Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Excellent! Ray Ozzie is talking about one of my favorite papers by a guy named Granovetter's called the "Strength of Weak Ties" which talks about how weak ties between distant nodes are more valuable than the strong ties within tight groups. I can go on for hours about this idea, but Ray also talk about another VERY important thing that I think we're all thinking about. Are blogs an extension of email and can blogs get rid of spam, most email, bulletin boards and all sorts of things in one huge P2P swoop! That WOULD be cool.

Ray Ozzie
Jon, your talk about mail brings up a discussion that I had with someone lately about email, linking, and transparency. One of the unfortunate aspects about "googling email" is that there are really no inbound links except those that can be reverse engineered through threading. But in social systems, those are the "strong ties" - the obvious relationships. What is more interesting, I believe, are the "weak ties" that would emerge if people outside of your social group started pointing into an interesting message of yours. (Weak Ties are precisely why I read blogs!!) Imagine the field day that Google could have if 1) all email files had access controls removed, and 2) people started surfing each others' email messages.

Unrealistic, right? Well, think again. Why have we grown so accustomed to the social norm that email should be private? Think about it. Start small. And remember that your company owns your inbox and outbox. What if all engineers within a company were given a new email address when they started, and were told "just use it for business" and "please note that everything that you do in email is in public view. In order to prevent embarassing moments, please keep matters of your personal privacy OUT of your assigned email box; use Groove for private matters. Oh, and by the way, here are the URLs of all of your team members' mailboxes, in case you care. Oh, and by the way, here's a site where you Google across all of them. Oh, also, I should mention that we never delete any email, by policy."


It's an intersting notion of weak versus strong ties. I agree that - as far as 'value' and 'benefit' - weak ties out of nowhere almost ALWAYS bring you something you hadn't anticipated, while you can pretty much guess what friends, family and colleagues will contribute.

I can just hear Barak now saying....

If Blogs become a sort of 'public' communication forum, enabling us to get away from spam - that's a good thing. But would we just never answer our email - ever again?

I don't think so!

And as far as these new fangled email clients, methods, etc. are concerned - early, baby steps towards all this NEW functionality HAS GOT to work with Outlook!

NOBODY is gonna switch their email clients - right now! Maybe after we've proven value and started the virus - but even early adopters have been burned so many times (see Adams blog post about Zoe) and our current email setup is so CRUCIAL to communication - any sane thinking person would be reticent to change - at least - right now.

I love Ray's ideas - but he can AFFORD to be idealistic. He probbaly has 4 people just filtering his email for him, and throwing away the spam - before he even gets to it.


The problem with not deleting email:

The problem is that almost everybody is almost totally illiterate. Not only do they write things in email that should not be recorded, they write email with no subject line (or, more infuriating: "about your email," without quoting the email they are referring to), they cc 70,000 people (I once witnessed this for Richard Li's defunct company, for a message that read "The Hong Kong office is closed Friday"), they send unsolicited attachments (often labeled with the name of the recipient -- my attachment folder is littered with "Rheingold.doc" files). Don't get me started.

I don't know how much of this is obvious, or has already been stated by others in a better position to make an observation than I, but it seems to me that Weak Ties are what are more likely to bring larger groups of people sharing rather similar ideas together. As you mentioned with Strong Ties, Joi, the people within the close knit group in question already know they share a set of common interests. The people you draw in through weak links (Myself, via Justin's site, for example -- and further, myself to Justin's site via a random link from a friend) seem more likely (or at the least, likely) to offer a contrasting viewpoint that will enable you to think about a topic from a new angle. The question that remains in my mind then, is how this will effect the social dynamic of the web. Do those drawn in via Weak Ties then become a part of the group? Communities forming around the ideas of a small group, or an individual? Seems like this idea is what the internet is all about, one of its core strengths. How else would people like us be drawn together in a forum like this?

Also, do you have a link to the paper you referenced?

The book Nexus goes on at some length about Granovetter's paper, Tim.

I don't think the paper is online! If you find it, let us know.

This has some info.

I sure wish that would happen. From what I understand, too many universities are taking a draconian stance with respect to course materials. Luckily MIT is taking a step in the right direction..It'd be nice to see more schools following the example of their OpenCourseWare program.

Granovetter's paper can be found here

If you can't download, try this newer version of his paper: