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A-Ha Moments

The Momentum of Social Networks

Written by: Bill Sherman on Tuesday, 12 August 2008, 6:01 AM

In 1973, Dr. Mark Granovetter wrote about the Strength of Weak Ties–especially how it impacts an individual’s ability to find a job. It’s a powerful study that changed how people think about social networks. Over time, social network analysis began to look at issues of network closure, density, and reach.

Modern social graphs present an amazing wealth of information. You’re able to view connections on a level impossible prior to the digital-age. Check out the links. They’re visually stunning, and they invite you to explore.

However, social graphs generally represent a moment-in-time. Like flies encased in amber, they’ve become trapped within a variant of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle:

Within a social graph, the more precisely you map connections, the less you seem to know about the momentum within the social network.

Quite simply, social graphs seem to assume stasis. The ties within the graph seem clear and permanent, rather than a representation of a moment-in-time.

Social networks are fluid. People move in and out of networks. Sometimes first meetings lead to life-time friendships. Other times, you meet someone and all that remains of that encounter is a business card sitting on a corner of your desk.

Our lives, our relationships, and our affiliations reshape themselves over the years and decades.

What can momentum tell us about social networks and social capital? That’s the question that I’ll explore this week.

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