Weak Ties

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= important aspect of Network Theory


The Strength of Weak Ties

"Granovetter (1973) argued that within a social network, weak ties are more powerful than strong ties. He explained that this was because information was far more likely to be “diffused” through weaker ties. He concluded that weak ties are “indispensable to individuals’ opportunities and to their incorporation into communities while strong ties breed local cohesion.”

Granovetter’s doctoral thesis demonstrated that most people landed jobs thanks to their weak ties and not their strong ones. It was the people that they did not know well, the ones with whom they did not have shared histories and did not see on a regular basis who were of most help. This is because people with strong ties generally share the same pieces of information and resources. Therefore they are of less help to one another.

Similarly, Granovetter identified absent ties (also called nodding ties) – those ties that lack the emotional intensity, time, intimacy and reciprocity to even qualify as weak ties. Someone living on the same street that you nod to everyday is an absent tie. An absent tie is someone that exists in your life but with whom you have no connection whatsoever. That person is not helpful in the way that a weak tie can be.

Depending upon the type of application you are building, you may want to design it so that people are encouraged to form weak ties with people that they do not know very well. They are more likely to benefit from those weak ties than from strong ones. But it is important to recognize the difference between a weak tie and an absent one. On social network sites like MySpace and Facebook, where self worth is garnered through the number of ties, the difference becomes important. Yet, the fact that you can search and connect to all kinds of ties on these networks has influenced their growth.

According to Granovetter’s theory, there would be value in the visual depiction of weak ties. LinkedIn tells you how many ties you have at each degree of separation, but other than that you are not given much information about those ties. Are they strong, weak, or absent ties? LinkedIn has another problem too: It makes it difficult for you to connect with your weak ties. You often have to ask a common friend for permission to establish that connection. No wonder LinkedIn is being eclipsed by other social network services!" (http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/social-networks)

Strong vs Weak Ties: the wrong dilemma

Zeynep Tufecki on the Internet as a Key Resource for Tie-Formation:

The key contrast was, and remains, between bridge and non-bridge ties; conflating them as weak and strong ties and then contrasting them as if they were direct opposites is conceptually incorrect. In reality, people’s ties range from very strong to very weak. Strong-ties become weak over time and vice-versa. Weak ties and strong ties are not ontological opposites.

Which brings me to my final point; Given the decline of importance of place and family in providing people with strong ties (one’s very close ties used to be immediate family, kin, neighbors, etc), where do you think people will turn to if they are to regenerate robust communities composed of strongly-connected individuals? Their weaker ties. All those Facebook friends that Gladwell and others take turns making fun of? That is exactly where most people can potentially draw stronger ties. Tweets/discussions about lunch and naps and status updates about dates and breakups? Bedrock of sociality and of social networks of stronger and weaker ties. Do we really think that strong communities spend their time discussing the finer points of flexible specialization in the labor process under post-Fordism? Research shows that adding online connectivity to an otherwise face-to-face space like a neighborhood increases the general level of bonding because it increases the channels of communication (See work by Keith Hampton, Barry Wellman or Gustavo Mesch, among others). (Think of a neighborhood mailing list – it lets neighbors connect even though they may hardly have time to get together regularly given long-commutes and other responsibilities – Internet allows asynchronous, rich communication freed from requirements of coordinating time and place).

Consequently, pools of weaker ties, organized around shared affinities and interests, will likely become most people’s source for closer friendships. As we introduce people in our increasingly geographically-dispersed networks to each other, we can recreate the denser, closely-knit communities of mutual-interdependence that do indeed give rise to social movement. Internet and social media will clearly be a key in this process because going back to place-based ties is not only not possible, and more importantly, inadequate, for rising up to meet the global, multi-level, complex problems we as all of humanity face today.

New movements that can bring about global social change will still require people who interact with each other regularly, and trust and depend on each other in somewhat dense networks. Or only hope is if those networks span the globe in a tightly-knit, broad web of activity, interaction, personalization. Real change will come only if we can make friends we care about everywhere and we make bridge ties that cover the world in a web of common humanity that is bigger and more powerful than a handful of corporations and the corrupt, self-perpetuating class of politicians.

So, maybe seeing a tweet about what an war orphan in Afghanistan had for breakfast (nothing), what a worker in a sweatshop in China had for lunch (nothing because there is no lunch break), or where a survivor of one of the increasing numbers of large-scale climate events like massive floods is sleeping tonight (on a wet piece of plastic) interspersed into our daily rhythms of communication with our local friends and communities is exactly what we need to organize us into the “hive mind” that everyone is so afraid of when in reality, what is destroying our opportunities for individuality and creativity, subverting us from realizing our human potential is not that we are tweeting about trivialities, but that the governance of our planet has been taken away from us." (http://technosociology.org/?p=178)