Archive for the ‘Social Networking’ Category

ARIN6901: Twitter: Weak ties and a low degree of separation make for an effective diffusion tool

September 13, 2010

The exploration by Caroline Haythornthwaite in regards to use of media and how this relates to the strength of ties is seamlessly applicable to Twitter. According to Haythornthwaite:

It is argued from the research literature and studies by the author that where ties are strong, communicators can influence each other to adapt and expand their use of media to support the exchanges important to their tie, but where ties are weak, communicators are dependent on common, organizationally established means of communication and protocols established by others. Due to this differential use of media, a new medium that adds means and opportunities for previously unconnected others to communicate will have positive effects on weak ties and weak-tie networks, in particular by laying an infrastructure of latent ties (ones that exist technically but have not yet been activated), and providing an opportunity for weak ties to develop and strengthen.
(Haythornthwaite, 2002:  p.1)

Twitter is a non-reciprocal social networking service – people can “follow” others yet that person being followed is not obligated to follow them back. According to a Korean study which analysed 41 million user profiles and 1.47 billion follower/following relationships, only 22% of connections on Twitter are reciprocal and an astounding 68% of users are not followed by anyone that they follow (Lardinois, 2010). I am sceptical about that last figure however.  Although other SNSs also do not require reciprocal relationships, Twitter has the lowest rate of these.

So, going back to the notion of network ties, I believe Twitter’s organisation favours weak ties and this is likely one of the reasons it has become so heavily adopted – it is currently used by 93 million people (Kiss, 2010). Since the relationship does not have to be reciprocal, a major barrier to participation has been removed, allowing for a larger number of connections to be made that would not otherwise be possible.

Haythornthwaite also introduces the idea of “latent ties” defined above. Twitter can most definitely be seen as a provider of latent ties and the conversion of latent ties to weak ties is so straightforward due to the non-reciprocal nature of participation.

The Korean study also found that on Twitter, the average degree of separation between two randomly selected users is 4.1, significantly smaller than the result of six in traditional “real world networks” discovered by Stanley Milgram and known as “Six Degrees of Separation”. The combination of the weak tie-emphasis and the smaller degree of separation suggest that Twitter is an effective way of diffusing information across a wide area via the simple practice of the “re-tweet”.

This leads me to wonder if eventually a scenario of zero degrees of separation may be reached by future SNSs in a scenario where everyone is always connected to each other via an ubiquitous network. It may not be something out of a freaky science fiction novel.

References

Haythornthwaite, C.(2002) ‘Strong, Weak, and Latent Ties and the Impact of New Media’,
The Information Society, 18: 5, 385 — 401

Kiss, J. (2010) One in ten UK web users visit Twitter.com
Accessed from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/pda/2010/aug/11/twitter-growth
Last accessed:  13 September 2010

Lardinois, F. (2010) Study: Twitter Is Not a Very Social Network
Accessed from: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/study_twitter_isnt_very_social.php
Last accessed:  13 September 2010

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ARIN6901: Weak ties in the age of ubiquitous Social Network Services

September 1, 2010

Outline of Blog theme

After much consideration, the posts on this blog for Network Society will primarly focus on three significant concepts within network theory: the concept of social ties as initially developed by Granovetter, the small-world theory or Six Degrees of Separation, based on the work of Stanley Milgram and finally, the idea of information diffusion through networks. Narrowing focus and tying these themes together, I will take a specifically human approach to the blog posts, looking for instance at how humans perceive networks and how their participation within networks informs their experiences.

Weak ties in the age of ubiquitous Social Network Services

As the number and usage levels of social network services (“SNS”) continue to rise exponentially (Facebook for example just reaching 500 million users in only six years(1)  and Twitter going from a few thousand users after a few months from launch in 2006 to over 100 million(2)), greater levels of analysis and discourse are taking place in the area of Social Network Analysis (”SNA”) in an attempt to make sense of the impact of these services on traditional social networks and other networks.  New media and network theorists are applying seminal concepts from sociology and SNA to the study of services such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, amongst others.

Established work such as that by Granovetter (1973) in defining different types of social ties and Goffman in outlining what constitutes identity performance (1959) have been variously applied by modern theorists including danah boyd, Erika Pearson and Carolyn Haythornthwaite to form a view of interaction modes within online social spaces. In particular, media type and the interrelation with strong and weak ties is investigated at length.
According to Granovetter, ties are characterised by factors such as time, emotional intensity, reciprocity and intimacy. These factors are simultaneously independent, yet interrelated (Granovetter, 1973). Further, weak ties are beneficial as they signify difference between the two individuals connected, as they are not connected by a strong common factor. This difference results in impressive opportunities for social mobility and information diffusion (Granovetter, 1973).

Using Granovetter’s framework, Haythornthwaite posits that the Internet’s power is in making connections between people where none previously existed and the resultant establishment of weak tie networks (Haythornthwaite, 2005).  This is due to the access to a wider set of connections that this type of technology allows and a removal of social risks associated with contacting “unknown” others (Haythornthwaite, 2002). Haythornthwaite is particularly interested in the intersection of the social with technological developments in their effect on tie strength: creating new ties and changing the status of weak tie to strong and vice versa.

Since the adoption of different SNS is a relatively new phenomenon, I argue that use may lead to a distortion of the accepted constitution of weak ties and lead to a confusion between what someone’s weak ties are as opposed to their strong ties. New norms and forms of etiquette are in a state of flux, leading to some confusion around social rules. The features of SNS facilitate a level of intimacy between acquaintances not previously possible, for example the sharing of personal photographs and innermost thoughts. In studying the SNS “Friendster”, which enjoys high usage particularly in Asia, researcher danah boyd pointed out that due to the generic label of all connections as “friend”, the tie strength of ties is ambiguous. Further, the majority of connections on Friendster are actually weak, with people connecting with others who they simply recognize, a situation that would not occur outside of SNS (boyd, 2008).

However, boyd has demonstrated that the users of Friendster are able to work around the limitations presented by this ambiguity, by using forms of play and experimentation to create their own set of norms. This observation mirrors that of Haythornthwaite who identifies a “social construction of media use” (2002: 6) with listservs and news groups in particular, allowing for simple text based technologies to express greater levels of nuance and emotion. These findings suggest that the use of media in a social context is constantly in a state of adaptation, and can extend to the a fluidity in the definitions of weak and strong ties.

This is an area of study that is continually growing. With the adoption of  SNS in a broader range of areas other than the strictly social, for example in business and government, more research will be done in the coming future in order to understand the impacts of these services and to make constructive  recommendations for their use. The benefit of time will also serve to provide deeper insights than those already produced.

1. Arthur, C. and Kiss, J. (2010)  Facebook reaches 500 million users
Accessed from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jul/21/facebook-500-million-users
Last accessed: 31/8/2010

2. Arthur, C.(2010) See how Twitter grew – and find out what made it explode
Accessed from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2010/aug/27/twitter-growth-interactive
Last accessed: 31/8/2010

References:

Arthur, C.(2010) See how Twitter grew – and find out what made it explode
Accessed from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2010/aug/27/twitter-growth-interactive
Last accessed: 31/8/2010

Arthur, C. and Kiss, J. (2010) Facebook reaches 500 million users
Accessed from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jul/21/facebook-500-million-users
Last accessed: 31/8/2010

danah boyd (2008). ‘None of this is Real’ in Structures of Participation in Digital Culture (ed. Joe Karaganis). New York: Social Science Research Council, pp. 132-157.

Granovetter, M. (1973)’The strength of weak ties’ in American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 78. No. 6, pp. 1360-1380.
Haythornthwaite, C.(2002) ‘Strong, Weak, and Latent Ties and the Impact of New Media’,
The Information Society, 18: 5, 385 — 401

Haythornthwaite, C.(2002) ‘Strong, Weak, and Latent Ties and the Impact of New Media’,
The Information Society, 18: 5, 385 — 401

Haythornthwaite, C.(2005)’Social Networks and Internet Connectivity Effects’, in Information, Communication & Society, Vol. 8, No. 2, June 2005, pp. 125–147

ARIN6903: Splendour in the Grass: a Tweet too far?

August 11, 2010

Along with 31,999 others, I recently attended the 10th Splendour in the Grass festival, this year held for the first time at Woodfordia in QLD rather than in its usual location of Byron Bay.

I’m a relatively recent convert to Twitter, only beginning to use it regularly at the start of this year for university classes. Rather than being an active tweeter, I was more of a lurker, with a long list of people and companies I was following. I often asked myself “what do I have to say of interest?” and was quite careful not to tweet my every thought as so many do.

The turning point of my Twitter behaviour came about due to Splendour. Rather than being satisfied simply to take part in the festival, I found myself tweeting my observations and experiences as they occurred to me. And I found it hard to stop once I’d started.  By using the #splendour hashtag, I became part of a temporary and active community of attendees.

During the festival, I got thinking about how Twitter affects a person’s experience of an event. For the active user who tweets during an event, I don’t think Twitter is an add-on to the experience, it’s integral to it. What do I mean? Well, tweeting during the event mediates the experience for the individual and builds their sense of communion.  They can report on their observations during the event to other attendees (and even to non-attendees who want to feel a part of it) and can also follow what others are saying.  In this way, Twitter forms a collaborative narrative of an event.

My tweets during the festival

True to my overly analytical thought processes, I was quite hard on myself for regularly tweeting during the festival, when perhaps I should have just been purely experiencing it as others appeared to be. But is tweeting really all that much of a departure from either chatting to your friends who are with you or sending a picture message to a friend who can’t attend? I don’t believe so.

Twitter also proved to be a very practical tool during the festival. On one evening, due to a disappointing lack of adequate balancing of bands between different stages, the main amphitheatre became full during Florence and the Machine since there was no band of a similar calibre playing on another stage to balance the crowd levels. I overhead people talking about a lockout on the amphitheatre, with security guards closing the gates once it became full. I then caught up with a friend who had seen the resulting chaos and near-riot situation as irate festival-goers tried to get through the gates. I then checked Twitter to get an update on the situation and decided it was safe to venture towards the amphitheatre to see The Strokes once Florence and the Machine had finished and the crowd thinned out.

But, without a doubt the most significant part of my Splendour Twitter experience was when I adopted the persona of an amateur music hack. Let me set the scene for you:  a friend mentioned on Facebook (yes I was overdoing the social networking thing at Splendour!) that I should check out Richard Ashcroft’s new band, the United Nations of Sound. Sure enough, I found a gap in my schedule and walked over to that stage where another friend was already watching. Immediately, I noticed how small the crowd watching was and thought “this doesn’t bode well”. Especially, since the lights were focussed on the crowd, emphasising how small it was. I could see Richard Ashcroft was not impressed, but his voice sounded brilliant and so recognisable.  Here’s a blow by blow account of what happened next:

The next day, the Faster Louder website contacted me to ask me more about what went down. Their reporter subsequently used information from my tweets and the set list in an article: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/news/local/24902/Richard-Ashcrofts-Bitter-Symphony.htm

I also gained a whole bunch of new followers from the event. Even the Faster Louder article was a collaboration: my tweets and setlist image were used in conjunction with information and video provided by another Splendour attendee.

For me, Twitter also forms part of a digital time capsule of the event and I’m still contemplating wading through the #splendour archive to see what I’ve missed, though I imagine it will require many many days in front of the computer.