Social networks are not what you think they are

There’s a fascinating report that came out this month (thanks Eric Dodds) by Noshir Contractor, the Jane S. and William J. White Professor of Behavioral Sciences at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University. Contractor and his collaborators are studying nearly 60 terabytes of data from EverQuest II and interviewed 7,000 players of the game (which makes this one of the largest social science research projects ever performed).

Okay, get this: This is a game that 45 million people play from all around the world. And while the report reveals a lot of interesting facts, here’s the one I find most intriguing:

Even though players could play the game with anyone, anywhere, most people played with people in their general geographic area.

“People end up playing with people nearby, often with people they already know,” Contractor said. “It’s not creating new networks. It’s reinforcing existing networks. You can talk to anyone anywhere, and yet individuals 10 kilometers away from each other are five times more likely to be partners than those who are 100 kilometers away from each other.”

Read that again: “It’s not creating new networks. It’s reinforcing existing networks.”

When you start to think about your own social network, is that true for you? It is for me. While I’ve had the opportunity to connect with a lot of new people, the vast majority of them are just acquaintances. And it’s caused me to grow closer to my existing network. It all goes back to the research (sorry, I can’t remember from where right now) that a human can’t maintain over 100 relationships at a time. It’s just too overwhelming.

It just goes to prove that we are all learning more about these tools and how they connect people everyday. The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?

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