Monday, November 24, 2008

C.9 Dodgeball and Social Organizing

Today we were assigned to read Clay Shirky's Here comes everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations in chapter 9. This reading deals with the "Small World Network" which was a theory by Ducan Watts and Steve Strogatz founded in 1998. Shirky gives the example of someone sitting on a plane talking with the passenger next to him or her, only to find out that he or she knows the same person. This example demonstrates the "Small World Network," and Shirky shows evidence of the chances of this happening are quite good because of something called "Homophily" which means "grouping of like with like" (Shirky p. 213.) This means that you are grouped with others who ride airplanes and that you share with your fellow passengers living in the same city along with sharing the same arrival destination. All of this makes the likelihood of knowing the same people, all that much greater. Shirky also points out that the chances of you knowing the same "highly connected people" as your seatmate are high. (Shirky P. 214) This all leads to evidence of the "Small World Network" existing in everyday communication interactions and the real world applicability of the "Six degrees of separation", which means basically "any two people are connected together by only a few links" (Shirky p. 214), which all the more makes it a much smaller world.

Watts and Strogatz "Small World Network" is illustrated well in the example Shirky gave, but he also notes that this theory has two main characteristics. Firstly, small groups must maintain a pattern of communication in which "everyone connects with everyone" and must be "densely connected" (Shirky p. 215) in order tohave free flowing communication. Also, even if one of the links disappears, the other communication links within that group are unaffected. Shirky also points out that a second characteristic is "Large groups are sparsely connected" and have a lot more connections as a whole (Shirky p. 215.) He notes that if the network's size grew too large it would be unusable and communication would not work well. Shirky finally reaches the conclusion that both of these characteristics must be employed -- having a tightly connected small group is the foundation, and then you can connect all these different various groups.

Shirky gives the example of him going to a bar, and using the social networking site "Dodgeball" which is designed for use with cellular phones. Just by sending a simple text message he informs all his friends of his arrival at the bar, so they all are aware of where he is. "Dodgeball" is a very advanced networking site and like Facebook it uses "friend of a friend networking" which means that it has the ability to show mutual friends that people share. This networking then shows Shirky that there is a shared friend at the bar he is presently at, only minutes later. Sending a digital photo to Shirky's phone of this friend, this example further illustrates the "Small World Patter" made possible with the assitance of the latest technology. This all comes back to Shirky's theory of understanding that "Larger network is a sparsely linked group of more densely linked subnetworks" you can apply it to many real world situations today. (Shirky p. 220)

He also gives examples of protest's being organized in California by students through the use of Myspace and text messaging, through communication chains of friends of friends that share interest of similar topics. A demonstration was born, the people that would be interested in the protest found out about through contacts while other did not. This all surprised the school officials who had no idea of this protest forming. The ability of these new technologies were finally realized, this also illustrates the "Small World Network" because it can spread information or exclude it.


Shirky's reading seems all very interesting to me, it happens to me sometimes that I meet people and we know the same people. Even up here in Albany, I met someone who claimed to know my cousin 200 miles away from here and it turned out they were from the same town and went to the same highschool. In fact they did know each other. I like to look at it as a mystery or a ill-odded coincidence, but this reading explains this phenomena in a way that I can understand it better in some situations. Shirky's gives the same evidence in the reading, because they were from the same town and went to the same school the chances of them knowing eachother is not that unlikely. Which is supported in the reading with examples of it happening. This makes this situation not so much of an mystery anymore, which is what this reading has helped me realize.

Shirky, Clay. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations (chapter 9). New York: Penguin.

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