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Monday, January 1st, 2007

BAR-YAM’S SHIFTING HUB: BUT ARE MEMES A CRITICAL FACTOR IN NEW LINKS IN THE BLOGOSPHERE?

Sam Rose at The Cooperation Blog highlights a paper co-authored by complexity theorist Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam on “ highly connected hubs in social networks“:

“If you’re one of sixty million or so monthly visitors to social networking websites like MySpace or Facebook, you’ve probably noticed them— “network hubs,” people who have many more contacts than everybody else. While most users have a few or a few hundred connections, a tiny percentage of users have thousands upon thousands. Maybe, with a twinge of jealousy, you’ve wondered what makes them so special. Is it about coolness? Influence? Popularity?
How about “none of the above”? Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and the New England Complex Systems Institute have discovered that social networks and the roles of the individuals that make them up vary drastically from day to day. Until now, scientists have largely thought of networks as fairly stable, changing only slightly over time–say, when someone makes a new contact.

The reality of networks isn’t as simple as that. Dan Braha and Yaneer Bar-Yam studied the e-mails sent among thousands of users over the course of four months. When they looked at the e-mail traffic on any given day, they found that some people were hubs just as they expected. The surprise was that the identity of the hubs changed from day to day. An individual who sent and received relatively few e-mails on one day could become a hub of the network the next. Hubs rarely stayed hubs for any length of time.

“The results were astounding,” Braha says. “How important someone is changes so fast we might be better off saying it is like ’15 minutes of fame’.”

“The most influential people are not the ones with the biggest address books,” says Bar-Yam. “What really matters is who is talking to whom. By looking only at who knows whom you lose a lot of important details about when people actually talk to each other.”

Rose goes on to add:

“This is interesting to compare with social media networks online, like the blogosphere, which do tend to see certain people or channels stabilize as a ‘hub” for a while. But then, social media is still not direct many-to-many communication. There is likely more communication going in one direction. This was discussed a few years ago, with Ross Mayfield’s “Ecosystem of Networks” model.

Basically, even if someone has thousands of “friends” on a social networking site like myspace, they are probably actually only talking to maybe 12-20 of them at a time. And, among those people, the “hub” of the group is shifting, because there is likely usually not much to force people to communicate with and through one person centrally.

Whereas, in the blogosphere, if you do not have the time, or sources for information, you’ll likely opt to use a pretty much fixed set of blogs and websites of your choosing as channels of information. “

What causes new linking though between blogs with no prior connection ? I would suggest that memes play a central role in ” attracting” and later sustaining such connections. Sociability is certainly an important variable but I don’t think that is critical in making initial decisions to make contact in the first place. The blogosphere is a very detached place; after all, if we really wanted to be “social”, we’d get off the computer and go speak to a live human being ! Many of us are online (or are online addicts) because we are craving intellectual stimulation that may be lacking in our professional or personal relationships.

LINKS:

Ross Mayfield -Ecosystem of Networks

Ross Mayfield – Distribution of Choice

Zenpundit -Complexity and Connectivity:Bar-Yam Again

Dr.Von -Features of Analyzing Complex Social Systems: Individuals vs Superorganism

UPDATE:

Curtis Gale Weeks at Dreaming 5GW has posted a response ” Interlude: Static Visualized, Conceptualized“. Some nice explanatory graphics have been included ( Curtis is giving Dan a run for his money in 2007)


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