I have been reading the book Connected by Dr Christakis and Dr Fowler, and I have to admit that they have managed to give me a whole new perspective on the issue of connections constructed in social networks and beyond. I have also read the blog post by Audrey Watters on the sharing of educational resources in and on social networks, and especially her views on Google+ and Twitter and what these might imply.
To be honest before I started using Twitter myself, and using it for real I never understood the real power of its potential for harvesting huge amounts of data and presenting it as knowledge into context. Reading through the blog post, reminded me of something which I came across in the book. What Twitter essentially builds upon is the power of the networks as connections are established within a cleverly constructed structure. What happens initially is that networks are established amongst the people or connections who are somehow related or considered as “trustworthy”. Most often these people know each other previously and physically and the connections between these people are in fact seen as ‘strong’ ties. However, research has shown that keeping connections only limited to these strong ties, might inhibit certain creativity, innovation and the ability to find solutions which go beyond, the mentality or culture of the circles which predominantly feature amongst people having strong connections. What Twitter does, is ultimately providing the capabilities of establishing what are termed as ‘weak’ or loose ties, which occur as a result of intermediary people in the network which help connect groups to other groups with differing individual capabilities. This is what happens when the power of the whole, is so much more than the power of the individual – the information spread is much more effective and successful and the drive towards a common goal is thus enhanced.
This can also be seen in the various guilds which are established in MMORPGs – the most succesful case study of which is World of Warcraft, is an embodiment of this concept. Strong connections which are established naturally as guilds form, give the group a steady direction, and a common goal to aim for built upon elements of trust which would have been established prior to the formation of the guild. The weak ties which are established following the natural guild formation, ensures creative capabilities, a more competitive drive and an attainment of knowledge and skills which is made up of the ‘whole’ rather than the individual.
So to come back to social networks, Twitter and Google+ the power which they hold is that of providing the right structure to facilitate these connections. How this is done seems to work differently for both Twitter and Google+ although inherently they may be based on the same principles. As research has shown, the most important thing is that for a successful enterprise, whether this is education or not, is the way the connections are established and maintained over time. Twitter has shown that it can do it, but can Google+ live up to the challenge now?