The Economist: Social Networks


Thanks to Prithwis da, who posted this interesting article on facebook … about Primates on Facebook … this is an interesting article, because this brings the realms of sociology and anthropology into the realm of social network … with good effect … given that social networks are “social”, and so, of interest to sociologists, and they are inhabited by “primates”, hence being of interest to anthropologists of all hues.

The article throws light on an interesting aspect of social networking … and something i have thought about, but not come to understand … how do people who have more than say 500 connections on a social network actually keep track of their friends? Turns out, as this article tells, that maybe most of the connections are casual connections … something Andrew McAfee had written about quite some time back … when he talked about the strength of weak ties … that indeed, there is a core of strong relationships, and an extended network which is made up primarily of weak connections. Which leads to the idea that more often than not, you wouldnt find a new job through who you know, but who they know.

Though what i am thinking about is what impact this information has for social networks within organizations. After all, we are talking about leveraging social networks for increasing knowledge-sharing, and enhancing knowledge flows within the organization. While this is a nice idea, the question is, wouldnt the information in this article imply that social networks, beyond a particular point, tend to wilt? Not really … if you look at it carefully, the same phenomenon is applicable to email, as much as it is to social networks. After all, email is also used by the same primates, isnt it? How many people do you email on a regular basis, and how many do you mail on an “as required” basis? I am talking about at work. If you think about it, you would find similar patterns (and i am not talking about all those forwards). But then, within organizations, the people we connect with on a regular basis (the core, according to the article) are few. Having said that, the fact is that we connect with a lot of people on an “as required” basis. Need some information? Talk to someone, with whome you probably connect only infrequently. In other words, though the core makes up what are strong ties, there is also the larger network which people tap into, from time to time.

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