Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Network Clustering: The Power of Reputation

As we leave our series on network centrality and begin an exploration of network clustering, who better to help us bridge the gap than Ron Burt. Burt is perhaps best known for his amazing network-based research on innovation and the source of good ideas, which brought "structural holes" to the world's attention. In Brokerage & Closure he expands these ideas into book form and brings additional attention to "closure," a key trait related to network clustering.

Very briefly, closure refers to the interconnectedness of one's contacts: When my contacts don't know each other, my network is "open," and when they do know each other, my network is "closed." Assuming that I am #1 (naturally), two extremes of open (left) and closed (right) are pictured below:"Open" and "closed" are pretty much the same as bridging and bonding, as I have discussed before:

For more discussion of network closure, I recommend Burt's online notes for his executive MBA course, "Strategic Leadership," specifically the chapter on Closure, which I would sum up with these two points:
  1. The peer pressure created by closed networks builds commitment and productivity
  2. The peer pressure created by closed networks reinforces groupthink and promotes mindless stereotypes
Click on the image below and you can read what Burt himself says:

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

NSF and Google-induced stupidity

The NSF has just published Fostering Learning in the Networked World: The Cyberlearning Opportunity and Challenge. Reading it reminds me of why I bailed out of academia. The introduction starts: "To address the global problems of war and peace, economics, poverty, health, and the environment, we need a world citizenry with ready access to knowledge about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics."

Wow. Another thing the world citizenry needs is a ban on vapid topic sentences whose only purpose is to inflate the perceived importance of the author's pet project.

In the NSF-funded land of cyberlearning, there is a five-tiered hierarchy of human interaction, represented by the cool picture below: The report explains the picture thus: "[The figure above] depicts historical advances in the communication and information resources available for human interaction. Basic face-to-face interaction at the bottom level requires no resources to mediate communication. The second wave of resources offered symbol systems such as written language, graphics, and mathematics but introduced a mediating layer between people. The communication revolution of radio, telephony, television, and satellites was the third wave. The outcomes of the fourth wave—networked personal computers, web publishing, and global search—set the stage for the fifth wave of cyberinfrastructure and participatory technologies that are reviewed in our report."

So, we are going to solve the "global problems of war and peace" with a framework that explicitly omits mediation from the realm of face-to-face communication. I wonder how much cyberinfrastructure South Ossetia would need to put this framework to use.

Next time I will get back on my network clustering thread again...

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License and is copyrighted (c) 2008 by Connective Associates LLC except where otherwise noted.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Network Clustering: The Un-Google

Having finished our series on network centrality, we now approach its most natural complement: network clustering.

An easy way to appreciate the usefulness of network clustering is to try search engines that (unlike Google) are not centrality-driven. There are quite a few such search engines out there. They are great at providing a sense of direction within a previously unknown field --- when you're not yet sure exactly what question you're asking. In contrast, Google is better when your query is more specific, or when you just don't care about the rest of the forest, dammit, and want to find the biggest most popular tree ASAP.

Below are two examples of how non-centrality-based search engines display the WWW of "organizational network analysis". Click on either image to go to the search engine pictured.

There are dozens more search engines listed here by search engine junkie Bill Sebald.

I hope you enjoy the Un-Google world. Soon I'll say more about understanding this world with the help of network clustering.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License and is copyrighted (c) 2008 by Connective Associates LLC except where otherwise noted.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

NetDraw / UCINET tutorial; networks = organizing

Link of the week: Network Mapping as a Diagnostic Tool, by Louise Clark. This is the best NetDraw user's guide I have seen. Thanks to Cai Kjaer at (via his helpful wiki) for alerting me to this resource.

A few weeks ago I got an anonymous email with nothing but this quote:
"Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life."
--Immanuel Kant
That is some interesting spam. It got me thinking: Is "organized" really the fundamental property of science and wisdom? No, I decided; it's just a word making a pithy quote. I then forgot the matter, only to remember it today, when I read "Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale," by Meg Wheatley and Debbie Frieze of The Berkana Institute. They say:
"Networks are the only form of organization on this planet used by living systems."
True enough, but I claim their statement is too weak. I would rephrase it "Networks = Organization." If you disagree, please send me a counterexample in the form of an organizing principle that does not invoke things (i.e., nodes) and relationships (i.e., links). And feel free to consider other planets, non-living systems, dark matter, alternate universes, etc. You must also agree to let me use confusing mathematical machinery in order to refute your counterexample. The best "counterexamples" I have so far are organizing by space and time. For example, jellyfish organize by drifting near the surface of the ocean, and people organize by sleeping when it's dark.

Once you accept that Networks = Organization, Wheatley and Frieze's assertion becomes somewhat less interesting; however, it does (somehow) lead to the Berkana-esque question: Isn't it odd that the words "organization" and "organic" have the same root? Doubters like myself can verify right here the etymological network connecting "organization" with "organic." The root is the Greek organon, literally "that with which one works," and which since the 12th century has described not only tools but also musical instruments and body parts.

Putting all our quotes and equations together, we have:
"Science is knowing tools, musical instruments, and body parts. Wisdom is living tools, musical instruments, and body parts."
And that, dear reader, is an org chart that really counts.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License and is copyrighted (c) 2008 by Connective Associates LLC except where otherwise noted.