of communication occurs when everyone is allowed to connect with everyone. Or as Shirky simply puts it, small groups are densely connected. “Homophily” categorizes this as the grouping of like with like. To show how this works Shirky explains rather than having a “loose” group of 25 people, create 5 “tighter” groups of 5 people who may know others in different groups. What this does is not only create better connections between the people within that group, but at the same time you are loosely connected with the other groups through common friends (if you don’t already know people in other groups). “A handful of people are extremely critical to holding the whole network together, because as the network grows large, the existence of a small number of highly connected individuals enables the very trade-off between connectivity and effectiveness that makes the Small World pattern work in the first place” (Shirky, p.217). If anybody ever decided to leave or separate themselves from a certain group, Shirky claims that the connection or the links between the other members would not be disrupted.

What really struck my interest was the social networking tool created for mobile phones, called Dodgeball. Shirky narrates how on a random night on the way to the bar Magician, Shirky texts “@magician” to the Dodgeball service. The service not only recognized Shirky as a member, but it recognized the bar as well. Then Dodgeball sends text messages to that person’s friends letting them know where Shirky is; at the same time lets you know if any of your friends are there, or if their friends are there. This is using the friend-of-a-friend network. This resembles the mini-feeds that are being used in MySpace and Facebook, another tool helping people network through social communities. Exemplifying how Small World networks can be efficient.

At the beginning of this chapter I did not think that Small World networks can be so powerful. When members of a certain group have a close connection or relatedness with a few people, it can branch out further to mutual acquaintances you both might know. The use of grouping people together through homophily can not only connect you to people you may know, but people with similar interests as yourself. This chapter helped to break down the use of major social networks and explain how they function effectively. The Dodgeball service was something new and something I had no idea existed. As Shirky explains, although not making great conversation with Andy (friend-of-a-friend), the service allows the person for the chance of expanding their social network. This helps the common person trying to satisfy their desire to meet new people and satisfy their need for homophily.

Shirky, Clay. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations (chapter 9). New York: Penguin.

1 comment:

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