“Social Networking” is more than just a virtual party-coordination-system. It’s big business, and the rapid success of profession-networking site LinkedIn is leading the way. As a long-time writer on the theory of non-hierarchal networks, what I call "rhizome," I’ve decided to throw my hat in the ring and join LinkedIn. So now that I’m there, what do I do? Conventional wisdom says to add your close associates to your network, and then expand outward in some logical manner by leveraging their network connections, gradually building a large and powerful network of contacts.
The “Small-Worlds” theory of networks, however, suggests a very different approach. According to this theory of organization, which I first wrote about in my 2004 book “A Theory of Power,” the true leverage in tying together a vast network lies in weak and distant connections. Borrowing an example from Mark Buchanan’s “Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Theory of Networks,” I stated:
“If…ten students had started some rumor that moved only between the best friends, it would have infected their own social group, but not much more. In contrast, a rumor moving along weaker links would go much farther (to more diverse social groupings). As in the case of people seeking jobs, information spreading along weak ties has a better chance to reach a large number of people.”
Figure 1: Network topology graphic demonstrating the power of “weak” connections
From a social networking perspective, effort spent cultivating “near” connections online may be a waste—that is more properly the province of “real-world” connections, and doesn’t leverage the power of social networking systems (though capturing these existing “near” connections in a virtual context is critical). Effort spent cultivating “distant” contacts may yield the greatest reward. Perhaps the best measure of value from a “small-worlds” perspective is how FEW second or third-level connections two people share--a few distant contacts can span network space more efficiently, as fewer signal-distorting relays are required to connect any two nodes. Of course, just connecting to some random and “distant” person is of little value, as there is little weight behind recommendations or introductions, nor much incentive to provide the same. However, when the opportunity arises to make a “distant” connection, effort spent maintaining and deepening that connection is time well spent.My Linkedin Profile