Tuesday, April 5, 2011

09 Fitting Our Tools to a Small World

The structure of social networks makes “small-world connections” or homophily (the grouping of like with like) occur.  Watts’and Strogatz’s research on  the "Small World network” discussed the ideas that small groups are densely connected, like the clusters of friends on Facebook or Myspace, and that large groups are sparsely connected.  The ideal condition to bond these two characteristics is to allow small groups to remain tightly connected and connect them together into a large group through linked members. The Power Law of Distribution highlights the idea that just a few people account for a disproportionate amount of the overall connectivity of large groups.  
Social tools rely on and extend the small world pattern.  For example, Dodgeball is a program designed for mobile phone users to send texts and discover connections with people that are mutual friends with someone that you know, allowing you to introduce yourself based on those in your network that are at the same location as you.  The idea of the small world network explains how people are connected through clusters, instead of randomly, which allow them to interact with the same people frequently, even in large networks.  
Social capital, which is analogous to financial capital, is the store of behaviors and norms in any large group that lets members show support to one another.  Bonding capital is an increase in the depth of connections and trust within a relatively homogeneous group, while bridging capital is an increase in connections among relatively heterogeneous groups.  For example, the presidential campaign team for Howard Dean was successful in creating tight bonds within their group, but failed to connect to people outside of their group in order to gain enough votes to win the election.
    Burt’s research on social capital focused on the observation that most good ideas come from bridging “structural holes” or people whose immediate social network included employees outside their department.  Bridging structural holes was valuable, even with variables such as rank and age were controlled.  Bridging capital increases the likelihood of creating good or effective ideas.
    Connections are not always perfect.  Not only do we need to find a way to increase the opportunity to develop successful or innovative ideas, but it is necessary to learn to tolerate the failures as well.

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