Using data from an academic study of 309, 740 Twitter users, the image on the left represents the typical online social network on Twitter, comprised of people you follow and people who follow you. The image on the right symbolizes your inner circle; the people you send messages to the most.
Social networks have existed for thousands of years “for mediating distal interactions among people,” write the authors of “Social networks that matter: Twitter under the microscope.”
Because of our busy lives, we don’t have the time to interact with everyone in our networks.
For example, a recent study of Facebook showed that users only poke and message a small number of people while they have a large number of declared friends. And a casual search through recent calls made through any mobile phone usually reveals that a small percentage of the contacts stored in the phone are frequently contacted by the user.
“Attention is the scarce resource in the age of the web,” the Cornell University and HP Labs authors write. It is for this reason that most people interact “with those few that matter and that reciprocate their attention.”
Curious why I matter to my network of some 4,000 followers, I broadcasted the following message about an hour ago:
In reverse chronological order (at a moment in time)…
Scanning through the names, I consider many to be on the left. Some, like Ken Burbary and Geoff Girardin, are on my right. The differences in my mind are based on the length of our online relationship, the frequency of back-and-forth messages, the content I provide, and the value they receive.
The Twitter study concluded:
Many people, including scholars, advertisers and political activists, see online social networks as an opportunity to study the propagation of ideas, the formation of social bonds and viral marketing, among others. This view should be tempered by our findings that a link between any two people does not necessarily imply an interaction between them.
As we showed in the case of Twitter, most of the links declared within Twitter were meaningless from an interaction point of view. Thus the need to find the hidden social network; the one that matters when trying to rely on word of mouth to spread an idea, a belief, or a trend.
Using words such as “thoughtful” and “interesting,” it appears I provide value; which is the same trait I look for in those I follow. I am hopeful that many on my left can move to the right. But it won’t happen overnight. That shift is also a reciprocal action; I can’t move someone if they don’t want to be moved.
What am I missing? Thoughts?