Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Discussion with Valdis Krebs: What is a "social" network?

Congratulations to Valdis Krebs for correctly identifying three out of four of my "mystery quotes" from last week.

For those of you not familiar with him, Valdis is a notable entrepreneur of social network analysis with an impressive record of consulting and a nice library of white papers; he has also created one of the more convenient network visualization and analysis tools, InFlow. I have long included his website on my resource list and recommend it to you. I also find that his website has attracted a good audience of Furlers, and so if you read "who is Furling organizational SNA" in my resource list, you are actually seeing who has Furled Valdis Krebs.

Anyway, here are the mystery quotes, once again:
  1. "Organizational SNA is not a viable economic model."
  2. "Network analysis is huge, but not how you'd expect. It isn't organizational. It's at the business strategy level."
  3. "I'm not into social networks anymore. Now it's value networks."
  4. "Our foundation promotes the production network approach [as opposed to social networks]."
In his winning entry, Valdis also shared his perspective on the debate over the relative merits and meanings of social network analysis, organizational SNA, business strategy SNA, value networks, and production networks. As he put it, "We NEVER look at purely *social* networks... it is a mix of social, task, strategy, career, knowledge and innovation networks. See this survey of mine from the early 90s... only Q2 [The Grapevine] is a social network."

I took at look at Valdis' survey and here are the questions:

With whom do you
Q1. exchange information, documents, schedules, and other resources to get your job done?
Q2. discuss what is going on in the company, and who is doing what?
Q3. seek inputs and opinions before making a key decision?
Q4. discuss new ideas and innovations in financial products and services?
Q5. discuss customer needs, requests, and feedback?

These questions are followed by a section inquiring about interactions with other departments, headquarters, customers, vendors, and databases. It's a nicely done survey.

As I mentioned in my reply to Valdis, I would have no problem labeling all the above interactions as "social" (though perhaps not "purely social"). Even in the case of database use, if you twisted my arm enough I would include that in a social network. (Some of my best friends have been databases, after all.)

All this gets me wondering what we are getting at with the word "social," so I looked it up. Definition one is "involving allies or confederates," which I translate to "involving relationships of people." In this context I feel comfortable labeling any network involving people (even with a database or two thrown in) as a "social network," and I applaud those who seek to unify our understanding of diverse networks under the "social network" umbrella.

Definition two of "social" is "marked by pleasant companionship with friends." This definition actually feels more natural to me than #1, and provides the context in which we must distinguish social networks from task, strategy, career, knowledge and innovation networks. And that is clearly a distinction worth making -- these types of networks not only involve different flavors of relationships, but they also behave differently as networks. For a glimpse of this, see here.


David Brocklehurst said...


Great blog. Just checking, who did actually say "Network analysis is huge, but not how you'd expect. It isn't organizational. It's at the business strategy level."

Was Valdis right?

I am very interested in the concept that all networks have a range of components (strategic, value, production etc.) but all of this can be tied back to socail interaction.

Pageboyz said...


Indeed, all interaction is social -- our application of the results of SNA will make it of strategic importance etc etc...

Busy pulling apart Cross & Parker and Kilduff & Tsai. Also looking at Nohria in Harvard Bussiness Review... Must still get my mind around this one, though.

What is, incedentely the first serious look at SNA amongst bussiness managers? Is it ca 1992?