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Theory & Audience Analysis

Is our Small World Getting Smaller?

A Response to Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody


It’s a small world. The sociology behind Clay Shirky’s chapter on “Fitting our Tools to a Small World” relies on the Small World Pattern. Shirky explains the research of Duncan Watts and Steve Strogatz, published in 1998, explaining how networks have two vital characteristics that allow information flow to be effective. The first states “small groups are densely connected.” The second states “large groups are sparsely connected.”

The research concluded the most effective means of networking is to combine these two characteristics of group by combining dense groups together to form larger, more connected, groups. Shirky concludes the Small World network “cheats nature by providing a better than random trade-off between the number of links required to connect a network, and that network’s effectiveness in relaying messages,” (Shirky 216). This concept is easily seen in LinkedIn.

LinkedIn Members add friends based on connections. These connections can be topic groups, alumni groups, work groups, school groups, etc. Network statistics are viewed by individuals, and I am currently connected to 1,108,800 by three degrees of separation. With my 131 connections I know through connections, I am able to inadvertently connected to over one million LinkedIn users. This illustrates the Small World Pattern explained by Shirky, as LinkedIn targets a specific demographic of people. According to quantcast.com, 75% of LinkedIn traffic is by those with either a college or graduate school education. Also, 70% of visitors to the site make over $40k (40% making over $100k). This indicates a dense network within the greater US population including an educated population.

My example of LinkedIn supports the Small World Pattern, because it demonstrates how easily connected people are when a part of small, densely connected groups. I am still left with my question from my previous post. The current social networking controversy discussed in news involves the new Facebook timeline feature.

TechCrunch came out with an article this past week dismissing the feature as a mere toy and supporting the features Google+ offers instead. However, The Next Web published a retort to this article, arguing the new feature offers an “eery new purpose” behind Facebook. The Next Web does not buy Facebook’s proposal that the timeline feature will be a “scrapbook” feature, and disagrees with Zuckerburg’s “vision of highly public information”.

“Where Comes Everybody” was published in 2008, and would be curious to hear Shiky’s opinion of the new Facebook privacy controversy.With such dense social networks in the Facebook community already, how will increased public information transform our world? Are the critics of Facebook’s new timeline feature over-reactionary or afraid of a real Big Brother?


About lindseyhuston

I'm a strategic thinker with an eye for design. A recent graduate of Wofford College, my liberal arts background in Philosophy and English provided me with extensive writing and analytical skills. I’m adding to my skill set at Elon University learning as an MA in Interactive Media student. Teachable, driven, with an affinity towards networking, I hope to utilize my skills in a career in advertising and interactive design.


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