Weeks Pages/Week4

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Overview: Networks

Monday, Oct. 2. Networks and Network Dynamics

Social networks and online communities are a powerful and growing phenomenon. From the Internet to networks of friendship, disease transmission, and even terrorism, the concept--and the reality--of networks has come to pervade modern society. But what exactly is a network?

Guest: Professor David Lazer, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University


I. Three Types of Spatial Relationships:

(1) Physical Space: Actual physical distance

(2) Social Space: The gap between individuals’ wealth, education, ethnicity, or religion

(3) Network Space: Relationships between people (e.g., friend, friend-of-a-friend)

  • Stanley Milgram’s Experiment: “Milgram gave letters to about 300 people in Boston and Omaha with instructions that the envelopes ultimately reach a single "target," a Boston stockbroker. The letters could be sent only to a personal friend of the current holder…”
  • This experiment is the origin of the idea that we are all connected by “six degrees of separation” – also known as “the small-world phenomenon”

II. The Importance of Network Space

A. “We need to start thinking of individuals as nodes embedded in a complex web of social, economic, and institutional ties.”

B. “In network space, two nodes can be closely connected regardless of their physical or social proximity.”

C. Network proximity can be significant in various positive and negativee real-world contexts

  • Getting a job through a friend of a friend
  • Disease transmission
  • Cultural Fads
  • Market trends


  • Using the tools we learned about today, analyze the distribution network you have chosen for your project. What characteristics does it have? If you characterize it as a network, what are the nodes? What are the connections? Are some nodes in the network more important to influence than others?

Interesting Further Reading:

  • Networks, Netwars, and the Fight for the Future - This (somewhat lengthy) paper discusses the concept of 'Netwar', "an emerging mode of conflict in which the protagonists - ranging from terrorist and criminal organizations on the dark side, to militant social activists on the bright side - use network forms of organization, doctrine, strategy, and technology attuned to the information age."

Tuesday, Oct. 3. Generating Buzz as Argument Strategy

What enables and nurtures online communities in an integrated media context? What sorts of phenomena have succeeded by the populist metric of the ‘Net. With all sites at least theoretically equally accessible, what gets people to go to particular thing? The popularity of these artifacts is an example of aggregation of minimal but powerful willing energy that is expressed just by adding hits and telling friends. What can these artifacts tell us about the elements of successful buzz creation? It is clear that we can aggregate energy to filter content: these artifacts demonstrate it. It is clear that we can aggregate energy to create structured repositories of useful information and resources: Wikipedia, free sound, the breaks, the latin library, and many other projects demonstrate it. Can we take it further by aggregating energy to make an argument for a principle? Downhill Battle’s 3 Notes and Runnin’ shows us it is possible.

Guest: Professor Jonathan Zittrain, Oxford University and Harvard Law School

Interesting further reading:

  • LonelyGirl15: Prank, Art, or Both - Article about LonelyGirl15, the incredibly popular online video diary focusing on the life of a home-schooled 16-year-old, who turned out to be a hired actress working for a team of filmmakers.
    • Social networks are not immune to Astroturfing. Indeed due to the increased credibility lent a planted story by the accreditation function of social network, astroturfing can be spectacularly successful. It is interesting that these same attributes of social networks that make them vunerable to targeted disinformation, are also the same attributes that provide them with long-term resilence in the face of these attacks. This resilence is derived from two attributes of Social Networks.
    • First their remarkable ability to identify suspect claims, and confirm/refute them. The "LonelyGirl15" prank is the latest high-profile example of this. Linus Torvalds described this phenomena as "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow".
    • Second the same 'network effects' that permit rapid dissemination of a successful misinformation attack, also permit rapid dissemination of rebuttal and debunkings. Moreover the high redundancy inherent in network topography renders it impossible for interested parties to supress the story. John Gilmore summarised this in his famous quote "The Net treats censorship as damage and routes around it."
  • Meme, Counter-meme - Wired Magazine article discussing the concept of memes and memetic engineering as related to internet discussion boards.
    • In a nutshell, a meme is a unit of cultural information capable of self-propagation and mutation in a manner somewhat analogous to the gene.
    • To concretize the concept, think of the ubiquitous yellow-and-black "smiley face" image, the "All your base are belong to us" web phenomenon of the early 2000s, and the rapid proliferation--primarily online--of discussion and "buzz" concerning the movie "Snakes on a Plane" during the summer of 2006. All of these can be conceptualized as memes which have succeeded in widely propagating themselves (though they differ in the degree and longevity of their periods of prominence). They also demonstrate the meme's propensity for mutation, producing countless variations on the initial theme.
    • Practitioners of Viral marketing sometimes employ memetic techniques to encode self-perpetuating elements into their campaigns.