Posts Tagged ‘social network analysis’

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