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I did some research and talked to the the guy that came up with the
term "social network" to describe Web sites, namely Clay Shirky. I also
talked to Reid Hoffman who started LinkedIn and a few others. What
basically happened is that in computers the idea of using computers for
collaboration dates back to Vannevar Bush in 1945. Over the years this
has been called a number of things like "collaborative software" and
there have been programs in this vein like the horrid Lotus Notes.
Because none of this software was successful it kept getting
rebranded. When they came up with LinkedIn, the idea was they would do
business networking on line. One guy, Johnathon Abrams, came up with
the idea of doing networking with friends and he used the term "social
networking." Clay had read "The Strength of Weak Ties" and had some
idea about social networks, and they used some reference to social
networks to provide some degree of theoretical legitimacy to what they
were going. Reid told me that he and the VCs were unhappy about the
term "social networking" because they felt it would turn off business
people, but the press and everyone else loved it, it it became the name
of the class of software, an name that developed from a different path
than "social network" as it is used here with little interaction.
Personally, I think that we now are starting to be on the threshold
applying the work that has happened in social networks for 50+ years to
society in general. For instance, businesses and organizations have
purely functional descriptions with no way to map roles to anything
empirical and network analysis could help us rethink how we manage
organizations. However, the challenge is that getting people to look
at things as relations instead of attributes is difficult and people do
not see the benefit. There is a chicken and egg problem because few
people who have the networks are interested in analyzing them at this
time. So trying to make a case for doing it is difficult because people
say "show me the benefit" and since it is not being done much yet it is
hard to do this.
A very positive aspect is that some of these social networking sites
seem to be behaving like off-line social networks. As the technology
improves, people can act more like people and are less constrained by
the limitations of the technology.
A real challenge is that the stories about organizations are reality
to most people and saying that we might be able to rethink them based on
real information implies that they are not doing that now. Of course,
they aren't, but they believe they are, so it is a though sell.
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> The science (or the specific methodological toolbox) known as social
> network analysis has been around, as most of you know, for a long time
> - read Freeman's excellent overview for its pre-Internet-ian
> geneaology. The buzzword of social networking and the fairly recent
> hype in online web communities (Facebook/Myspace/whatever) could be a
> great energy boost and inspiration to the science of SNA - not only
> contributing with exciting new social landscapes and datasets to
> analyze using SNA tools but perhaps also as methodological inspiration.
> But I don't think I'm the only one being somewhat worried about the
> future public standing of science-SNA when it explicitly has to be
> pointed out that there indeed can be social networks, and indeed
> social network analysis, in off-web social settings. Or is this how
> the situation was for the science of mathematical statistics when
> economics took a fancy for it in the early 20th century?
> Benjamin Elbirt wrote:
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>> Interestingly enough I did a little searching on the Internet and
>> have found
>> that there are now 2 social networks... depending on who you ask.
>> There is
>> "Social Networking Applications" such as MySpace and the like and
>> then there
>> is the science of "Social Networks."
>> If you do a Google search of the term Social Networks you will find
>> there is
>> a pretty even split (and equal distribution) in links that point to both
>> definitions. My comment about the site (which I was not aware was
>> THAT big,
>> but knew it was big) is mainly because the science is being overshadowed
>> rapidly by the commercial aspect; something I am sad to see.
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