What is a social network ?
A social network is a Social structure. It consists of a set of actors within it and facilitates interaction among these actors.
It is an interdisciplinary field and involves such diverse areas as mathematics, sociology, anthropology, economics,information science and cognitive psychology.
The study and implementation of a technology based social network is complex and involves the understanding the inter-relationships between individuals, groups and entire global societies. The key to understanding a social network lies in understanding the ties, relations and interactions that connect the units. Here units can mean individuals or a group of individuals.
The ties that bind these units together and the interactions that happen between these units form a social structure. A social network is a self organising structure and is continously evolving.
The Barabesi Albert model
A widely used social network model is the Barabesi Albert model. The Barabesi albert model refers to the development of scale free networks. Scale free networks corresponds to having power-law degree distributions within the social network. For example, the number of inbound links to an authority website corresponds to a power law degree distribution of links.
The Barabesi model has two important components to it. The growth part and the preferential unit. The growth part is the number of nodes connected to the network and it increases with time. The preferential unit is the number of new links connecting to the node. The more the number of stronger degree or Power -law connections the node has, the more likely the number of the links will increase.
Fundamental aspects of a social network
A social network consists of three fundamental aspects. These aspects constitute the structure and functions of a social network. They refer to "who is connected to whom" and "what is the pattern of these connections".
A social media is essentially a computer technology based social network. The social network is embedded within a social media. The social media is just the outer shell. Social media allows the creating and sharing of information across social networks and online communities.
Having said that, social media uses the web and mobile technologies for sharing, co-creating and posting content online. Importantly, social media facilitates the proliferation of online social networks.
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An intelligent social network with a difference
Mass collaboration within a social context
In any social network, the very notion of collaboration rests on the essence of "Shared understandings" in all environments, whether business or personal. These "Shared understandings" are there in online collaboration and in every aspect of our lives.
As employees, we understand our "boss" and collaborate with him or her and the team to get the work done. As parents, we collaborate with teachers at school and also at home, we collaborate with our spouses to run the household smoothly. Such collaborative spirit is deeply imbibed within us as responsible adults.
But then, the dynamics changes a lot when a large number of people are involved, who cooperate in an open fashion and work together to produce "Value". This is where the buzz word "Mass collaboration" comes in. The Cambridge English dictionary defines "Mass" as "having an effect on or involving large number of people". Whether or not "Shared understanding" is involved is debatable.
In Mass collaboration (at least so far), The work is shared or divided in such way that there may or may not be any "Shared understandings" between the individual value producers. Most of the work gets completed in an unseen and non-verbal manner.
The basic premise is that when the work is modular, it is easy to fit in the different pieces of work or modules together. The modules or solutions can be worked on in parallel and/or completed in different periods of time allowing for the best solution to emerge or innovation to gain recognition.
The intrinsic value from a cognitive and sociological perspective is that we human beings love to share and be social. We know very well that no one person will have all the right solutions for the problem. The adage "The sum of the parts is greater than the whole" works well in all scenarios. So when we join hands to pool our resources and grey cells, ideas build on one another and it results in a far more superior value than any one person doing it alone. Mass collaboration projects like the Linux, open source software, the development of Wikipedia, The Human Genome project are some fine examples.
Insight To Innovation
Guided and improvised social network collaborations can work in the real world. They are improvised in such a way that they don’t kill the insights that comes out of it as a natural process.
The innovation process is accelerated by collaboration and these ideas and sparks happen in real time. When we give, a new insight happens. We are all intuitively drawn to giving. Though the technology has made it convenient to give, we need to understand that giving is timeless and still remains as one of our guiding principles of life.
We reflect our own past experiences with others ideas and hunches. Such interactions and continuous feedback shows us a way to understand “What we are doing and why we are doing it”. A social network makes this possible.
Our minds become innovative when we operate in an environment which is more innovative. Groups share because they have a common interest in progress and create a mutual dependency.
We prefer the safety and companionship of the groups. All great ideas start with a seed of an idea and multiplies thereafter. The skillful act is to move from a simple idea to something that is robust, exciting and powerful. As ideas multiply, it forms the base foundation for the many innovations in the products we take for granted.
In this context, the fewer and scarcer the resources of your company or organization become, the more we start digging deeper for innovations to happen in order to survive.
The Social Capital Influence Of Social Media
Even as people work in an open co-operative fashion producing value and whether or not they use a collaborative tool, the idea of "shared understanding", mutual trust, safety, motivation and other social norms are the key elements which can make a social network successful.
In this situation, social media has an advantage here. They provide the vital "human element" into the collaborative scenario. They provide the much needed 'context' to the information and the knowledge which needs to be shared or the problem that needs to be solved.
Having said this, we can define "Social media" as an attitude. An attitude, which evolves with time, takes its own path and is self-organizing with a context around it.
If you are trying to figure out how a social network works and what makes it successful, then perhaps a look at social capital and its influence will not go futile. An analysis of the social capital framework within a group set up provides us answers to understand how 'trust' and 'Community' among other important elements influence the social network and the design of social media platforms.