Sunday, November 23, 2008

Reaction to Shirky Chapter 9 - Fitting our tools to a small world

For my reaction this week, I read chapter 9 out of Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations, by Clay Shirky. In this chapter, the idea of social networking is broken down. Shirky starts off by using the "Small World" example to identify how these social networks work (p.213). In this example, he mentions how the probability of knowing someone increases, due to what you are doing. This makes sense because similarities are often what brings two people together ultimately creating a friendship. The other key point that came from this example is that people are categorized into two extremes, which are highly connected and barely connected people. In the middle of these two poles is the average person with their average connectivity to other people (Shirky, 2008).

Shirky uses this key idea of the two extremes to further expand on the "Small World" social network. In this social network people are grouped into small groups and large groups. The highly connected individual in a small group connects to another small group by knowing someone, thus creating a larger social network (p.215). Shirky demonstrates on how this works by using the social networking site Dodgeball as an example (p.218). By using this site, you are not only connected to your friends, but also friends of your friends.

Throughout the rest of the chapter, Shirky (2008) recognizes the terms of bonding and bridging capital. Bonding capital represents getting to know people within the small group better, where as bridging capital represents connecting the small groups to other small groups (p.222). These two functions of a person's social network are important and should be balanced to reach a successful social network.

In the reading, many examples of technology aiding the expansion and common maintenance of social networks were given. The rise of social networking sites, such as Facebook and Myspace have made it much easier to stay connected with friends (Shirky, 2008). These sites allow people to build friendships with a limited amount of face to face contact. I believe the main reason for this is the use of pictures on social networking sites, which now substitutes seeing someone in person. The technological advancements in cell phones have also furthered the ability of a person to work on their social networks, leaving place and time a non factor. This has left people with the ability to maintain a larger social network than what was previously capable. Technology has developed accordingly with the person's desire to socialize and has embedded itself into the way we communicate with others.


1. Shirky, Clay. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations (chapter 9). New York: Penguin.

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