The world just got smaller

Stanley Milgram’s seminal paper ‘The Small-World Problem’ (Psychology Today, 1967) tells the tale of the first social network study. Milgram had the brilliant idea to send packages to distant parts of America (Wichita, Kansas and Omaha Nebraska) with the instructions to try to move this pacakge to a target individual in Sharon, Massachusetts. The results were the basis for terminology that we are all familiar with today: “six degrees of separation,” “small-world,” etc.

Many attempts have been made to replicate the study with different conditions, some of which have been successful, and others which have not. All attempts to discern the small-world properties on the internet have failed, thanks to the exponential nature of social ties. “Send this email to one of your friends” is quickly translated into “send this email to all of your friends,” and suddenly millions of people are involved.

A research team at Columbia University is trying to create a controlled environment to test the small-world properties of online communities. Anyone interested in participating can sign up on their homepage:

http://smallworld.sociology.columbia.edu/

I talked for a long while with Duncan Watts (the creator of the project) at the Sunbelt conference, and he said that the attrition rate for individuals within the study so far has been vary high. For every email in a chain, there is only a 25% chance that the given person will forward the message on. I have yet to participate myself, but I would suspect that the content of the message being forwarded is questionable enough that people might be dissuaded. I told him that the weblog community are a bunch who are used to generating memes and making them spread. If you’ve got any advice, I’m sure they could use it.

Cool city.. cool networks.. hot jazz!

ok, I’m back! the conference was great, with more social networking than you can shake a bad pickup line at. in order to inspire networking, they even had a liquor-laden hospitality room open all night hoping to generate some new weak ties. I had the most excellent time I’ve ever had at a conference, thanks to all of the people I met, and the fine city of New Orleans. I’ll post some of the most interesting sessions I attended over the next couple of days.

Grassroots 802.11

Nicholas Negroponte (co-founder of my fine institution) has been hearalding the future of 802.11 for a few years now, claiming that a grassroots movement could undermine other wireless efforts. I’ve been skeptical in the past, but I can say at the moment I’m pretty happy with the free wireless connection I’m getting from some office across from my hotel. Of course I have to sit in one chair in the corner of my room, being very careful not to move an inch, but hey, I’m not complaining.

Social networks by example

A bit of context for the previous post:

Let’s use Dave Winer’s scripting.com as an example. By looking at the social network of scripting.com, we see that Dave has a slew of people who read him, and also that he reads a number of other weblogs. These are Dave’s “social ties,” or the individuals that make up his personal social network.

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Weblogs and adopter categories

The traditional assessment of the dissemination of information assumes that people fall into adopter categories. These classes of innovativeness have become popular parts of our vernacular: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards.

My analysis of the blogdex data has shown that webloggers do fall into such neat buckets. over the course of the past five months, very few individuals have been consistent in their patterns of adoption of memes: sometimes a person finds a meme at the head, and sometimes at the tail. Adopter categories are not a useful tool for understanding the community and their dissemination behavior.

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