Jim Moore: A theoretical note on why blogs matter
. I loved this explanation of how weblogs can prove to be influential on society at large, in spite of a low overall blogger density; this connects with some of my own thinking on information routing in knowledge networks
. Let me quote extensively (emphasis mine):
We can best connect to other social worlds through the social shortcuts of weak ties, by which we engage folks that are not necessarily that close to us initially--e.g. Uncle Albert, or an old high school friend, or someone we know at work, at the dry cleaners, or where we have our car repaired. These bridge persons may not be that emotionally close to the people we hope to reach on the other end of the connection, either--but the value of bridging is that the relationship may be just strong enough, as a social tie, to spread an idea or enable a new connection for action.
Blogs have a special social relevance because they allow their bloggers to create and maintain a network of weak social ties. The network of weak ties that a blogger can sustain is open to all comers, and is potentially vast and highly diverse (as diverse as the web itself--which of couse is not diverse enough, but is more diverse than, say, academic journals). Blogs are weak tie machines! Anyone (you!) can read my blog.
If my ideas seem relevant to you, you can take them and plant them within your local, strong-bonded social network. Of course, if you are a blogger, you can also spread them across your own blog-based weak ties--and thus diffuse the ideas even farther.
Blogging helps us expand and maintain a large number of loose ties. And loose ties, to go back to Granovetter's point, are the vital links for social progress. Social progress may be (oversimply, of course) defined as the spread of good ideas across society, and the combination and recombination of people into new groups that can take collective action.
Finally, a good thing about weak social ties is that it appears to be difficult to exert conventional social pressure across such ties. It is hard to "pressure" someone into agreeing with an idea or an action. Loose ties are voluntary. Thus ideas and actions that grow across networks of weak ties can perhaps be presumed to be better vetted by each person--based on merit rather than coercion. Perhaps this process of individual discernment helps filter out bad ideas seeking to spread across the network of loose ties. Perhaps this filtering in turn contributes to collective wisdom being developed across the loose-tie long distance network as a whole, and thus also within the strong-tie local communities at the edges.
From what I've seen of the blogosphere so far, I think it must however be noted that while blogs support the creation and maintenance of weak ties, they do not compel it
. I think a fair proportion of bloggers quickly end up with mostly strong ties to a core cluster and thus spend most of their time in a mostly self-absorbed collective or (in the worst case) an echo chamber, contributing little to the spread of ideas across communities. But that doesn't do anything to diminish the ability of the weak-tie bloggers to spread ideas.
Those people who wish to cultivate weak ties can do it more easily and cheaply than before weblogs were around, and I think that's a significant development in the evolution of knowledge sharing (read my thesis
if you really want the full-blown exposé!).