Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

M. S. Granovetter .The strength of weak ties : A network theory revisited. In Sociological Theory (1), 1983. is an important paper for understanding social software. Unfortunately, it's an academic paper and therefore NOT ONLINE. (I'll rant about that later). In the paper, Granovetter describes strong ties and weak ties. Strong ties are your family, friends and other people you have strong bonds to. Weak ties are relationships that transcend local relationship boundaries both socially and geographically. He writes about the importance of weak ties in the flow of information and does a study of job hunting and shows that jobs are more often found through weak ties than through strong ties. This obviously overlaps with the whole 6 degrees thing. I do believe there are some "nodes" but think that it is much more complex than a simple power law with a few number of local maximums.

After reading Shannon "Pet Rock Star" Campbell's piece on her quest for a job at a temp agency and the "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" page, I decided to look at all of "this stuff" from the perspective of jobs.

I was recently at an advisory board meeting for a trade school. We had just done a survey of employers asking for what they their primary criteria for choosing new employees was and it was overwhelmingly about execution and character and very little about skills. Skills, they said, could be taught later. I believe that "character" in the context of a job is your self-esteem and your passion for what you are doing.

What I would like to assert is that social software can help people with their self-esteem and can also help you find others who can find your assets and interests more valuable and place people in jobs where one can have "character". I wrote about this self-esteem thing earlier and in a trackback on that item, you can find a link to "Exhibit A". Boris writes first hand about the development of his self-esteem through blogs and IRC.

Shannon is a really interesting "case" for me. She is witty, has great character, is a brilliant musician, is a poster-child for the Creative Commons (I first heard of her when Larry Lessig was raving on about her over lunch), and she's worried about her interview at a temp agency in South Carolina. Something's wrong here. I know several other people on my IRC channel who are looking for jobs where they are surrounded geographically by people who don't understand or are unable to "leverage" the assets of that individual.

What I can see emerging is a way to amplify the strength of weak ties. (I knew this before, but it's becoming more crisp to me now.) IRC allows me to see the style and personality of many of the people online. Blogs help me see what their interests are and focus is. LinkedIn provides a professional context for referrals. I think that supporting the process of developing your assets and character and finding a job that best suits you will be one of the single most important benefits of social software. I know I've been ranting about Emergent Democracy and about level 2 and 3 in Maslow's hierarchy of Needs, but I just realized that social software may be most important in addressing level 1, finding the job that brings home the bacon. I know this is stupid of me and everyone is saying "doh" right now, but this, to me, is a big "ah ha".

I recently hired two people who were IRC regulars. I felt very comfortable after "getting to know them" over the last few months on IRC. Of course face to face meetings and interviews were essential, but the time spent with them on IRC really added to my ability to judge their character. I realize now that I am actively recruiting from my network of weak ties on the Net and also using the Net to meet interesting people to connect with others who might be good collaborators for those interesting people. The Net has always been a big part of my arsenal of networking tools, but I think it's reaching a whole new level.


Stimulating post Joi. Here is mine on Social Networks, Jobs & the Third Place.

Granovetter's article is available online; you just have to know where to look (and have access to academic networks!):

Strengthening weak ties is a positive goal, but keep in mind that there is a resistance point between strong ties and weak ties. Part of the reason jobs are found through weak ties is because the level of social obligation is a lot lower with weak ties, meaning that the cost of failure is much less if you fail after accepting assistance from a weak tie.

A practical way of thinking about this is that you may not want to take a job from a family member because if you fail at it, there will be repercussions with high social cost, whereas if you accept a job from an IRC buddy, the social cost of failure is much less if it doesn't work out for whatever reason.

If I may be so bold, what you are trying to do with the 'self-esteem' building is to minimize the apparent social cost of failure, so that people are more likely to try.

Blaine : "We're sorry. You do not have access to JSTOR from your current location. [...] If you are not affiliated with a participating institution, you may choose to request a copy of this article by contacting the publisher. You may also wish to check your library's print holdings or visit a JSTOR participating institution (US or International) near you." I don't called that "online" ;-)

Interesting perspective Michael. I had been focusing primarily about the strength of weak ties coming the fact that they span boundaries and have more potential information, but your notion of social cost makes sense.

I do think self-esteem minimizes the apparent social cost of failure, but I believe people perceive the social cost of failure to often be higher than it really is. Many people are awestruck by things are not very awesome in real life. Also, I define self-esteem as trust in yourself. I think self-esteem can make one more trustworthy, more motivated and less likely to fail. I think often people are motivated by fear and shame. I think in the case of someone with a great deal of self-esteem they are driven by more positive forces.

I am at a point in my life where my self esteem (as defined here by Joi) is at an all time high. I have been at my current position for years and feel I have outgrown it. I am no longer willing to be in a limiting enviroment. I want to feel invested in the place I work.

The net has been a great place for me to interact with like minded people and I have started my own blog in an effort to connect with people that I would want to work with. I'm thrilled that you are addressing this issue Joi. Its time that managers change what they focus on when hiring. Looking for bright people with self esteem, can only help everyone be more productive and creative in the workplace.

found a few links on web related to the weak ties concept.

there was a summary pdf chapter here:

it mentions that Granovetter's study focused on professionals, not hourly workers. Has anyone seen a similar study for hourly workers? Would be curious to know if hourly workers tended to land jobs more often via newspaper ads, etc, than thru week ties to people.


There are two additional elements to Granovetter's work that are important to modern social networks:

  • G. differentiates in terms of availability of the resource. In times of scarceness of resources it is more likely to find those resources through weak links. In plentiful times the dynamic may be different.
  • The choices people make are not just making optimal decisions among alternatives given perfect information: What information and what choices people have are affected by their network placement.
  • There has been a recent flurry of using the s-w model in other situations. Worth reading is a article by Duncan Watts (Columbia) and Steven Strogatz (Cornell) in Nature 1998, as well two other introductory articles by Watts:Nesta and the Chronicle

    And of interest is also the work on searching through social networks and optimizing their information flow by Jon Kleinberg.

    Hmmm. Not online, sounds like a challenge. No I don't have access to JSTOR either, so lets see what's lingering out there on the net.

    This page looks promising. Has a link to the PDF of the original paper "The Strength of Weak Ties".

    Ok, that's online. Though I can't say its "official". And its on a very strange paper size.

    As to the theory itself, I can vouch for it as it relates to my experiences. All the projects I've ever worked at were through associations with friends, contacts at usenix, posting on (long ago when people still read it), etc.

    The last job I had, I got by calling everyone in my phone book, just to say high and catch up. One friend mentioned that there was an opening at his work.

    My main problem is not having enough weak associations to begin with, and locating myself in a geographically isolated area (and not traveling much right now since I have two young kids to chase around), so my rate of "new" connections is low.


    I think I've never ever needed to search for a job. Both strong and weak ties have helped.

    The United States Army recruits heavily using their web sites. They also offer private, anonymous chat with a recruiter. It's a place where teenagers ask about whether they can join if they're fat, or married. Or their school options.

    Ten percent of those who chat, enlist.


    Your commentary reminds me of a related topic that inspired me.

    A couple of years ago, I attended a conference where Tom Peters presented, amongst other things, his concept of the "Brand You."

    I'm not an artist, and yet I decided one way to build my Brand was to create a Portfolio web site. It's a work in progress, but the underlying principle is a direct result of Tom's suggestions.

    I point all my new "weak ties" to the site to stimulate their ideas, which sometimes lead to new contract gigs for me.

    FYI, my Portfolio site is at

    You can find Granovetter's original article for free download here:

    The link posted in a previous comment is for members only :-)

    Here is the revised version online of this very important paper: SI110/readings/In_Out_and_Beyond/Granovetter.pdf

    A couple of years ago, I attended a conference where Tom Peters presented, amongst other things, his concept of the "Brand You."

    Check out . You may be delighted to see others who been influenced by the "weak ties" Granover observations and the excitement of social networking tools availability in regards to employment. These factors are coalescing at a time of needed re-integration into the workforce by exiting military personnel. There seems to be a lot of potential. Getting the word out will be the test. The American people are particularly suited for this sort of social networking,helping someone out. What do you think? Frances

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