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Circles of Knowledge

From my “friends” to my “circles” to my “posts” to my “profile”, the keywords of social networking have become buzzwords in my life.  However, after growing up in the age of social media, where networks of relationships, information, and communication are constantly expanding, there are questions that arise from seeing my peers’ and my own behavior in the realm of social networking sites.  What exactly does it mean to be “friends” with someone?  How much information is too much? Am I really being more social or just lazier?  But through my further exploration into the theory and logic behind social networks, I’ve come to ask a new question: how is the exchange of information changing through social networking sites?

Mark Granovetter’s study in the 1960s, where he interviewed new employees and discovered that most people learn about job opportunities through acquaintances, not friends, led to an important insight: new sources of information often come from people with whom we have weak ties, not strong ones.  This is due to the fact that strong ties among friends means that these close friends probably all hold the same or very similar information.  New knowledge is only found through a new “component” of the network.  This led me to think about my own social networking and whether this is true for me.  With my multiple privacy settings on Facebook and my ever-important circles on Google Plus, when do I ever truly encounter information coming from “weak ties” to friends?

Recently, Bradley Horowitz, the VP of Product Management at Google, said that the users of Google Plus are 2-3 times more likely to post their information privately than publically. To me, this is a very fascinating statistic when related to Granovetter’s study.  I admit, I do it all the time: I share different types of information with different types of people on my social networking profiles.  But what does this mean for strong and weak ties?  The most amazing part about Granovetter’s study was that it was slightly counterintuitive.  One would think you get the most useful information from your closest friends.  However, it ends up that you get them from less close friends.  If now I share most information only with my closer friends, since I post more things privately, how is it that I get information on things such as job openings or personalized recommendations?

One might argue that we are inundated with information, and to extent I do agree.  The Internet has made information accessible instantly with a mouse click.  Yet, there will never be a website that can provide me with job recommendation information that is as trustworthy as it would be from an acquaintance.   Automated recommendation systems are worth a lot of money, but it will never replace a recommendation from another human being. So, it makes me wonder: is my social network site usage helping me or hindering me?  I get to stay in touch with people, but maybe the information I get is not actually as useful to me as it could be.  Maybe if privacy settings were not such a standard part of the social networking profile, I would obtain information that was more beneficial to me.  It was through learning about Mark Granovetter and his job recommendation study that these thoughts have made me consider information exchange and privacy rules on social networking sites.  It’s a fascinating paradox to consider.  But I’m still blocking my parents from viewing my Facebook profile…



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