Scalability of Social Networks.

Doing my usual research I have encountered an interesting report today which I would like to mention here.

The report is called “The Strength of Internet Ties. The internet and email aid users in maintaining their social networks and provide pathways to help when people face big decisions”¬†(Rainie et al., 2006)

Focusing on email communication the report describes what effects the internet has on our social network and how it enables new possibilities to encounter help and make decisions. I do not want to talk about the Help and Decision part in this blog post, although it is worth reading, what I am interested in are the effects on our social networks.

The report and the researches on which it is based demonstrate very well how our social networks change from what the author calls a “Pleasantville like geographically limited household-based know-everybody-by-name type of single social group” to a “glocalized person-based scalable timely asynchronous combination of various social networks”.

Personally, to me it was the first time that I have encountered proof for what I was already assuming: Digital social networks are larger in size than traditional offline social networks. This is due to the fact that we have more sophisticated means to manage the communication necessary to maintain a larger network. Additionally the percentage of our core ties (very close ties, such as family, the partner, or close friends) decreases the larger a social network becomes. So called significant ties (usually friends, collegues, but can also be family, that are more important than mere acquaintances) increases with the growing of the social network.

I always had the same impression about relationships in social network services. Although most of our Facebook friends are not and will never be core ties to our social network, we might still maintain a significant tie to them which we would not do without this technology. On the other hand have I personally lost significant ties from my earlier offline social network, which have not registered on Facebook.

The report is very interesting, comprehensive, and well written. It can be found here


RAINIE, Lee and John B. Horrigan and Barry¬†Wellman and Jeffrey Boase (2006). “The Strength of Internet Ties. The internet and email aid users in maintaining their social networks and provide pathways to help when people face big decisions”, from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2006/The-Strength-of-Internet-Ties.aspx, Pew Internet & American Life Project, Jan 25 2006.

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