Monday, November 24, 2008

The Key to a Small World

In Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, by Clay Shirky, the author explains how large social networks exist. The term large social network if often taken for granted because people do not fully understand how they function. They are a part of many but do not know the theory behind it. This is why Shirky explains in his article how these social networking patterns are formed and maintained.

In 1998, Watts and Strogatz released research they conducted, titled, “Small World Network”. (Shirky, 215) This was published with the intent to inform readers how exactly these social networks are created and maintained. They broke down their theory into having two main parts. The first part being that “small groups are densely connected.” (Shirky, 215) This basically means that in a small group of about five friends, everybody knows everybody. They all speak regularly, and know personal facts about one another. If one person leaves the group, it is not phased because all the people are still densely connected and do not rely on anyone to communicate with another person. The second part of Watts and Strogatz’s theory is that ‘large groups are sparsely connected.’ (Shirky 215.) This means that as your group gets larger, it is more likely that people who are in the group will not know everyone in the group. (unlike the first part of their theory) Because of this, one must combine both parts of their theories in order to have a successful social network. For example, “Instead of one loose group of twenty-five, you have five tight groups of five. The network will be sparse but efficient and robust.” (Shirky, 216)

After reading about how social networks function I realized that the social network that I am a part of works exactly the same. I have a group of friends from my hometown in Staten Island. We are all very close, and have been friends since the grammar school days. I also have a close group of friends that I made in college from the Albany area. Even though everyone that I am speaking about from the two different groups are facebook friends, dosen’t necessarily mean that they are to be considered ‘densely connected.’ Instead they are two separate smaller groups that are connected through me, because I am part of both groups. This is a prime example of the research Watts and Strogatz presented backing the theory of the “Small World Network”.

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

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