After several weeks of digression, we can finally revisit the topic of cyber anthropology – the social anthropology of online communities and social networks. I’ve previously written about the difference between communities and social networks and their distinct roles in building and maintaining relationships. In those posts we examined the structure of communities and social networks in isolation. In reality, however, they coexist and overlap each other – at any given time we are part of many communities, and are connected to people in these communities as well as those beyond our communities.
Today I will give you a unified view of communities and social networks in an attempt to understand how these two social structures fit together.
This post is the 4th installment of my miniseries exploring the relationship between communities and social networks.
Previously in this miniseries, you’ve learn that weak ties can form two ways: in communities and through social networks. But weak ties are developed into strong relationship in communities. This post will explore what happens after a strong relationship is established.
Last time I talked about the first stage in any relationship: The formation of a weak tie or, how people become connected. It turns out that weak ties can form pretty much anywhere (in communities and through social networks).
Creating a weak tie is the first and the easiest step in any relationship. Other than kinship, nearly all other social relationships start as weak ties. One can argue that even kinships start out weak, and it is only through the frequent family gatherings and interactions that kinships develop into strong relationships.
One of the areas I touched on previously was that social networks connect every single person on this planet. Moreover, research has confirmed the validity of a popular urban myth: six degrees of separation urban myth. Recent data and calculation suggests that most people are actually within 6 to 7 degrees of each other, so this myth still holds up in the modern web 2.0 era. Therefore you can, theoretically, reach and connect to any one of 6.8 billion people on this planet in relatively few steps.
In reality, people don’t connect to the whole world. In fact, people don’t even connect with everyone who is living in the same city, going to the same school, or working in the same company as them. What prevents people from connecting?
Well, they are all correct to some extent, and these are functional classifications of social media. Author and blogger Brian Solis, introduced another classification of social media, based on the types of conversation. He called it the conversation prism. However, if you want to understand social media from a relational and social anthropological perspective, you will find that there are really only two major types of social media: