Monday, November 24, 2008

Social Networking: Our Small World

Today I read “Fitting Our Tools to a Small World”, which is chapter 9 of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. This book was written by Clay Shirky and published in 2008. In this chapter, Shirky talks about social networking, both on the internet and in the real world. He starts off introducing the reader to a “small world” example of two airplane passengers sitting next to each other that find out they know the same people (“What a small world!”). Shirky then goes on to explain how it is not so much a small world as many may believe. There are numerous factors to why these two passengers may know the same people. As Shirky points out, they departed from and are arriving to the same places, which according to Shirky (2008), may increase the chance that they know the same people. In the rest of this chapter, Shirky goes into further detail on how social networks are organized, how the web is used in creating social networks, as well as different tactics used to create and further develop social networks.

In explaining social networking, Skirky cites Watts and Strogatz’s pattern called the “Small World network.” According to Watts and Strogatz (1998), Small World networks are made up of small, densely connected groups, and large, sparsely connected groups (cited by Shirky, 2008). The small dense networks are then connected with each other to form a large social network. The people in the small groups will know more about each other, but the whole larger network with “know of” everyone. I think this is a great show of how any social network works. Whether you are in college or on Myspace, there are these small groups of friends that you know a lot about, and then there are others that you know through your friends.

Shirky further explains this friend-of-a-friend networking using the social networking service dodgeball, which was designed for mobile phone users. Users can send a text message to the dodgeball service, which will then send it to all of the user’s friends, as well as let the user know of others that will be at the same location (either friends or friends of a friend). If a friend of a friend will be at the same location, users will receive a message with a digital picture of the person, which they can use to locate this person and introduce themselves. I find this social networking program very interesting. It is taking the “small world” theory and acting upon it.

In closing, I would like to note that this chapter by Clay Shirky was very informative. Not only was it written in a way that kept me wanting to read, but the subjects and topics were ones I could relate to. I felt very educated on the topic of social networking, and it is now clear that our world might not be that small, but thanks to our social networks it might just seem that way.

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