Strong ties, weak ties, social software and online friendship

Relationships are hard. Friendships take time to build, even if annealed in the heat of a moment. Often they’re situational, forged in school, work, church, or sporting teams, and may fade over time if not renewed regularly.

Online social networking can change that, to a certain extent, but asking people with whom you have weak ties to continually renew them asks a lot. Those with strong ties may tolerate it and continue to follow new accounts, accept requests, correct links or the like. Or even a Like. Until we have an interoperable social graph that can be saved, exported and imported between social networks, we’re wedded to our investments in sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and whatever is coming next, whether it’s Diaspora, Foursquare, Ping or Twitcher. The relationships we build in those networks are the social ties that find, as Professor McAfee put it.

To ground that risk in recent events, my colleague in tech journalism, George Hulme, accidentally deleted his Twitter account this month and has had to ask people to follow the new one. Tough row to hoe, though all of the social capital he’s amassed means he’s already back to 583 follows and 42 lists.

People with weaker ties are unlikely to reconnect unless their interest is sufficiently strong based upon the perceived value of the reconnection. Social karma derives in part from the strength of that past relationship.

I think that’s variably true on the Web, at work or on private social networks. The value of link, follow or fan differs from network to network, as does its permanence. To stop following people on Twitter is much different than to unfriend someone or Facebook or delink on LinkedIn, for instance. In a workplace, where enterprise social software is deployed it could be a huge issue.

These technologies allow us to enrich our networks with many important weaker ties, although sometimes at the cost of investing in reinforcing the stronger ones.

In that vein, I’m looking forward to a family celebration tomorrow where the social circle is as wide as the dinner table, deep as a lifetime and the tweets come from the trees around the patio.

Here’s to being better friends.

UPDATE: Shaun Dakin shared some research in the comments from Paul Adams, a usability researcher at Google, that’s relevant. The Real Life Social Network v2.

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3 Comments

Filed under friends, social bookmarking, technology

3 responses to “Strong ties, weak ties, social software and online friendship

  1. Alex,

    One of the best pieces of research I’ve seen on this large issue is by Paul Adams, a usability researcher at Google who did this deck a few months ago.

    http://www.slideshare.net/padday/the-real-life-social-network-v2

    Bottom line is that we have many many contexts for our relationships that we have at any one given moment in time and over time.

    Each group of friends or relationships is a slightly different context.

    The problem with a social network today (twitter or facebook) is that you have “friends” from ALL your various contexts at once.

    So, the fact that your son threw up on your Wife last night might be interesting to the Grandparents, but not the co-workers.

    Today, our ability to filter specific ideas and experiences to specific groups of people on social networks is very limited.

    Regards,

    Shaun Dakin

  2. digiphile

    Thank you for the comment and research.

  3. Pingback: Comparaison des réseaux sociaux | Inf6107 Activite C

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