How do networkers network? New Working Paper

Conferences, Harvard University, Homophily, INSNA, MDS, Metrics, network ties, networking, Program on Networked Governance, research papers, Social Network Analysis, Social Networks, Working Paper

Together with Timothy Huerta, Texas Tech University, and Jennifer van Stelle, Stanford University, I have written a paper on “How do networkers network?”. We conducted a study of participants at the annual conference of INSNA (International Network of Social Network Analysts) to understand how young researchers are introduced into the community of senior researchers. The paper is work in progress at the moment and we would like to hear your comments, especially on our methodology.

You can find the paper in our working paper series (Working Paper # PNG07-005) and an abstract here:

This study was conceived during the 2005 INSNA conference by attendees who were interested in the evolving patterns of relationships among social network academics and consultants, and in how junior researchers were being integrated into the existing community. The study was also intended as a session- and space-planning aid for the 2006 conference organizers. Specifically, this paper describes a study of networking among social network professionals who attended the 2005 INSNA (International Network for Social Network Analysis) “Sunbelt” Conference. The attendees were asked to respond to two rounds of surveys regarding their experiences. We obtained data on existing and new ties in the first round of the survey, and tracked the maintenance or decay of those ties in the second round (approximately nine months later). We employ homophily arguments as well as theories of status and career/life cycle to determine what factors led to the establishment of ties from interactions at the conference. We consider the content of the new ties in addition to the above-mentioned theories to understand why such ties decayed or were maintained in the post-conference period. As well as applying the results of this study to the understanding of social network dynamics, we hope our findings will further the integration of new members into the existing community and enhance the session-scheduling and space-utilization aspects of conference planning.

What makes online ties sustainable? A research design proposal to analyze online social networks.

Metrics, scalability, Social Networks, sustainability

Recently we heard more and more that online social networking plattforms don’t really work – Alexa teaches us, that people tend to sign up for MySpace, Facebook or openBC, but plattform providers have the hardest time to keep the network alive: people tend to sign up, but don’t or only infrequently come back to their profile.

This made my co-author Thomas Langenberg, EPFL Lausanne in Switzerland, and me start to think about the question: What makes online ties sustainable? We came up with a reasearch design that looks at four different phases of a life cycle of online ties.

Here is the abstract of our paper:

Recently, the Pew Internet & American Life Project published a study about the number of social relations people maintain online and the omnipresent question was raised again: are actual face-to-face contacts declining over time and are they replaced by online social interactions. Our virtual life is scattered in online profiles across sites such as,, or There are currently more than 400 different online social networking sites – with new sites popping up every day. Building on existing factors of persistence and sustainability of network ties in general, we address the key research questions: Which factors lead to the creation, maintenance, decay and reconnection of online network ties? Our research draws on prominent issues in the social network literature, which address the gap between research on offline and online social networks. We examine individual, dyadic, structural and content-related characteristics to understand how and why actors in different phases of their life cycle turn to online ties. Within the presented research framework, we derive propositions and develop a research design to collect and analyze qualitative and quantitative network data. The overall goal is to develop recommendations on how online social networks can become sustainable over time, and we develop questions and avenues for further research.

We came up with the following typology of online vs. offline:

Social Networks Typology

You can download the full paper on the Working Paper website of the Program on Networked Governance at Harvard.

Also: check out my entry on the Program on Networked Governance Blog.

Interesting post: “Why social networks fail” over at Tristan Louis’ weblog.

Impressions from Cybersymposium @ HBS: Everything is social networking and social sharing

Conferences, Metrics, scalability, Social Networks, Social Software, Web 2.0

I attended the Cyberposium 12 on “Need directions? Mapping future technologies” today at Harvard Business School . As a researcher mainly interested in Social Networks and Web 2.0 applications, I was mostly attracted by the panels Web 2.0 and future directions of Telecom applications.

This was my first “vendor-only” conference on the topics of Web 2.0 and social networks and I was interested to hear what kind of new applications Google, Yahoo, AOL, Palm, Motorola etc. would have to offer. Interestingly enough – not too many new things – except: everything is social networking and sharing – even those applications which weren’t’ originally designed for that purpose. Baseline of all discussions: everything is sharing – everything is social networking.

Metrics for estimating the scalability of social networking platforms

Another important take away is: there are no measures so far on how to estimate or analyze the scalability of social networking websites. Even the VCs haven’t found satisfying measures – except of course current number of subscriptions – to understand if, when and how a social networking website will be successful. Platforms such as Friendster haven’t managed to follow through after they have initially attracted a lot of users – who are not coming back. Orkut is mainly geographically active (Brazil and recently also India). Most of the others are focusing on a specific market segment, see for example MySpace. One metric can be the costs of switching to another platform.

Next wave

It seems to me, that we can learn a lot about all those markets that are usually excluded from the well-known western social networking sites. I learned that there are a couple of immensely successful social networking platforms in Asia, such as Mixi in Japan (invitation only), or Cyworld in South-Korea. Both in their local language and I couldn’t find an English page. In both platforms, revenues are based on transactions, such as the sales of ringtones, virtual goods, etc.

Food for thought/research

From a social network analyst perspective – I am wondering, why are people creating new ties online, abondoning their “network” (I built up a whole network of people on Friendster, but hardly look at it anymore…), switch to other platforms (I am personally using openBc now) or reconnect with their existing or previous networks on specific platforms (recently I made my way back to Friendster, just because they have started to bombard me with emails to let me know that Kendall has changed his picture – interesting to see how he looks four years later).

Together with Thomas Langenberg, from the EPFL Lausanne, I have written a paper on these four phases and what we already know from the literature on these phases (mostly insights from the offline world). We will start to collect data and analyze these questions soon (come the new year).