UoL Library Blog

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Shirky on small worlds

Posted by selinalock on 19 September, 2008

The small worlds project at the University is partly inspired by ideas from Clay Shirky’s “Here comes everybody” book.
This is my summary of his ideas on online communities as small worlds:

  • Small worlds network consists of small groups that are densely connected and large groups that are sparsely connected.
  • Links between different groups are through a few “highly connected” people – does this mean our small world advocates need to have the potential to become highly connected?
  • Communities work on the idea of social capital (see: Putnam, bowling Alone for more info)
  • Small groups are held together by bonding social capital e.g. super glue because they know the same people and do the same things.
  • Bridging social capital is what connects different groups together e.g. WD40 – helps grease the wheels between different ideas.
  • Studies showed that people who bridged communities (e.g. had connections outside their immediate Department) were more likely to come up with interesting new ideas.
  • Social networks and ideas such as OpenSource software work on social captial – ie. if I take care of you now then someone will take care of me later.
  • Online social tools work on three principles: 1. A promise (what promise will make me joing the network) 2. Tool (how will the network communicate) and 3. Bargain (what will I get out of this and what will other expect of me).
  • The promise is what convinces a potential user to become an actual user e.g. flickr promises free photo hosting and sharing.
  • Tools have to be easy to use and fit for purpose so that they do not present barriers to users.
  • The bargain cannot be fully determined in advance as the users help create it – they decide on the group values and etiquette.
  • “The important questions aren’t whether these tools will spread or reshape society but rather how they do so.”
  • 2 Responses to “Shirky on small worlds”

    1. jobadge said

      You are right about social connectors, but I think our small worlds project people need to be social connectors already. The people I know who fit into this category have it as a personality trait and have always known hundreds of people across different social niches.

    2. ajcann said

      I agree that the personal characteristics of the Small Worlds early adopters will be important to the success of the project. Small Worlds is in a very competitive online space (FB, etc) and will only succeed if it is more attractive (at least in a professional context) than the “alternatives”. That’s the short term game plan. long term, the intention is that SW will become the convention.

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