20 thoughts on “Social Networks And Group Formation”

  1. Nice summary of research on what is definitely an important topic for designers today.

    The discussion of LinkedIn seems to be a bit off the mark though. The fact that LinkedIn does not distinguish between strong and weak ties is the rule, not the exception, as far as popular social networking applications go.

    The claim that LinkedIn makes it difficult for you to connect with your weak ties is not factually correct, either. LinkedIn has provided the ability to connect to users with whom you don’t share connections for quite a while now (there’s even an option to indicate that you don’t know the person you’re inviting to connect!)

    Nevertheless, a good read – I look forward to the rest of the series.

  2. Dmitry,

    Thank you for your feedback. I’m not sure if I agree with you completely about LinkedIn letting you connect with weak ties. Only if sign up for one of the paid accounts, do you really have easy access to potential weak ties. Otherwise, the way you reach others is restricted and it was even more difficult to connect with them earlier.

    In terms of whether LinkedIn is an exception versus the norm in being able to differ between strong and weak ties, Facebook presents a different story. By virtue of letting you categorize your Friends, you have a place in which to “keep” your weak ties. The Limited Profile view also helps with this. However, with Facebook I’d really like the ability to create my own categories into which I can put people. I’m told that Plaxo does this with the new version of their software.

    Nevertheless, thanks for the thoughts and I don’t mean to simply slam LinkedIn. It does some things really well and I’m an active user myself.

  3. Thanks for sharing, you’ll probably find the next two parts interesting as well then. In those I talk about group formation and workplace scenarios. I noticed that your article highlights different research. It just goes to show much is out there in terms of quality research.

  4. Great Job Shiv, I’ve been following this topic lately and this is a nice review, very clear, congrats.

  5. _The more mechanisms that you provide for those sub-networks to flourish, greater the overall network growth._

    That’s a good point: the IA of a social network does not need to emphasise a merging of everyone into the “giant component”. The disconnected sub-networks are important too.

    On the other hand, I’m very sad for all those singletons. A singleton in a social network is an oxymoron. And yet that’s how we all start out: a newbie with no friends. Identifying singletons and assisting them to form connections is one of the most important processes for building the network. If a new user can’t do that easily, they don’t come back — and typically leave an unused account behind. Can the theory help IA’s to improve that process?


  6. Something else to remember about encouraging the flourishing of disconnected sub-networks is that innovation and evolution is more likely to occur at the edges, in the isolated enclaves, away from the big groups and their pressure to conform. Once a group moves into the “giant component” then subtle forces come into play which eventually results in stagnation and decay … and then the only way the giant component can ever stay alive is by constantly devouring the fresh blood of disconnected sub-networks.

  7. Thanks for that excellent article.

    Makes me wonder about the idea of “deriving value” from a network. You mention that weak ties are better at providing value to the individual than strong ties. Yet you cite Ning’s model, which would seem to encourage the creation of small, affinity-based, strong-tie communities. Will Ning users look to derive value in a different way?

    Maybe there’s a distinction to be made between more utilitarian communities like LinkedIn [primarily for professional networking] and other, more purely social communities.

  8. Interesting thoughts. Ning does encourage the creation of small, strong-tie networks. But it also encourages you to use your account to join multiple networks on the Ning platform. And in that sense, its helping you find ways to connect with weak ties. So in a sense there are two levels of affinity – first to Ning and then to your specific social networks within Ning.

    Good question about the utilitarian versus social distinction. One can argue that all networks are social but that may not necessarily be the case. Those categories could work.

  9. Eric–

    Your comments seemed on-base at first. Though in re-reading them, there seems to be a degree of proposition to your claims. Is there research that bolsters the ideas in your reminder?

    I can understand that innovation and evolution happen when isolated from the large forces. But the very nature of the technology needs to be considered: one’s association with the larger group is not absolute state of existence, one is not locked in (Tron!). We can step away from our computers. Or we can belong to entirely different networks (indeed I may be “at the edges” in one and part of the “giant component” in another). What I do in my free time away from the network may inform my presence when I log back in–it may still contribute to innovation and evolution within that big group, no? My opinion is that we can have fresh blood without any devouring taking place.

    Or have I misunderstood the ideas in your comment?

  10. Thanks Shiv,
    Good article.
    I remember seeing a LinkedIn visualization tool that displayed a user’s connections in a graph or illustrative format. And, as we all know, there are also other data visualization tools for social networks out there. For instance, Mashable includes a few in this list: http://mashable.com/2007/05/15/16-awesome-data-visualization-tools/.

    What are your thoughts on these types of tools? Are they accurate? Which ones do you find the most interesting or helpful?

  11. The power of Linkedin is that it is not myspace and facebook.

    It is missing the point to critique LInkedIn with regards to weak and strong ties.

    It takes effort to connect and thank good for that, that means that the actual value of your network is so much higher per connection.

  12. Melissa and Thomas, Thank you for your thoughts. I haven’t seen too much research on the visualization tools so it is hard for me to comment on them. On the surface and through my own experience, I can say this – they can be valuable if they truly provide information at different depths. Many visualization tools appear gimmicky because they provide either too little information or too abstract a view. Part of the problem is that a large screen is really required to take advantage of them.

    Regarding the point about LinkedIn, what’s interesting is that different people have different perceptions of the roles of these networks. They also use them very differently. So while for one person, the comparisons maybe natural for another it maybe unfair. Still, your point is noted.

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  14. Stefan,

    Thank you for the link to the article. It was very interesting reading. The other two parts are on their way.


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