Monday, November 24, 2008

Shirky- 11/24/08

In Com430z, I was assigned to read Shirky’s chapter “Fitting Our Tools to a Small World” from the book “Here Comes Everybody”.

In this article Shirky takes a look at various social groups both big and small to better understand the structure of social networks. Shirky goes on to show the importance of the structure of social networks and how it can drastically change the relationships between people. In support of this idea Shirky talks about a pattern of social networking called the “Small World” network which was a name dubbed by researchers Duncan Watts and Steve Strogatz. In this pattern Watts and Strogatz attempt to highlight the “it’s a small world” comment often made by people when they meet someone that shares a common associate/friend with them. Shirky then shows how this small world concept actually works expressing two of its main characteristics which enable the messages to move through the links more effectively. The first characteristic presented was the idea that small groups are densely connected this simply meaning that everyone within that group easily connects with one another (Birthday Party Paradox). It was also shown that within these smaller groups the actual communication links are not compromised when one person leaves the group. The second characteristic Watts and Strogatz talk about is actually the opposite of the first here a focus is placed on larger groups having sparse connections. Here they express how in larger groups peoples links between one another is a lot more spread out amongst various people. However the links in larger groups are a lot more important because if an individual whom is linking a smaller group to this larger group decides to leave they could ruin the whole link.

All in all from this article I really gained a better understanding of the power of social networking. I can honestly say I didn’t really know what people meant when they said the phrase “it’s a small world”. However, since reading this article by Shirky this concept of six degrees of separation doesn’t seem to foreign to me. I also really liked how Shirky used common social networking applications like Facebook and Myspace to further explain the article. This not only helped me to get a visual of how these ideas worked but also how common they occur in our everyday lives.

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