In social web class this week I learned about the distinction of strong and weak ties. Strong ties are those in our inner circle of friends and family who we have established, trusting relationships with. Weak ties are connections to others we know or know of via friends, conferences, social networking sites, etc. Weak ties turn out to be a strong asset and the social web is making it much easier to expand and take full advantage of this network. A 2008 New York Times article had this to say:
This rapid growth of weak ties can be a very good thing. Sociologists have long found that “weak ties” greatly expand your ability to solve problems. For example, if you’re looking for a job and ask your friends, they won’t be much help; they’re too similar to you, and thus probably won’t have any leads that you don’t already have yourself. Remote acquaintances will be much more useful, because they’re farther afield, yet still socially intimate enough to want to help you out. Many avid Twitter users — the ones who fire off witty posts hourly and wind up with thousands of intrigued followers — explicitly milk this dynamic for all it’s worth, using their large online followings as a way to quickly answer almost any question.
My teacher ChristoperA also mentions the importance of “weak ties” in his post on Community by the Numbers, Part II: Personal Circles
What is important about weak ties is that studies show that opportunities and knowledge flow to you much more through weak ties than through the more insular strong ties of your trust circle.
This is one of those duh, “of course” insights, plainly obvious after someone has pointed it out. For example, my time at BGI has vastly expanded my network of weak ties. If I need help with almost anything, I have a large, diverse group of talented people I can ask for help and they are all at my finger tips. After graduation in the pre-social web era I lost track of my connections but now sites like LinkedIn and Facebook provide a convenient channel to take advantage of all these weak ties. I am reluctantly seeing the value of playing a more active roll online…