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Proximity and Triadic Closure

The article entitled “The dynamics of the inventor network in German biotechnology: geographic proximity versus triadic closure” by Ann L. J. Ter Wal  ( discusses how proximity plays a role in networks, especially with regard to triadic closure: the idea that if A has a strong relationship with both B and C,  then B and C should have some sort of relationship, whether it be weak or strong. To do this, the article focuses on looking at the biotechnology sector of Germany for the 32 year period between 1970 and 2002 and relating how both the principle of triadic closure and geographic distance drove relationships between collaborators and inventors in this sector. While our class has extensively covered the idea of triadic closure, we have not necessarily looked at geographic proximity. While we have looked at graph proximity (node A is two nodes away from node G), the idea behind geographic proximity (person A is 200 miles away from person G) has not been factored into any of our calculations. It is quite an interesting topic, however. And even more interesting is thinking about how geographic proximity relates to forming networks has changed over the years. Two thousand years ago, if person A lived in North America, and person B lived in China, the two had 0% chance of forming a network; this situation today does not result in a 0% chance due to improved transportation (boats, planes) and connective technology (phones, email, Facebook, etc.).

Delving farther into this article, Ms. Wal criticizes the lack of research behind geography as an important factor in the formation of networks, noting that serious assessments and studies have only recently (in the past 4 years) been published. Some have noted that, for the reasons listed above, geography is not as important in network formation today as it used to be which could be the reason for a lack of research. Much like Ms. Wal, I seem to question this logic. Personally, I am still more likely to be friends with people who live within walking distance to me than people across the ocean. Although a long read, this article is quite informative not only if you are looking to learn about geography’s impact in forming networks, but about the establishment of Germany’s biotechnology sector!


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September 2014