A social network is a map of the relationships between individuals, indicating the ways in which they are connected through various social familiarities ranging from casual acquaintance to close familial bonds. The analysis of social networks (sometimes called network theory) has emerged as a key technique in modern sociology, anthropology, and organizational studies, as well as a popular topic of speculation and study. Research in a number of academic fields have demonstrated that social networks operate on many levels, from families up to the level of nations, and play a critical role in determining the way problems are solved, organizations are run, and the degree to which individuals succeed in achieving their goals.
Social networking also refers to a category of internet applications to help connect friends, business partners, or other individuals together using a variety of tools. These applications are covered under Internet social networks below, and in the external links at the end of the article.
Introduction to social networks
Social network theory views social relationships in terms of nodes and ties. Nodes are the individual actors within the networks, and ties are the relationships between the actors. There can be many kinds of ties between the nodes, depending on the relationships being studied. In its most simple form, then, a social network is a map of all of the relevant ties between the nodes being studied. The network can also be used to determine the social capital of individual actors. These concepts are often displayed in a social network diagram, where nodes are the points and ties are the lines. The shape of the social network has been found to be a key factor in a network's usefulness to the individuals it includes. Tighter networks, for example, are actually less useful to their members than networks with lots of empty spaces (social holes) or loose connections to other individuals outside the main network (weak ties). More open networks, with many weak ties and social holes, are more likely to introduce new ideas and opportunities to their members than closed networks with many redundant ties. In other words, a group of friends who only do things with each other already share the same knowledge and opportunities. A group of individuals where each has connections to other social worlds is likely to have access to a wider range of information. It is better for individual success to have connections to a variety of networks rather than many connections within a single network.
The power of social network theory stems from its difference from traditional sociological studies, which assume that it is the attributes of individual actors -- whether they are friendly or unfriendly, smart or dumb, etc. -- that matter. Social network theory produces an alternate view, where the attributes of individuals are less important than their relationships and ties with other actors within the network. This approach has turned out to be useful for explaining many real-world phenomena.
Applications of social network theory
Applications in social science
Social network theory in the social sciences began with the field of sociometry, an attempt to quantify social relationships. Scholars such as Mark Granovetter expanded the use of social networks, and they are now used to help explain many different real-life phenomena in the social sciences. Power within organizations, for example, has been found to come more from the degree to which an individual within a network is at the center of many relationships than actual job title. Social networks also play a key role in hiring, in business success for firms, and in job performance.
Social network theory is an extremely active field within academia. The International Network for Social Network Analysis (http://www.sfu.ca/~insna/) is an academic association of social network analysts. Many social network tools for scholarly work are available online (like "UCINet" (http://www.analytictech.com/ucinet.htm)) and are relatively easy to use to present graphical images of networks.
Diffusion of innovations theory explores social networks and their role in influencing the spread of new ideas and practices. Change agents and opinion leaders often play major roles in spurring the adoption of innovations, although factors inherent to the innovations also play a role.
The so-called rule of 150 states that the size of a genuine social network is limited to about 150 members (sometimes called the Dunbar Number (http://www.lifewithalacrity.com/2004/03/the_dunbar_numb.html)). The rule arises from cross-cultural studies in sociology and especially anthropology of the maximum size of a village (in modern parlance most reasonably understood as an ecovillage). It is theorized in evolutionary psychology that the number may be some kind of limit of average human ability to recognize members and track emotional facts about all members of a group. However, it may be due to economics and the need to track "free riders", as larger groups tend to be easier for cheats and liars to prosper in.
Internet social networks
Websites promoting the Circle of Friends online social networks started appearing in 2002 when the term was used to describe the means of networking in virtual communities and became popular in 2003 with the advent of websites such as Friendster, www.thehoosierweb.com, Tribe.net and LinkedIn. There are over 200 social networking sites, though Frienster is one of the most successful at using the Circle of Friends technique. Search engine Google launched orkut on 22 January 2004. Kibop, a Spanish- and Portuguese-language social network, also debuted in 2004.
In these communities, an initial set of founders sends out messages inviting members of their own personal networks to join the site. New members repeat the process, growing the total number of members and links in the network. Sites then offer features such as automatic address book updates, viewable profiles, the ability to form new links through "introduction services," and other forms of online social connections.
Sites such as LiveJournal and GreatestJournal, which encourages the interconnection of weblogs, approaches this idea. Further evolution of this idea is the Semantic Social Network, which interconnects both people and weblogs, such as StumbleUpon and Funchain.
Software exists to enable you to set up your own social network, such as Sparta (http://www.spartasocialnetworks.com). Social networks can also be organized around business concepts, as for example in the case of Ecademy, ReferNet or Shortcut.
FOAF, A computer-readable social networking data format allows computers to link people to one another. FOAF is different from other Internet-based social networking software in that it is a simple text-based data, and does not define a GUI, but rather focuses on the data format.
Examples of internet social networking systems, otherwise known as YASNS
Please note that these external links may lead to commercial services.
- The ArtBoom (http://www.ArtBoom.net) - an on-going family tree of the art world started by Yucef Merhi in 1999 using the prototype of the first wristwatch-camera.
- www.thehoosierweb.com --(see The NetWork) A non-research, student powered website featuring "The Network" initially conceived by Indiana University undergraduate Shaun Keihn as a security tool which became transformed by Jason Kilpatrick, et. al. from www.thecollege web.com as a means by which to connect students by interest. "The NetWork" features a graphic visualization of a users personal Universe and illustrates first, second and third degree friends.]
- Indiana Daily Student Article (http://idsnews.com/story.php?id=24485) -- About a student operated social network variation at Indiana University.
- Social Networking Services Meta List (http://socialsoftware.weblogsinc.com/entry/5214444809933077/)
- AudioScrobbler (http://wwww.audioscrobbler.com) -- An open source social networking website and application that deals solely with music.
- Ausbuzz (http://www.ausbuzz.com) -- Find out what all of Australia is buzzing about.
- Barnraiser (http://www.barnraiser.org) -- open source social networking software.
- Beltrano.com.br (http://www.beltrano.com.br) -- A social network in portuguese.
- Business Partnerships Canada (http://www.businesspartnerships.ca) -- A Canadian social network for entrepreneurs.
- bigcampus.net (http://www.bigcampus.net) -- A social network designed by college students for college students.
- BuddyBuzz (http://www.buddybuzz.net) -- Created by the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, BuddyBuzz combines the power of a reading club (people who rate content) with the convenience of mobility (you read text from the screen of your mobile phone).
- CanYouConnect.com (http://www.CanYouConnect.com) -- A social networking service that allows you to create personal, professional, and private networks (photos, blogs, calendar, chat, instant messenger, personal web page, file space, and much more).
- Connection Pipeline (http://www.connectionpipeline.com) -- Free social networking site for business and technology professionals.
- The Social Service (http://www.thesocialservice.com) -- An easy way for people in London to be able to meet up and socialise with groups of likeminded people, to meet new people and make new friends in the city. On the basis of eg. common interests, ages, outlooks, cultures etc.
- CityVox (http://www.cityvox.com) -- the French take up the Scandinavian challenge with this multilingual city guide (Hint: if you're travelling, you can earn cash by penning articles for them). They recently added a community feature. Been around for years and appears to have a sound business model. Mais oui, mais oui...
- Doostang (http://www.doostang.com) -- trusted professional network with job postings.
- eConozco (http://www.econozco.com) -- Social Networking for spanish speaking professionals (spain and latam).
- eGrupos (http://www.egrupos.com) -- Integrates social networking tools with email groups/mailing lists (like YahooGroups but with more features) including group calendar, events, polls, etc. as well as auctions and buy-it-now ads. Just for their email groups they're worth a visit, and if you're tired of YahooGroups, this might just be what you were looking for.
- Friends in the City (http://www.friendsinthecity.net)-- London Social Network ;Making friends in London just got a whole lot easier!
- Friendster (http://www.friendster.com) -- a social networking website. (Wikipedia article on Friendster)
- FriendSurfer.com (http://www.friendsurfer.com) -- socially networked blogs, moblogs, bookmarks, rating, and photos.
- Funchain.com (http://www.funchain.com) -- socially networked blogs, or FriendBlogs that connect posts made by users.
- Global Pau Hana (http://www.globalpauhana.org) -- social networking for people from Hawaii. Provided in partnership with State of Hawaii Department of Economic Development.
- Gazzag (http://www.gazzag.com) -- social networking (in Portuguese)
- hi5 (http://www.hi5.com/) -- good network with a nice chat system
- Huminity (http://www.huminity.com) -- a social networking downloadable client that requires less work by the server. This allows them to handle growth better than Friendster but the program is not cross-platform; available only for Windows.
- InsiderPages.com (http://www.insiderpages.com) -- find local services like contractors, lawyers, doctors, etc. by searching customer reviews. Reviews made by people in your social network are displayed first.
- kibop (http://www.kibop.com) -- Social networking for Hispanics worldwide, in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
- Linkedin (http://www.linkedin.com) -- professional social networking website... bit of an online address book really... some extremely big players use this site as a matter of course.
- Meetup (http://www.meetup.com) -- an online portal that facilitates offline group meetings in various localities around the world.
- Multiply (http://multiply.com) -- Web publishing (photo albums, blogs, calendar) combined with social network-based messaging.
- Moleskiing (http://www.moleskiing.it) -- A community site (in Italian) where users can keep a blog about their ski mountaineering trips on Nothern Italian mountains. Users can also explicitly express how much they consider valuable other ski mountaineers' comments and this data are used to recommend (hopefully) interesting routes to users along with other users' comments. Social data are exported in FOAF.
- MEETin.org (http://www.meetin.org) -- MEETin.org is a free group that brings people together for fun low-key events. Perfect for those moving to new cities, or visiting town, MEETin.org is neither a dating or business group, but a real-life group of friends organizing events for the 21 to 40 crowd.
- Muvuca (http://www.muvuca.eti.br) -- a social networking website for brazilians.
- Myspace (http://myspace.com) -- a social networking website. (Wikipedia article on Myspace)
- NetQI (http://www.netqi.com.br) -- A brazilian social network very similar to Orkut
- Neurona.com (http://www.neurona.com) -- Business Networking for spanish speaking professionals (spain and latam).
- .node (http://www.dotnode.com) -- .node wish to create a worldwide friendship network without any language barrier.
- Open Business Club (http://openbc.com) -- a highly multilingual social network. openBC describes itself as a business tool. Currently offering services in English, German, Spanish, French, Portugese, Dutch, Swedish and Finnish. They have announced Russian, Chinese and Japanese services.
- Orkut (http://www.orkut.com) -- an online community that connects people through a network of trusted friends.
- ReferNet (http://www.refernet.net) -- A business to business networking community for entrepreneurs and service vertical industries (i.e. real estate, insurance, financial services, service providers, etc...).
- Relationship Intelligence (http://www.leveragesoftware.com) -- System which enables companies and teams to build their own private social networks. Very interesting visualization and collaboration features.
- Ryze (http://www.ryze.com) -- A business to business networking community for entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs.
- Shortcut (http://www.shortcut.nu) -- global, Swedish language online community. The front end is largely the same as it was when launched all those years ago. As of 03/10/04 it is (finally) having another face lift! Shortcut is one of about 20 sites that run on Netstar's StarCommunity platform... gold membership costs about twenty bucks a year. Ouch!
- SpurIntoAction (http://www.spinac.com) Social Networking with the emphasis on Socialising with real people at real events
- StumbleUpon (http://www.stumbleupon.com) -- a web discovery service which integrates peer-to-peer and social networking principles with one-click blogging.
- Tribe.Net (http://www.tribe.net) -- a smaller online social network based in San Francisco and focused on like minded people.
- Wallflowerz.com (http://www.wallflowerz.com) -- an online social network that pays users for helping people meet and when people want to meet them.
- WorldDJ.com (http://www.WorldDJ.com) -- An electronic dance music, DJ and clubbing website with social networking functionality (social networking section currently by invite only).
- Yelp! (http://www.yelp.com) -- search for local services, recommendations through your friends.