26 January 2010

Trust, weak ties and building effective networks

The public has recently been introduced to the concept of the Dunbar number through a series of news articles about how we are all really only capable of maintaining relationships with around 150 people. Some have even suggested that we should limit our Social network connections in order to not break this number.

I read a great blog post by Jacob Morgan today that spilt some light on the way I was thinking about this issue and how networks are powerful way beyond those we actually know and interact with regularly. A response to his post by Robert Paterson claimed that Dumbar's number was still relevant because trust is critical for influence. As such I thought I would wade in with my 2 cents worth which I share with you below.

Access to a wider network of weak ties allows the "long tail" to be mined, both for information and for opportunity.

I agree with Robert in terms of trust to a certain degree, however trust takes time to develop and often it is credibility that can hold sway in a distributed network.

Each member of the network makes a value judgement as to whether their help is valuable enough to warrant their time and resources. Due to the nature of weak ties and early signal detection, sharing a very simple piece of information may have enormous impact for the searcher, giving a higher value to the effort.

Both the credibility felt by the remote giver and the indebtedness perceived (due to the effort and resources already invested into the network by the searcher) should also weigh into the value equation.

So building a network involves building credibility and indebtedness (some would say loyalty) which then through closer interaction may lead to trust and the two remote parties possibly becoming part of each other's "Dunbar group".
What do you think? Should we limit ourselves? If a valuable benefit comes to you at little cost from somebody you hardly know and share little in common with, is it any less valuable to you? And given your differences to them present a similar value, is trust as important as credibility and indebtedness at a distance?

Write your responses on $100 notes and mail then to me! I'm saving for an Apple iSlate :-)

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