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The Primal Forces that Drive Social Networks

2009 September 6

Social Networks are revolutionizing how we view our world.  People are connecting, businesses are being created or transformed, and the world seems like a smaller place.  As with any transformation on a grand scale, a plethora of consultants, gurus, blogs, and how-to books have risen to meet the demand for information about the social revolution.

However, it is very rare to hear anything about the underlying forces that actually drive the social network phenomenon.

It’s a shame because the story is a great one that has implications, not only for social media, but for fields as diverse as counter-terrorism, ecology, economics, organizational theory and cancer research.  Network Theory has fundamentally changed our understanding about how the world works since its inception a decade ago.  Most of all, by understanding how networks form and grow, we can build better ones.

Fireflies and the President of the United States

Our story begins in 1996 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where an adventurous rock climber and former Australian Navy Officer named, Duncan Watts, was thinking about how crickets, frogs, fireflies, and pacemaker cells all seem to be able to synchronize their behavior within large groups.

His mind must have began to wander because he suddenly remembered that his father once told him that everybody is just six relationships away from the President of the United States. The concept had existed in literature early in the 20th century and was documented in Stanley Milgram’s famous “Small World Experiment”.

In a flash of inspiration he went to his PhD thesis advisor, Steven Strogatz, and told him that he wanted to, yet again, change his thesis topic.  Watts had a hunch that both phenomena might be related.  Strogatz, somewhat used to giving his brilliant student leeway, consented.

The Strength of Weak Ties

As he began his research, Watts came across a highly cited paper written by Mark Granovetter called “The Strength of Weak Ties” about how people find jobs.  He found that most people don’t locate employment through their friends, but through friends of friends.

Granovetter dubbed these relationships “weak ties” (after the attraction between water molecules that give the liquid many of its properties).  Granovetter surmised that it is through weak ties that information is largely distributed.  While we can maintain relationships with relatively few people, the people they know greatly increase our access to facts, knowledge and wisdom.

We have friends from work, school, our neighborhood, etc.  While our ties may be strong ties to us, they are weak ties to our friends from separate clusters.  For instance, the felon in our neighborhood can be connected to the law professor at our university in only two steps!

Spacemen vs. Cavemen

Watts also began thinking about his youthful love of science fiction and two Isaac Asimov novels in particular; one about spacemen and another about cavemen. The spacemen communicated remotely so that the people they knew didn’t know each other, while the cavemen lived in isolated groups and knew everybody their friends knew.  He decided to build a mathematical model that would describe both situations and every possibility in between.

In addition to the “degrees of separation” metric (the average number of links it takes to get from one network member to another), Watts also created a “cluster coefficient,” in effect how tightly clustered communities are within the network.

A good analogy is a school lunchroom.  How many people who have close relationships would be calculated by the cluster coefficient while how many introductions one would need, on average, to get to any particular person, would be the degrees of separation (or more technically, path length).  This type of calculation has been second nature for poor note-takers and class-cutters alike for ages.

Armed with mathematical representations for both his “spacemen and his “cavemen” he could experiment with different types of networks.

Small World Networks

What he found was startling. In his model, as communities connect to each other, the social distance between people increases – up to a point – and then immediately comes crashing down.  It turns out that it takes just a little bit of mixing for the social distance to decrease by an enormous amount, but a lot of mixing to kill communities.  Although surprising, the pattern was familiar.  Similar “instantaneous phase transitions” have been long known in Physics.

Moreover, he found that in almost all cases, the same result appeared, it was only a matter of time for a network under fairly normal conditions to reach the optimal state.  Globally connected networks with strong local cohesion are not only possible, they are the equilibrium case – you just needed a relatively small number of Granovetter’s “weak ties” mixed in to make the whole thing work.

He called the result a “Small World Network” after Milgram’s famous experiment.

Hey!  Networks Grow, Don’t They?

Watts published a paper on his findings with Strogatz and it became an immediate success, widely read and cited throughout the scientific community.  At Notre Dame University, Albert-Laszlo Barabasi and his student, Réka Albert, noticed an oversight – networks grow over time and large communities within networks drive the growth.  They quickly published their own paper.

What they found was that networks follow a very specific mathematical rule called a “power law” that described well known phenomena such as the “80/20 rule” and Chris Andersen’s now famous long tail.  Their findings suggested that even very large networks were driven by relatively few “hubs” around which everything else was organized.

The two teams continued to trade papers back and forth and in a very short time Network Theory had arrived!

Implications of Network Theory for Social Media

Through understanding the forces that drive social networks, we can take some practical steps to improve Social Media performance.

Communities are primary:  A network is only as strong as the communities that it contains.  A big mistake that many Social Media efforts make is to pursue broad coverage early on.  Building enthusiastic, devoted communities requires a local approach (either geographically or in social space).  Those local communities have “weak ties” to other communities in other places, even faraway places.  So you really can think globally by acting locally.

People want to connect: Connections between communities naturally grow over time for the same reasons that information wants to be free and dictatorships are expensive to maintain.  Any opportunity to implement open architecture (while maintaining security protocols for the site core) should be seized upon. Walling off a social network is choosing the path to obscurity (although hardly the one less traveled).

Large clusters drive the network: A small number of extremely active members drive network growth.  Mostly, they are driven by reputation and attention so it is crucial to give users every opportunity to be recognized by their peers.

Social Media isn’t successful… until it is: A network doesn’t grow in a linear fashion and it doesn’t grow in just one direction, but two: outward and inward.  Watts described a network maturing as an “instantaneous phase transition” similar to a crystal forming.  The process moves relatively slowly and then, suddenly, a new global state is achieved.  Once a “Small World Network” has formed, the growth becomes exponential.

Social Networks on the web can be extremely powerful.  Once you understand the forces that drive them, you can make their horsepower work with you and not against you.

- Greg

Note:  For those of you who are interested in learning more, Watts and Barabasi have both published highly readable and informative accounts of their Network Theory adventure and the friendly rivalry.  It’s a lot of fun to read both sides and learn both about their triumphs and their frustration when the other one uncovered something which seemed fairly obvious in retrospect.  Besides being brilliant both write well and in friendly and engaging styles.  In fact, the books are much more accessible than journalist accounts of the same events.

The titles are “Six Degrees” (Watts) and “Linked” (Barabasi).  Steven Strogatz has also published a great book called “Sync” that covers pre-cursor work to Network Theory.  All are refreshing counterpoints to “guru books” and offer true insight and wisdom.

69 Responses leave one →
  1. September 7, 2009

    I REALLY enjoyed this and tweeted the link. I’ve been wondering for a while if you can determine a standard pattern for the growth of social networks, in general. This helps answer my question. Thanks!

    [Reply]

  2. Helena permalink
    September 8, 2009

    Very interesting article, Greg. Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Helena,

    Thanks for coming by and commenting.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  3. September 8, 2009

    Greg,

    Incredible post.

    Thanks for focusing on how and why social media works instead of just how to exploit it. I’m very interested in reading the books you mentioned.

    It will also be interesting to see when the current social networks reach their optimal state. Remember AOL? MySpace?

    One thing I might have missed (or misunderstood) was what it actually is that causes the collapse of a network once it reaches its optimal state. And are there typically warning signs or is it almost immediate? Or is it another network as could be argued that Facebook did to MySpace and Netscape’s portal to the Internet — the mother of all networks — did to AOL (note to Myspace users… yes, MySpace still exists but it’s a shell of its former self, same goes for AOL).

    Again, Greg, thanks for the fantastic post. I look forward to your next one.

    – Jebediah

    PS — Erik Qualman is still a nice smelling arrogant idiot. Sorry, I tried really hard to be nice.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Jebediah,

    Thanks for such a nice comment. As to your question, I think you are describing two quite separate things: Collapse and Deterioration.

    1. Network Collapse: Because a network is interdependent, a breakdown in one part of the network can lead to a widespread failure by way of a cascade. A good example an electricity blackout. A failure of a single power line can, and has, caused power failures across multiple states and regions. If the network is running at near full capacity, the surge cause by the first failure will go from power station to power station in a domino-like effect. (Or like, in Kiev, they might just decide to cut your electricity off for no Goddamn reason! You just sit in the dark, damp and cold stewing and wanting to shoot yourself!)

    2. Deterioration: Like anything else, a network needs to be maintained. A network is only as strong as the links in it. A lot of social networks run into problems because for the links to be maintained, information has to go through them. Just being connected isn’t enough. Once one starts getting back in touch with people from high school from 20 years ago, one is often reminded why touch was lost in the first place.

    AOL is a good example because it really took years to fall. They were walling of their network and actually trying to restrict information flow. The fact that it was as strong as it was for as long as it was really is a testament to the strength of the network they built. Facebook, on the other hand, seems to have been able, through an open architecture, to keep information flowing through the network.

    That’s about the best I can do at the moment. Anyway, great question!

    - Greg

    P.S. – I wasn’t as nice as you think, maybe just a little subtle. Try clicking on the “Wittgenstein” link in my last response on EQ’s blog.

    [Reply]

  4. September 8, 2009

    Very interesting and very well written! But there’s something I’d like to understand better – when you write:

    “… as communities connect to each other, the social distance between people increases – up to a point – and then immediately comes crashing down.”

    By social distance, are you referring to average path length? If so, why would it ever increase as communities connect? Surely, if Alice and Bob were in two unconnected clusters which then connect, the path length A-B would drop?

    Anyway, you then write that some mixing decreases social distances by enormous amounts, but that a lot of mixing kills communities. What, in this context, does it mean to kill a community? Are we still talking about social distances, the amount of communications going on between members …?

    Many thanks again for an excellent post,

    Mathew
    Brussels

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Mathew,

    You bring very good points that I glossed over for the sake of space and simplicity. I’ll try to explain them briefly.

    1. Your Alice and Bob analogy is accurate, but doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Once Alice and Bob join their communities, the total social space increases. Therefore average path lengths would increase initially, because you have just one more connection in double the social space (assuming both communities were the same size).

    2. An enormous amount of mixing would mean basically one-to-one relationships and community would lose it’s meaning. For instance, small towns sometimes fear that too much mixing will make them lose their unique culture and way of life. Most of the time, this is an irrational fear because it really takes an enormous amount of mixing – the graph needs to be shown on a logarithmic scale- for communities to lose their cohesiveness.

    I’m sorry that I can’t go into more detail. If you would like to know more, I would direct you to the books I noted below the post or, if your really ambitious, to Duncan Watts’ dissertation which is published under the title of “Small Worlds.”

    Thanks for your comment and thanks for continuing to come to Digital Tonto.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  5. vitaly sych permalink
    September 9, 2009

    Greg,

    Comments onyour blog are way too nice. I’ll link it to korr.net and you’ll get some of the stuff I get. Kidding. Nice post.

    [Reply]

  6. September 9, 2009

    Greg, thanks for the clarifications. I’m adding those books to my reading list.

    Mathew

    [Reply]

  7. September 11, 2009

    The reply to this serious discussion requires more than the usual ‘sound bites’ and is one of the more serious discussions proffered about social media.

    Thanks for your third paragraph where you included the link to Network Theory where math and science are provided to get a firm foundation of this social media, which is not a phenomenon yet.

    After two years of researching social media I did not know at the beginning that the majority of the social media participants had no knowledge of what a public company is and the significance that the public companies play in a country’s success and how under utilized this tool is.

    I do not mean this nonsense of people trading stocks and discussing this little understood subject at dinner parties. I mean the absolute essence of capitalism where the vehicle is the public company can creates 3, 5, 11, 20, and over 40 times more money than revenue than none public companies, essentially the creations of free money that can be shared with social media participants to build better self sustaining economic systems and networks.

    What I am saying here and agreeing with your bog’s second paragraph:

    “It’s a shame because the story is a great one that has implications, not only for social media, but for fields as diverse as counter-terrorism, ecology, economics, organizational theory and cancer research. Network Theory has fundamentally changed our understanding about how the world works since its inception a decade ago. Most of all, by understanding how networks form and grow, we can build better ones.”

    The science aspect of this article should have us aware at all times that things in nature come paired and free credit is no exception. The economic aspects of this article should have us all wondering without blaming others, what is the opposite of free negative credit?

    The answer is free positive equity. But when social media participants universally lack the basically science and economic knowledge to integrate the two, social media as a phenomenal could take forever or tomorrow depending on the structure.

    I firmly believe that the next logical step in ‘social media’ is combining the ‘pure financial needs of social media participants’ with the ‘pure financial needs of start-ups businesses destined to be publicly traded companies for social good.

    Paul Katchings
    http://www.b2bvp.com
    b2bvp@b2bvp.com

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Thanks Paul,

    Your comment is very thoughtful. Thanks for taking the time and effort, most people don’t.

    - Greg

    -

    [Reply]

  8. September 12, 2009

    I started a ning network as an experiment, originally intending to keep it walled for an association membership. Thankfully Mathew persuaded me to open it up, thereby unleashing the primal forces. Still small, 120 members, but only after 4 months with basically no driving. It is now growing fast, increasing the distance between people at the same time as bringing them together.

    Before reading this excellent post (thanks) I was already discussing with core members how to maintain the network, looking at the affinities (ties) that attract and finding a delicate balance between exerting too much hold that will cause it to fall back on itself and too little that will let it drift into meaningless (yes I did have expanding universes on the brain).

    Now I know I wasn’t just rambling. I’ll look forward to letting you know how far the practice reflects the theory.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Hugh,

    Congratulations on your success! One piece of advice: Try to keep your members happy. That will go farther than any expansion scheme. In a networked worlds, devoted communities can evangelize for you extremely effectively. Especially those who are interested in international business communication!

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  9. September 14, 2009

    A fascinating article, Greg, which led to my reading many of your sources. This is ny first exposure to network theory, and you have inspired me to learn more. Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Charles,

    Thanks. They are great books! Easy and fun to read, It’s a wonder that more social media “experts” don’t take the time.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  10. Leslie Jones permalink
    September 22, 2009

    Greg,

    Appreciate your article and understanding the means (not just the method) behind growth of a community or social network. I particularly agree with the comments re: Large clusters drive the network. I am a firm believer that the most active members drive growth.
    Thanks for the insight!

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Leslie,

    Thanks. I’m glad you liked it:-)

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  11. September 22, 2009

    Dear Greg-

    Thank you for sharing your really interesting post! It contained lots of references to other studies, and hard data, which is a refreshing change from pure, unsupported opinion, or ranting (that others sometiems post)! The article was informative, and had a “Gladwell-ian” (my word to refer to Malcolm Gladwell, http://www.gladwell.com/) style.
    Excellent work- thanks.

    Jess

    Jess Joss
    Insiteful Solutions
    >>– targeted Internet results –>>
    jess@insitefulweb.com
    http://www.insitefulweb.com

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Jess,

    I’m not Gladwell’s biggest fan, but I still take it as a compliment. Thank you.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  12. September 22, 2009

    Wonderful post. Very well written. Really underscores the power and importance of connecting, not just creating a profile or posting information about one’s self. Contributing to the flow of communication is an overlooked necessity in the success of a network.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Linda,

    Thanks. I’m glad you liked it.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  13. September 23, 2009

    Good post. I think another primal force is that people want to be liked and long to be popular. Social networks are a way to expand on that for some, or are an alternative for some who were never good at off-line social networking. Of course, it’s also another way to be rejected. ;-)

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Rick,

    Don’t worry. Your safe here:-)

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  14. September 23, 2009

    At the center of the challenges confronting anyone who takes a long hard look at Social media, either as a participant or as a study in human behavior is the sheer weight of information.

    If you have a few hundred followers on Twitter, or a couple dozen friends in a group on Linked-in you can only realistically read a small ratio of content. You can actively participate in less.

    Before we can all become the media, a new set of organizing principals needs to make it all navigable. A number of smart companies are working on this. Several are quite far along. TechCrunch50 showcased a number of interesting ideas along this line last week.

    Currently all the systems we support are organic, random, chaotic – who you meet on the train may influence your long tail in a way that is substantial. The fact that I glanced at your post…

    We seem to have similar areas of interest… perhaps we could compare notes. Let’s stay in touch.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    David,

    There are a lot of good ideas about this. I wrote about some of them.

    See: The Amazing Possibilities of Social Search http://www.digitaltonto.com/archives/427

    Yes, let’s keep in touch.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  15. September 25, 2009

    Hi Greg,
    Great article and wonderful to find a like-minded thinker. (Including your view of Gladwell, who did a very good job popularizing concepts like tipping points, but not such a good job giving credit to the science.) Understanding the structure of networks is especially important because network properties do not follow our common heuristics for how the world works and can lead to decisions based on the wrong assumptions. It also argues for systems with redundancies to accommodate network failures and understanding that we don’t need to look for who’s to blame (we seem to like to do this). Ironically, at a time when the importance and power of redundant systems is shown all around us, we are seeing a push to more centralized government. To David’s interesting point about information control above, the systems we use for information are being parsed by the network properties. Can we manage it without screwing up the really interesting stuff? Who we meet on the train is not random, because our network associations influence how we got there in the first place. The amount we connect with weak links determines how wide our information net is cast.

    I touched on similar information in short PPT shows for a social media course I co-teach at UCIrvine. http://mprcenter.org/blog/2009/07/12/social-media-network-properties-in-powerpoint/ Now that Camtasia has a Mac version, I will update them and put them into one file. Welcome any feedback!
    best,
    Pam

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Pam,

    Thanks! Excellent presentation. You really the important points in a very compact, understandable way. You must be a great teacher.

    Re Gladwell: I don”t hate him like some people do, but he does have an annoying habit of transforming anecdotal evidence into a a universal principle. He turns good science back into voodoo.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

    Tiberius Brastaviceanu Reply:

    Very nice post Greg, and nice comment Pamela.

    Pamela, you mentioned centralized government. Centralized systems are my main concern. I am trying to understand how the new technology is changing the power structure in our societies. I see a massive movement towards decentralization emerging. The new tools of communication, coordination, and coordination make networks grow (and they grow!), and this in turn rewards sharing and collaboration, and gives value to the individual. While this is happening in the social space, there is in parallel an awakening at the individual level. People are realizing their individual value and the fact that they can actually make things happen by collaborating with others. This is what I call the “MULTITUDE SOCIAL MOVEMENT”.

    New institutions are emerging to compete with classical centralized, and now corrupt, ones. The potential of these collaborative networks that can spawn the globe is far greater than any classical institution. The entire world is at the point of phase transition. The corporate/financial elite agenda for globalization and world domination becomes impracticable, because it is based on a obsolete view of the world. It doesn’t take into account a very well interconnected and empowered multitude.

    We need to be very careful though. As the effective power is transfered to the multitude, key resources remain in the hands of the old masters of our society, including the access to the military machine.

    We need people like you Greg, to understand what is happening around us, where our society is going, and to make sure this abrupt social phase transition will be a smooth ride.

    [Reply]

    Tiberius Brastaviceanu Reply:

    Here’s the link to the Multitude Project
    http://sites.google.com/site/multitude2008/

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Tiberius,

    Interesting site. Good luck with it.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  16. September 27, 2009

    Hi Greg,
    Great post – it is great to see academics getting to the very core of the online revolution. My old school friend Hugh Macleod has written in an altogether less eloquent however equally inspiring way about the existence of social networks and their very reason for existing and continued growth – the heart of his posts revolve around the subject under discussion rather than the essence of human behaviour and the need to connect and share, although inclusive of them: The Social Object, http://gapingvoid.com/2007/12/31/social-objects-for-beginners/

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Colin,

    Thanks. I enjoyed reading Hughes post. The organism really does depend on the substrate.

    btw. Social objects are very similar to what Duncan Watts calls “Affiliation Networks.” See this article on “Social Search” http://www.digitaltonto.com/archives/427http://www.digitaltonto.com/archives/427

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  17. james morran permalink
    September 30, 2009

    We call it “Viral Distribution.” There first must be a reason for the community, second, a reward for joining. Building a proper wireframe to address all the needs is often not sufficient. People are looking for a way to satisfy their desires. You can give someone what they need and it is a done deal – give them something they desire and they will be with you forever. It is this reward that they will mark on the walls for all to see. Edward Bernays learned this from a relative, Sigmund Freud, during WW2 and brought it to America – where he turned the term Propaganda into Public Relations. See here: http://www.prwatch.org/prwissues/1999Q2/bernays.html

    Greg, enjoyed the material greatly – you have been bookmarked.

    jm

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Thank you, Jim.

    [Reply]

  18. October 2, 2009

    Greg,
    Thanks for finding my review of “Six Pixels of Separation” on the Social Media Club Seattle website. Your efforts represent some of the best of social media interaction: extending an invitation to others to participate, and creating great content and a place where others feel comfortable and compelled to respond and interact.

    The number of thoughtful comments on this page alone says volumes!

    Among other things, I’m interested to learn that there’s a social media certificate program offered by my alma mater’s (UC Irvine) Extension School of Business and Law. That’s new!

    I agree that understanding the underlying forces of social networking is a worthy endeavor, definitely more interesting to some than others. But you have to admit that it’s possible to harness those forces without really understanding them in a scientific sense. It sounds to me like you are doing both!

    I’ll look forward to future posts.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Mark,

    Thank you for your kind words.

    Yes, I would agree that it is possible to use social media effectively without understanding the underlying principles. However, I also think that people who choose a field and tout themselves as experts in it should be more rigorous in their approach.

    I really do have mixed feelings about these “Social Media Gurus.” On the one hand, I think it is important to make a distinction between them and the charlatans who are little better than con artists. People like Erik Qualman, Chris Brogan, etc. seem to really mean well and probably do help people to understand some things about the medium. I have learned some things from them.

    On the other hand, there is an amateurish quality to them. They tend to select facts they like and ignore facts that they don’t. They find straw men to beat the hell out of and histrionically tout successes. It’s a bit annoying and, I believe, will prove to be counterproductive in the end.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  19. October 7, 2009

    Excellent article Greg, and very timely for me to come across!

    I find human ‘group mentality’ fascinating, and I found your article of great interest.
    Thanks also for the further links to study ;-)

    Well done!!

    ::tdbtb::

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Thanks dude!

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  20. james morran permalink
    October 10, 2009

    Greg,

    I wanted to post a link to this article on my LinkedIn group – DRTV Worldwide.

    Is that possible?

    Let me know

    James Morran, CEO
    First Look Marketing Group
    818 506 8553

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    James,

    Sure! Absolutely!

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  21. October 12, 2009

    I’ve been attempting to build local communities through social media for the past seven months, and it’s remarkable how many of your scientific “laws” I have discovered through crude trial and error. This article was spectacular, and I have already added your recommended books to my reading list. I will return to this blog regularly, and hope to be able to make contributions to this conversation.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Chris,

    Thanks. That’s great to hear!

    You might also like the new post about Social Networks and Chaos.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  22. October 23, 2009

    Greg,

    I have just started to open my eyes in a serious way concerning social networking. There is so much information and so little context. Like drinking from a fire hose. And most of the “stuff” I have been reading is thinly valed self promotion. Nothing wrong with self promotion, but I have been getting turned off by how these gurus are talking all altruistic like, but bottom line, they are soft selling a book or program as their hidden agenda. I want to be pulled not pushed and there is a lot of pushing going on. Not attractive.

    Anyway, your post has done more to put into context, this cacophony of information, than anything I have read to date.

    Thanks for that. Up till now there seamed to be too many possible futures but now I am starting to see a path.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Gary,

    Thanks. I’m glad you liked the article. I feel the same way about “Social Media guru’s.” They seem to always wonder why nobody “gets” them while at the same time don’t seem to understand much of what goes on anywhere else.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  23. Jim Sabogal permalink
    October 28, 2009

    Hi Greg,
    Thanks for the article. This has provided me with a good background for understanding how the whole “social media” thing works. Your article makes sense. As a novice to all this are there other articles you would recommend? In the meantime I will pass this onto my ‘small world network.’ I hope to get started in this space by providing topics of interest.

    I plan to come back from time to time and learn about this space.

    Jim

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Jim,

    On this site, you can just click on the “Social Media” or “Network Theory” tags in the article.

    Once again, I highly recommend the books by Barabasi and Watts. They are fun to read and are primary sources. I’ve read a lot about Social Networks and will continue to, but to be honest, most of it is crap.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  24. November 1, 2009

    Hi Greg

    All I can say about it is that it really grabbed my attention it’s a thought-provoking post!

    Thanks for sharing

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Israel,

    That’s very nice of you to say.

    Thank you.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  25. November 1, 2009

    I read about many of these theories in Dave Evan’s Social Media Marketing An Hour A Day. Interestingly in my business opportunity they are now talking about Internet Media Optimization which is the merging of SEO and Social Media Marketing.

    Some of my colleagues have got how SEO using a Blog can drive huge amounts of traffic I have doubled mine in a month. However they have not yet made the transition from ‘the money is in the list ‘ to ‘the money is in the followers’.

    Fascinating and very readable post and added your feed to keep me update. Great work.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Andrew,

    Thanks. There actually is a lot of overlap between network theory and search. Duncan Watts worked very closely with Jon Klienberg when they were both at Cornell. The ideas that Kleinberg was working on at the time were very similar to the Google “:Wonder wheel” that was recently launched.

    It’s an interesting story. You can read about it in another post here.

    Thanks again for coming by and adding to the discussion.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  26. November 7, 2009

    Very interesting and indeed for us in the third world where Social Networks have come in with a storm.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    David,

    Thanks. I’m glad you found it helpful.

    btw. What social media is popular in Kenya. Are they accessed mostly through regular or mobile internet.

    - Greg

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  27. November 7, 2009

    Greg,

    The most common are: (by rank most famous is 1)

    1. Facebook
    2. My space
    3. Hi5
    4. Wayn
    5. Tagged
    6. LinkedIn

    This are my views…

    And we use bith regular and mobile access (mobile is now very famous)

    David

    [Reply]

  28. November 8, 2009

    Great post Greg. It’s really food for thought. It got me thinking on how social media is growing in my country and how a small contact with people in the US and Europe drove a huge growth in networking here, being a developing country. It’s amazing how fast we can build true global networks, right now.

    Contrary to what many think, Mobile access has became very popular in developing countries. Here in Peru there are applications that work with twitter and facebook through SMS (the SMS feature of twitter isn’t available here, so someone build one as a third party app.)

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Jorge,

    Great input. Muchas gracias!

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  29. November 27, 2009

    Once again, Greg, you have articulated powerful ideas that interpret much of the phenomena happening before our eyes, in these times in which we live. Kudos, tell your dad he can be proud of you. (Likely, your mom already is.)

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Ron,

    Thanks, although my Dad passed away a few years ago, I’ll tell him anyway. Mom says he listens:-)

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  30. John MacDonald permalink
    November 29, 2009

    Love this posting about a truly fundamental construct of the media landscape. And well written as usual.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    John,

    I’m glad you liked it. Thanks.

    btw. You might also like this article on how ideas spread that is also related to network theory.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  31. December 6, 2009

    Greg,

    Just ran across your posting on LinkedIn so I followed it to your blog. Useful info to avoid trying the “herding cats” approach to using Social Media.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Matt,

    Thanks. I’m glad you liked it:-)

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  32. Erik Talgo permalink
    December 17, 2009

    Just caught this on LinkedIn. Great advice on taking the local approach to building devoted communities. I think you must develop locally in order to discover the appropriate “weak ties.” From there, they will help foster the growth of a social network that is based on meaningful relationships that are mutually beneficial.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Erik,

    Good points. Local communities are the building blocks of social networks.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  33. December 19, 2009

    Greg, thanks for another great post. I have not been disappointed by even one of your posts. Always well-written, rich in content, and valuable in theory and practice. I think what social networking brings back to the forefront is that no matter who your customer is, no matter what product or service you are trying to sell, the consumer is a human being. Humans communicate, build relationships, interact, network, etc. Networking is networking – whether it be on or off the web. Social networking sites can be equated with company holiday parties, company picnics, business-sponsored golf outings, etc. As you explained, networking begins at a local level and then grows exponentially according to the degrees of separation theory. As you say, social networking on the web is very powerful because we are able to expand our spheres of influence to such an incredibly huge arena – that being the Internet. I look forward to catching up on your posts that I have missed and reading your new ones. Thanks again for sharing :)

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Julie,

    Thank your kind words. I also think that you hit on an important point that social network analysis has brought to the fore: Anybody in the network can be influential.

    Often, marketers get so caught up in numbers and targeting that they forget that consumers are real people with real lives who do real things. They call off-target audience that they reach “wastage.”

    One thing that I really like about the effect of social networks is that it keeps marketers honest. It magnifies word of mouth to such an extent that no one can be ignored.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  34. David Wilcox permalink
    December 29, 2009

    Greg, was just turned on to your blog by Jeanne Meister. I had always wondered why my small network of LinkedIn connections became so powerful a couple of years ago. Now I know.

    I met about 20% of my connections at conferences between 2007 and now. My ability to see connections exploded after adding a relatively small number of these conference people, especially speakers in 2007.

    It is clear now that these people were natural connectors and their networks likely included other connectors. Adding them to a modest network created as you describe an “instantaneous phase transition”. Too bad I did not gather the metrics, but great to understand the why. Also love the Tonto story.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    David,

    Thanks for the great story. Have a happy and safe New Year.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

  35. March 19, 2010

    When I joined Linkedin just over 2 short years ago the membership was nearer 10M that 20M, and now it is 60M. Connectors make everyone in a network prosper if they actually allow the network to engage with them.
    Treat every chance to help as a chance to strengthen your network.

    Never forget, you will be amazed who knows who, and a small act of kindness can rebound and change your life forever for the better.
    .-= simon hamer´s last blog ..simonhamer: RIP Alex Chilton, Rock Musician, Dies – Mr. Chilton, whose work spanned an eclectic gamut from the soul songs of th… http://ow.ly/16PVp2 =-.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Simon,

    Nice. Thanks for sharing.

    - Greg

    [Reply]

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