July 27, 2003

Brightly Colored Food, Small Worlds and Social Clouds

Met up with Chad Thornton of brightly colored food yesterday. Chad emailed me a few days back noting that

1 - we went to the same school
2 - he read this site
3 - he once played in a band with a business partner of mine
4 - he knew two of my cousins.

and of course we shared a similar interest in interface design. and I quickly learned he used to be roommates with a good friend of mine.

But some how we'd never met.

These sorts of dense interconnections never seize to fascinate me. At the same time though, I come to expect them, they are so common. You can never predict the specifics, but they occur with regularity no matter where I am. Small world.

Except that its not, we live in a huge world. 6 billion people we are told. And as interesting as the interconnections are, I'm getting more and more interested in the lines of separation.

Things like friendster make it more and more clear that we exist in large scale social networks of hundreds of thousands of people. I call them social clouds at the moment. But beware I use the term cloud, not to represent what these networks resemble, but the emphasize the amorphousness of our knowledge of the dynamics of these networks. If they even exist, their existence is somewhat unproven, the evidence is anecdotal and peripheral at the moment.

Now some of these clouds and clusterings are pretty easy to guess at. Geography and religion are age old forces creating large scale social networks. Organizations like universities and governments generate their own large scale clusters. In the internet age, shared interests is a pretty efficient creator of such groupings as well.

I'd hypothesize that social networks also are divided by more arbitrary and random reasons. An exchange program between two schools creates a social flow. A chance meeting between two consummate networkers leads to a blending of their social clouds. A short love affair between a high school guidance counselor and college admissions officer leads to tight connection between the social networks of the two schools. The same admissions officer however hates the smell of another high school counselor's perfume, and rift grows between the two clouds.

Two people with similar backgrounds and education might live blocks apart, but drift through very different clouds. A meme might percolate through one cloud a year before the other, despite both clouds being in the same target market. Just as we find surprising connections between people I suspect we'll find the disconnects are just as surprising...

Posted by Abe at July 27, 2003 01:49 PM