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Anatomy of a social network

Network researcher Ron Burt has identified two types of activities that create value in small-world networks: brokerage and closure.

Brokerage is about developing the weak ties: building bridges and relationships between clusters. Brokers are in a position to see the differences between groups, to cross-pollinate ideas, and to develop the differences into new ideas and opportunities.

Closure is about developing the strong ties: building alignment, trust, reputation and community within the clusters. Trust-builders are in a position to understand the deep connections that bond the people together and give them common identity and purpose.

These two kinds of activity, bridging and trust-building, demonstrate two very different ways that people and organizations can bring value to a network: Bridging leads to innovation and trust-building leads to group performance. The value that comes from these activities is known as social capital. Like every other form of capital, social capital represents stored value—in this case, relationship value—that can be translated into meaningful and tangible benefits.
The power of an individual node in any network can be considered along three dimensions: Degree, closeness and betweenness. 

Degree is the number of connections a node has to other nodes; for example the number of people in your family, or on your team at work, or the number of “friends” attached to your Facebook account. For an organization it could be the number of sales affiliates or business partners.

The value of a high degree is potential: the potential to connect and interact with a great number of other nodes in the network.

Closeness is a measure of how easily a node can connect with other nodes. For example you are probably very close to your team at work because it’s easy to connect to them: you can contact any person at any time. But you might be further away from other people in your company. Some you might be able to catch by walking down the hall or popping into their office, while to see others you might need an appointment, or you might need to be introduced by a mutual acquaintance. Anyone who has tried to make a connection on LinkedIn knows that the greater the distance, the harder it is to make a connection.

The value of closeness is ease of connection: The shorter the distance between you and other nodes, the fewer network “hops” you need to make, the easier it is for you to make connections when you need to. 

Betweenness indicates the degree to which a node forms a bridge or critical link between other nodes. For example, many executives are protected from distractions by executive assistants or secretaries who act as gatekeepers, who control access to the executive’s time and attention. 

The value of betweenness is the power you have to block or grant access to others. The more nodes that depend on you to make connections for them, the greater your potential value to them and thus the greater your power.

Thus, the most powerful person or organization in any network is one that has a high number of potential connections, all of which which are relatively close and thus easily accessible, while at the same time enjoying a position within the network such that it can choose to block or grant access to other nodes.
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121 comments
 
I enjoyed your article - very interesting information.
 
I heard him speak in Chicago 6 months ago. Dynamic presentation of important ideas. 
 
i never thought like dat.................
 
+c.nathan Monroe as in "structural holes" and all that? How would you describe that in a short phrase? I didn't think it was necessary in this context.
 
Well that's interesting!
What? You don't get it? You need more "B. Marley" time.
 
Great to see it laid out visually with key points highlighted. Notice the delicate balance required between openness and closeness. Just goes to show neither extreme is the most valuable!
 
So true... I have invested in my own business with commodities... and one of the best things to have when achieving business is Personal Development....
 
+Yang Jerng Hwa the difference between Brokerages and Betweenness is that the first concept involves two people facilitating exchange interacting mutually for the same goal (i.e. share their groups perspectives and ideas, while looking for new ones to expose their group to), while the latter is specifically about controlling flow of information/access. The functions are similar in what they do, but the subtle difference comes from the intent behind the actions, and even little differences in the way the actions are completed.
 
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Ok, but these are all properties of large graphs in general and have been well-known in the network science and sociology communities for years...
 
yaa dude .....!! m learing graph theory ....!!
 
+Matthew Muscari I agree...these concepts are not new.  The new terms to me are "brokerage" and "closure".  I first learned these concepts while studying the work of Valdis Krebs (orgnet.com).
 
Very, very, super cool Dave... thanks buddy!
 
+Yang Jerng Hwa Fair enough, but even within the field of MECE, it's known that the topic isn't the "end-all". The point of this summary isn't to elucidate every niche of the proposed topic, but to illustrate the main points through a concept map. (One I found useful, as I haven't seen these ideas presented together with this perspective)

Still, I agree that "Betweenness" would benefit from a more descriptive title.
 
And this is how a make a living
 
that is so complecated im going to have a headache for weeks!!!!!!!!
 
Yes, as +Yang Jerng Hwa says, it's just language. I made (and make) no claim that it's MECE. I am doing my best to explain someone else's ideas -- which I found interesting -- using his language. Yes it's a bit academic. The terms are new. That's why IMO it deserves explanation. +B Gallagher yes, it is jargon. It's my attempt to explain and clarify in spite of the language. But if you want to understand a discipline that's new to you, sometimes it means you need to learn new terms.

I would make a distinction between jargon and psychobabble. Although the term "psychobabble" is jargon as far as I'm concerned. :)
 
very simple and straight to the point, looks good
 
Umm. I neither understand why people think this is brilliant or stupid. Measuring and explaining social networks is nothing cutting edge or incredibly complicated. However this is not stupid, unless you think community, feeling secure, growth, contribution, happiness, efficiency, innovation and synergy is stupid. And if you think all of that is common sense, then why do we keep damaging the our communities and organizations on which those outcomes are based? And then can't figure out how to fix them. I suggest that the view in this article is the opposite of commodifying labor and seeing employees as liabilities instead of assets. I feel like looking at networks keeps us from just seeing people as objects without context. But this is just psychobabble. There are no examples that how we conduct business, measuring success, or make political, personal or commercial decisions has any improvement in quality or sustainability if we measure and respond to complexity and connections than if we ignore networks, which I suggest is the same as seeing people as objects, and not seeing past the immediate self interest.
 
Thank you +Steven Stolpman for your thoughtful comment. To tell the truth, I had no idea this post would garner so much attention and I need to get some work done today! I'd love to respond to every thought but I'm afraid I can't today :/
 
Brilliant so true to every social aspect of everyday life
 
Isn't "cross-pollinated" the same thing as "sleeping around?"
 
I did some research on that to. it's pretty accurate, what you founf.
 
Salient concepts, but honestly I see the point how the language is rather opaque--I cannot easily visualize these concepts in practice. Perhaps it's because I have not seen a 'social network' implemented this well; when it's usually just bored people trying to get attention. /Facebook
 
Dave, I get, well done. Your linked in example is one I have experienced. The others who can see what you have described are the ones who will make money from it, I certaimly see opportunity there so thank you
 
Looks to much like what I do at work =D
 
Lili Sapier--you've made a point for simplicity, lol. Jargon aside, if you cannot explain 'social networking' in organic, easily-visualized terms, perhaps the model doesn't represent the needs and motivations of the participants?
 
see the diamond structure it will help you my dear gray
 
that is graph theory not social network anatomy!
 
BROKER THIS----------google the words CRIMINAL HISTORY, scroll down the first page untill you experience  DEJA-VU !
 
This reminds me of my Systems Theory class regarding business and the various communications systems that work. All might reach the same end goal though connections work differently from cluster to cluster. Nice reminder.
 
Keep up the good work. You can't listen to the ignorant. 
 
Great article, this is on of those things that seems so obvious once someone describes it. 
 
Very good! Some new knowledge! Thanks for sharing!
 
Beautiful,   Simple and explained. 
 
This would be great if ultimately the purpose wasn't to leverage human beings against other human beings to sell things and make money.
 
It seems like organic compounds reacting with other.. :)
 
.. What does this even mean? Seems like a lot of pseudowank if you ask me..
 
Damn.. always knew i was an asshole...er I mean broker. heh
 
yeah... this explains many things! somewhat related to the social potential field model?
 
HAVE A HAPPY WIKEND. TO ALL OF U...........?
 
i can't understand it properly.......
 
It's all about relationships and interrelationships and the dynamics of those interactions.  Each one innovates the other every time. Terrifically illustrated concept. 
 
I dont understand 
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Are those some sort of constellations?
 
Your leading edge routers are going to have a problem unless they are also RBridges
 
It reminds me a bit of the friendship algorithm.
 
I like it. It precisely encapsulates what we are doing at klusterr.
 
You said that Burt observed this and that about social networks. What are some of the social networks he observed? Does anyone have a description of his methodology? a citation of the research? I'm wondering about real world conditions...
 
You might find this helpful Kenneth: http://bit.ly/MxjK86
 
no, i was just pointing out that these properties have been known for a long time - i wouldn't quite say the idea of a network bridge is attributable to ron burt
 
+Matthew Muscari I see. The only things I meant to attribute to Burt are brokerage and closure. I never know how to attribute academic stuff. People get pissed off if you don't mention them and they also get annoyed if there is earlier work and you don't cite it. I do my best, trying to attribute the source where I found something. There are always other sources but as a layman my time for hunting down citations is limited. If you would like to share a citation I will amend it to the post.
 
The earliest work that I can think about that talks about the value of local bridges for information distribution in social networks is Mark Granovetter's paper "The Strength of Weak Ties" from the early 80's, but I'm pretty sure there was some earlier work identifying the existence of local bridges. The image you shared is kind of a mish-mash of many different concepts that have been bouncing around network science for years, for example node degree, betweenness centrality, the notions of closures/clusters/communities, etc. There are really many citations that could be given here across operations research, sociology, computer science, and other related fields, so it's difficult even for people who actively do research in the area to stay on top of it all!
 
To the people who are missing the value of information brokerage via local bridges/weak ties in social networks: I recommend reading up on memes. I'm not talking about Internet memes, I'm talking about units of information, as proposed by Richard Dawkins in his book "The Selfish Gene." Flow of information through social networks has always been a natural phenomenon in the synthesis of ideas and knowledge, and in today's society, information has become the most valuable commodity.
 
+Matthew Muscari I'm familiar with Granovetter's paper. You say mish-mash, I say synthesis. My goal is to share some core information, kind of like cliff notes. There are a lot of people who don't have time to read the books but can get a lot of value from a brief summary. I read a lot and then I make mish-mashes like this, which some people find useful. Experts nearly always tell me "this is nothing new" so I'm used to hearing that. The problem with many experts is that they spend most of their time talking to other experts, and very little time sharing their ideas to the general public (who pays for a lot of the research).
 
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Interestingly enough...I shared it on the 'other' social network! For non-nerds!
 
Hi +Kurt Story 
I think the reason is it is so "opaque" is we just aren't familiar with these concepts yet, at least not altogether - we have words for a lot of them in specific situations, but not cohesive language.
Over time you can bet this the number of words in our language which describe networks and relationships in a systematic way will continue to grow quickly. Thanks again +Dave Gray 
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