Final Thoughts on COMM506: a Course on Networking

COMM 506 is coming to a close and I’m having some mixed emotions. First, relief that a challenging course with a hearty workload will be done, leaving me with some spare time. Second, a sense of loss, because I know I won’t be networking as hard as I was. Third, confusion, because the concepts and theories I’ve learned in this class have woven themselves so tightly into my life. Run into a pal from the cohort? Small world! Three out of eight brunch friends are lactose intolerant? Homophily phenomenon!

Learning networking theory has been fascinating. I love seeing patterns in the world around me. I love science. When I learn a new scientific theory, I tend to actively seek out examples. Or, if someone mentions an example of it in conversation, I bust out “THAT’S BECAUSE OF THE EPIGENETIC CODE!” or something else obnoxious. Actually, now that I consider it, I’ll do that with anything I learn. I have an English and writing background, so watch out if you accidentally speak in iambic pentameter!

But I do have one problem with networking theory that I’ve identified over the course of the course (sorry). Networking theory doesn’t actually help solve my social network problems.

Networking theory seems, to me, to be mainly descriptive. It’s been very helpful for practical applications of networking, such as using Twitter effectively. But in this course, it hasn’t helped me much with those ever-pervasive questions of WHAT DO I DO IN SOCIAL SITUATIONS?


High school BFFs

Remember high school? I was a member of the second-tier social strata. I think I was sort of maybe the leader of it? But it’s hard to remember accurately, because I’m remembering about myself and it was a long, long time ago. Using networking theory, I now understand what was going on in the “popular” strata: sometimes people would become extra mean in order to increase their rank. Sometimes they would be nicer to our strata if they wanted something from one of us, thereby moving their location in the network to increase their effectance. There were hangers-on in my group whom I tended to ignore because I didn’t like them, and I had zero interest in the games that were going on with the cliques. It seems that, by remaining neutral, I missed what is usually everyone’s practice period in networking!

Still, using what I have learned in COMM506, I can’t imagine what I could have done to make life better back then. What have I learned that could have prevented the cruelty of sixteen-year-old girls? Is there anything I know now that I didn’t before that could ameliorate the social climbing, the broken hearts, the friends stood up or stabbed in the back?

I can’t think of anything. And now, the social situations are far less complicated, but networking theory still only describes my social circles, and does nothing to help me figure out what to do if, say, I’m double booked.

2013-07-12 17.52.22

Just me and a pal, having a good time being grown ups.

This is, perhaps, a good thing. I prefer to leave a course still questioning and interested than done, hands dusted, never to think of the content again.


COMM 506’s Networking Component Made Me Tweet Like a Crazy Person

Week 12 out of 13 in a course about networking, and I’ve become a maniac. On Twitter, anyway. One of the course objectives was to “augment theoretical understanding of social networks with practical experience by developing, maintaining and participating in online social networks,” and I took that to heart with the best of intentions.

My plan was to concentrate on three networks: LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter. However, I found that Pinterest was very time consuming and LinkedIn, due to its extremely professional constraints, left me little room to explore. For LinkedIn, I continued doing what I’d already been doing: adding contacts when I met them, posting updates from work, and liking or sharing my contacts’ posts. With Pinterest, I signed in to my more professional account, which I started as a COMM503 PLN artefact, and added a few more boards and pins to it a few times during the course.

Twitter, though, I soon realized, was my social networking home. Twitter, without any other tool (although I do use HootSuite for work and occasionally check HootSuite with my personal account) is where I shine.

I like to keep things simple. I keep Twitter open most of the time while I’m at work, because many of the accounts I follow are related to my job in some way, but aren’t appropriate for my work account to follow. When I need to cleanse my brain’s palate, I scroll through recent tweets. Over the past twelve weeks, I’ve become much more aggressive with my tweeting. I’ve become bold and outgoing! I network, not for the sake of networking, but for the sake of reaching out, bridging, making my name known to those who should know it, and sharing information with those brave enough to follow me. My followers grew from a steady 98 to 103 in this time period. It’s only an addition of five, but I’d been stuck at 98 for months, maybe years; five additional followers tells me that my networking has been successful.

Cohort member Nicole (@NicoleBasaraba) shared this infographic describing the different types of Twitter conversations one can have. Let’s see if I’ve participated in all six.

1. Divided: Discussions of polarizing topics. I tweet a lot about politics and environtmental issues, but it looks like I don’t engage in much conversation. I usually leave this sort of dialogue (or fighting) for Facebook, and use Twitter to share information.

2. Unified: Discussions within tight crowds. This is the sort of tweeting I usually participate in. For example, for school:


Or, for fun:


This is the sort of networking one does with one’s real-life or Twitter pals.

3. Fragmented: Twitter conversations revolving around brand clusters. I tweet local businesses and restaurants a lot, and get responses back. This can be a useful form of communication on Twitter as long as one is not constantly tweeting Justin Bieber or One Direction (because they probably won’t tweet you back. Sorry.).


4. Clustered: Conversations create groups clustering around global news events or popular topics, which grow into communities. Again, I sometimes send tweets that would fall under this category, but rarely engage in conversations. I think it’s wise to remove the word “global” from this category, however, because it can then be used to describe federal, provincial/state and civic twitter conversations.


5. In-Hub & Spoke: A community is created by devoted followers of news outlets, pundits, and celebrities. There is little interaction between members of the devoted, so conversation is minimal, though the network creates a distinctive star shape.

This really depends on the celebrity. Here in Edmonton, we’ve got a famous tweeting bird named Magnus, and he flirts with me when I tweet him.

YegPie6. Out-Hub and Spoke: A twitter feed responds to complaints, requests, etc. When I get involved with this, it’s usually something like “Hey, please clean your washroom” and I tend not to get a response. But those of us who live in Alberta know we can count on @doniveson and @nenshi to respond to our tweets if we need them!

Well, I was expecting to do better. If I look at how I’d begun to categorize conversations in my rough draft of this post, before Nicole’s helpful resource twittered its way to me, I’d score much higher: I tweet for school, for bridging, for maintaining community ties, and for fun. I score pretty low in stalking celebrities, although I did engage in this gem:


How do you classify your twitter conversations? What does success look like for you?


MeowMeowBeenz: Community’s Network Analysis

Community is a niche television show. People tend to love it or hate it. I love it, but am sometimes totally stumped by the in-jokes and  I don’t always get the meta jokes, because I haven’t seen every film and television show, or read every book, and I don’t know everything that’s happening in the news. It’s the type of show, though, that if you get the sense of humour, you can laugh at the top jokes and not worry about the stuff you don’t get.

Which is why I was so happy to see Season 5 Episode 8 a few weeks ago. It was a social satire about social media and the effects it can have on a network.

It was the final project we all wish we could do for this course. Here’s an analysis that I hope will be enough to encourage you to watch the episode without ruining the fun of it.

Two developers decide to use Greendale Community College to beta test their new app, MeowMeowBeenz, which will allow you to rate “how much you like who you like when you like.” Everyone can rate each other. Hilarious joke follows.


Quickly, students begin using the app, and influence begins to show. Chang, for example, discovers that limping gets him more votes.

Britta initially liked the idea of the app, because it would give a voice to the unheard (rather than the usual networking system where rank influences popularity and  self-perpetuates using the Matthew principle). However, Annie tells her that the app is exponentially weighted: the more beenz you have (out of 5), the more your vote is worth. This follows social networking theory then, the way humans network, seeking affiliation with those who have more effectance.

Britta insists “you’re letting a video game play you!” foreshadowing that the overuse of a tool and the reliance on a single metric in developing a social network can be detrimental. Network theory demonstrates that the most successful networkers, those with most effectance, are bridgers: they have networks with structural holes. Britta’s instinct that total reliance on one networking tool will create a closed, far-too-dense network and that this will have negative effects is correct.

“There is no formula for people!” she insists. However, social networking theory is very useful for describing how people interact. Let’s not praise Britta as a networking guru just yet.

Meanwhile, Shirley has emerged as a thought leader. She has attained a 5, the highest rating, simply by being nice to people. She enters the scene as a benevolent dictator, surrounded by loyal fans. Truly, she is the embodiment of effectance. Her fans are characters we may have seen before, but maybe not. I can’t name them. The network hasn’t become one yet; she has managed to bridge and bring others closer to her. Then, Vickie, an occasional recurring character, gives her a 4. We know this because Shirley announces it. “Oh Vickie, thank you, did you just give me 4 MeowMeowBeenz?”

Vickie: “Um–”

Shirley: “I love my fooour from Vickie!”

Within half a second, Vickie’s 3 becomes a 1.

Jeff decides it’s time to finally join in. He must become a 5 so he can expose MeowMeowBeenz for what it really is.

There are still distinct cliques at Greendale, so Jeff starts by pretending to join one. Soon, he’s up to a 2.

By now, though, things have begun to change. The 5s have the priveledge of choosing the air conditioning setting. Other ranks are colour-coding themselves. The network is closing itself and becoming more like a hierarchical organization than an open social network.

By day 8 of the beta test, the school is almost unrecognizable. It is now a completely hierarchical organization. 2s serve the 5s food. 3s act as security for the 5s. But the lower numbers are beginning to get suspicious. The 5s decide they need to throw some entertainment to distract the 2s and 3s. Otherwise, they might run into the danger of breaking the double bind which has kept them subservient.

Britta and Jeff run into each other. Britta insists Jeff, who is now a 4, enter, and preach the message: they are in a tyranny, not a democracy. (Jeff used to be one of the most influential people on campus due to his level of cool.)

ForbiddenLovecommunityep8-360x240The two of them are caught by another 4 who tells them he once loved a 2. “But, numbers change,” he says, indicating that bridging is now dead. The health of the network is failing. Perhaps the only way to save it is for former thought leader Jeff to enter the talent show.

Jeff roasts all the levels of MeowMeowBeenz. A 5, but not Shirley, votes him up. Shirley is not impressed at being usurped at being the most influential person.

Once with the 5s, Shirley begins to smack talk Jeff. He spars back.

Meanwhile, Britta becomes a thought leader for the 2s and 3s and brings them to the point of revolution.

The ugly fight between Jeff and Shirley has them voted down to 1s. They’re banished to the outlands, and Britta and her “reviewlution” appear to equalize everyone. It’s time to re-naturalize the network.

BrittaChavazd18545f3cbee4a69ca8b2fb41ef694f1Everyone is voted down to a 1 now. Britta has become a revolutionary dictator. The network is still unnatural and manipulated.

Jeff realizes that the only way to return to the natural social network of Greendale is to completely delete the MeowMeowBeenz app, which has now appeared on the app store. Besides, it’s a Saturday, and everyone is at school.

The network can now go back to normal. People can assume their natural roles as bridgers, thought leaders, followers, lurkers, or somewhere in the middle. Effectance can be measured by actual effectance, not a by how many MeowMeowBeenz a person has. Affiliation will be based on who a person likes, and homophily will be based on real things, not those silly beans.

That is, until whatever wacky thing happens in the next episode.


EDIT: This post would have been a full-length essay if I covered every network theory the show demonstrated. MACTers: in the comments, can you point out what I missed?

Propaganda Can’t Fool Me

I had a really interesting teacher for Social Studies 30 back in the day. He was full of crazy conspiracy theories, lectured us on interesting stuff related to the content, and had the insane idea that we students should do our homework and reading in order to succeed in the class (all but two of us bombed the diploma exam. He was let go).

One day, he showed us Triumph of the Will, a famous Nazi propaganda film. It was fascinating. Beautiful imagery, stirring music, devoted people, charismatic leader … it was truly absorbing. He engaged us in a class discussion about propaganda. About how symbolism is used. About common elements. About how it effects us. About how we’d feel if that wasn’t Hitler up there, or how we’d feel if we admired Hitler.

He was a great teacher. It was like being in university. But that’s another story.

ZeitI used to date a British chap. Let’s call him “BC” for British Chap. One evening he was excited to show me Zeitgeist: The Movie. He was thrilled about it. I was flat-out offended. Firstly, because of the film elements of propaganda I recognized from that social studies class years earlier, and secondly, because the claims made in the movie were utterly absurd. However, painted against a backdrop of propaganda elements and presented logically, they seemed to make … sense?

At the time, I’d wondered how someone as intelligent as BC could fall for such nonsense; but, I know now two things. Propaganda is tailored to people who think they are really smart and know better, and maybe BC wasn’t as smart as I thought he was. Hindsight is 20/20, after all.

This week, one of our assigned resources for COMM 506 was This Is What Democracy Looks Like. Ha, more like, “This is what propaganda looks like!” Watching the film, I felt myself sympathizing with the cause of the protesters, who felt that the WTO had the “power to arbitrally [sic] overrule nations’ environmental, social and labour policies in favour of unbridled corporate greed.”

ShereKahnHowever. There was the pounding, stirring music. The thronging masses moved for one cause. The imagery. The too-credible speakers. The performers. The cops, cast as villains worthy of Disney. Our heroes, banding together, battling evil …

All the footage is real. What is disappointing to me is that the people who put together the film didn’t consider what sort of movie they were making. They consider it a documentary. It is not. Some documentaries are one-sided, with a clear thesis or even bias. Still, those are not propaganda. I can fact-check a Michael Moore documentary. I won’t bother with this one.

Today’s audience is intelligent enough to draw its own conclusions. Creating a propaganda piece will only convince people who think the same way you do. This Is What Democracy Looks Like was a tragic disappointment. Their footage had the power to make real change in the world. But, they opted to make propaganda instead.

Key Terms, Concepts, and Ideas from COMM 506

Hi Cohort,

The video assignment is as follows. But I want to make sure mine is as full in scope as it can be, so I zipped through the text and made a list, in order, of the key terms and concepts we’ve encountered.

I thought this might be helpful to others, so here you go!

Purpose: To enable a deep understanding, through close reading and presentation, of a course reading.

Each student will create an online presentation on a reading (or set of readings) of her choice, highlighting key themes and concepts as well as outstanding questions or problems. Students may use (and upload to YouTube) the following presentation formats: Prezi, GoAnimate or a Screencast PowerPoint with voiceover.

Presentations should be about 5 minutes in length. They should provide a general summary of the reading(s), highlighting key themes, and explore questions that the student finds particularly engaging or problematic. Videos in the “A” range will demonstrate how course ideas, theories and concepts were manifest or illustrated in the online social networks created and maintained by the student AND include a critical analytical component. *NB The clearer it is to me how well you understand the course material, the better your mark.

DUE: Week 11, MARCH 23, 9PM – Youtube link to be posted in Wiki

Sorry, I only put page numbers on the items I’m going back to.

Social capital




Dyads, triads, and transitivity


Structural holes (see also p 104)

Strength of weak ties

Popularity and centrality

Distance between nodes

Small world

Multiplexity (p 28)

Position or role (p 28)

Named positions and relationships vs informal

Observed roles

Named and unnamed network segments

Primary groups, cliques, and clusters

Resistance to destruction and cohesiveness


Safety and affiliation*

Effectiveness and structural holes*I


Net generalized exchange*

External/internal system (p 77)

Informal systems and their variety of structures

Relaxed definition of transitivity (pg 79)

“Matthew effect” (p 83, 85)

p. 84, first para

Four challenges of organizations: motivating people to get the right stuff done, deciding what should be done, accomplishing what should be done; acquiring the needed resources (p90)

The contradiction of authority & things aren’t fair

Paradox of authority (p 91)

Zone of indifference, area of acceptance (p 91)

Emergent networks in organizations

Betweenness, Krebs centrality score

Double bind (p. 99)

The small world & 7 related concepts (pp 108-109)

How many people do you know? (I think our discussions on this were more useful than the text)

Barrier effect, social circle effect

Long tail

Cumulative advantage (p. 116 & see Matthew effect)

Increasing randomness in small world sociograms

Clustering and circles in social networks


Applying the small world theory to smaller worlds

Networks and diffusion

3 primary factors or transmission/diffusion (p. 135)

Tipping point/threshold

Influence & decision-making (motivation)

Active role of targets of diffusion

Rephrase of 3 primary diffusion factors (p 141)

Opinion leaders

Group influence

Epidemiology and network diffusion

Social networks and HIV/AIDS

“We do not learn anything new from hanging out with people who are just like us” (should be “who are just like we are, but that would be awkward; rephrase. Kadushin needs an editor. P. 158)

Cybersurveillance and control


Privacy online

Snowden, wikileaks

Civil liberties, unlawful access

Deceive, Inveigle, Obfuscate

Perfect companion piece to my previous blog post.

Carrie: The Blog

(A rare opportunity to quote X-files)


Internet Service Provider Voluntary Blocking

In the Deibert and Rohozinkski article Beyond Denial: Introducing Next Generation Information Access Controls, it is stated that “Internet censorship is becoming a global norm” (p.5). The article focuses on state sanctioned control of the internet but it is interesting how much censorship is actually voluntarily done. Internet service providers all over the world voluntarily choose to filter material for their subscribers.

The majority of web sites voluntarily blocked by ISP’s are those related to child pornography. Very few people are going to stand up and demand they have a right to view child porn. This may be viewed as a public service that your internet provider does so you and your family do not accidentally access such material as well may be considered a deterrent to those setting up such websites. Countries which have ISP’s…

View original post 303 more words

Hashtag Freedom

In case you’ve stumbled on this blog from the far reaches of the Internet, it will help you to know that it’s a blog for my Masters in Communication Technology COMM 506 Using/Managing Communication Networks course.

This week in COMM 506, we learned about cyber-surveillance and control. It made me angry. I quite possibly messed up my weekly assignment by ranting about the UK’s pornography (and violence and file-sharing and political) blocking laws, which you can read about here. The government is applying these changes for the good of the people, especially the children. “I want to talk about the internet, the impact it is having on the innocence of our children, how online pornography is corroding childhood,” said Cameron in 2013. But is it for the government to decide what a person views online?

It seems that censorship develops in countries in small steps. It’s all about protection. It tends to start small. It tends to start with efforts to protect the innocence of children by banning books like:

And Canada may not actively ban books, but we have a history of challenging books and banning them in schools:

  • A Jest of God, by Margaret Laurence (A novel that depicts the unhappy life of an elementary schoolteacher in small-town Manitoba. A classic. I read it in high school. It made me think about the world differently.)
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain (Classic novel set in the southern United States.)
  • And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (Children’s book about penguins. This story is great, but it’s about two male penguins who adopt a baby. In a country where gay marriage and adoption is legal, it’s obvious why this book would be challenged. (?))
  • Canadian Poetry: The Modern Era, by John Newlove, editor (Anthology of Canadian Poetry. There’s probably some sexuality and free thinking in here; if it goes as far back as FR Scott, there is also criticism of the government.)
  • Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, by Bruce Coville (Fastasy novel. As far as I’m concerned, Bruce Coville is a genius, but I bet lots of people think dragons are of the devil.)
  • Who Is Frances Rain?, by Margaret Buffie (Winner of the 1988 Young Adult Fiction Award from the Canadian Library Association and an American Library Association Notable Book.)

What frustrates me about these challenged books is that parents absolutely have the right to prevent their child from reading anything they feel is inappropriate, for whatever reason. But they don’t have the right to impose their beliefs on other people’s children. And that is exactly what governments are doing by installing filters and surveillance.

When I was in elementary school, there was a big kerfuffle about one of our readers that had Halloween stories in it. Apparently someone (I’m not sure if it was at the school board or just the school level) decided that witchcraft had no business being in a reader for a Catholic school.

The stories were about kids dressing up.


Canada’s Internet is reasonably free of censorship and surveillance for the time being. Here’s a list of things we can do on the Internet that can’t be done in other countries.

China: No Google, no Yahoo, no Twitter, and no WordPress. I guess they aren’t reading this.

In Iran, you can check out Buzzfeed if you’re bored, but you can’t go on Facebook, and forget about Reddit. Cute Overload is blocked, but you can get your CBC news, so don’t take your nonsense, memes, and cute animals for granted.

In North Korea, only authorized people are allowed to use the real Internet. Everyone else has to use the tightly controlled intranet called Kwangmyong. All the information on it is government-approved, so we know they’re not getting tongue-in-cheek imgur images like this:


In South Korea, “indecent websites” are blocked, like websites about gay and lesbian issues. If you’re concerned about LGBT rights, keep your concern in Canada. I wonder if this means the Buzzfeed Quiz that determined which gay icon I would have brunch with would also be banned? I got Andy Warhol. I was pretty excited. But not in South Korea.

In Turkey, you can’t listen to SoundCloud, a European site that streams user-created music. And, of  course, Wikileaks has been banned for years, so good luck trying to find out what has been banned until you click on it. (You can be charged for Internet crimes in Turkey). Turkey has recently introduced a new law that will permit the government to block any website within 24 hours without a warrant, and requires ISPs (Internet service providers) to track all user data. Protests are on going.


Purple: Pervasive censorship Mauve: Substantial censorship White: Selective censorship Orange: Changing situation Green: Little or no censorship Grey: Not classified / No data

We don’t protest much in Canada, though we do complain. This website lists 50 websites that are blocked in Canada, not because of censorship, but because of restrictive copyright and content-purchasing laws. Remember that awesome skit on Saturday Night Live last night that you MUST share with your co-worker? Nope.

Canada, it’s time to protest now, before our challenged books become banned, before our surveillance law passes and turns into censorship. We must protest before our government takes the next steps toward control. Our government may not be purposefully blocking websites, but they do intend to watch us, which is the first step to censorship.

Protest here against web surveillance. Because can you imagine an internet without cats?


It’s Oscar Night!



In 2010, Melissa Leo was up for the Academy Award for best supporting actress. A naturally aging 50-year-old, she had trouble getting magazine covers. She blamed ageism in the media. Frustrated and worried that her performance would be overlooked due to a lack of media awareness, she purchased two “For your consideration” advertisements. An actor doing so herself is so rare in Hollywood that some consider it a faux pas (consider the comments on my source article). Whether due to the extra attention of the ads, which showcased her as a “movie star” dressed glamorously rather than as her “gritty” character, she did, in fact win the Oscar that year.

In 2011, The Artist won best picture.That year, I’d actually seen almost all the movies nominated for best picture, and although I considered it a close race, I agreed that The Artist was the best of an excellent selection of nominees. My brother-in-law, whom I love and respect most of the time, disagreed–I’m not sure if he even saw the movie, but he argued that the best picture award should go to the movies that the most people saw and loved. Movies like Avatar. I gasped. I spluttered. Didn’t he know anything about films? (Note the snobbish use of the term film. Avatar is certainly not a film, as entertaining as it is.) Sorry Dave.


In 1950, All About Eve won six Academy Awards, but lost out in a major category: best actress. But, how? Bette Davis gave one of the best performances of her life, and we’re talking Bette Davis here. How could she lose? Well, her costar, Anne Baxter, caused a big, old-fashioned, Hollywood stink when the studio suggested she be nominated for best supporting actress. In a life-mirroring-art move, she was nominated for best actress alongside Bette Davis. It is widely accepted that they split the vote.

The Oscar race isn’t really a race. It’s a network under diffusion.

The Academy’s roughly 6,000 members vote for the Oscars using secret ballots, which are tabulated by the international auditing firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers. The auditors maintain absolute secrecy until the moment the show’s presenters open the envelopes and reveal the winners on live television.

Cool. But how do you decide what film or actor or makeup artist to choose?

The Academy has set up some pretty strict rules about advertising. You (or, far more frequently, your studio) are permitted, for example, to advertise “For your consideration,” but mail-outs are strictly regulated to ensure they’re “helpful.”

But what do you do if you’re a sound tech on slasher horror films and you really don’t care about movies like American Hustle or 12 Years a Slave? You have two options: don’t vote, or vote based on your influences.

My speculation is that of the 6000 Academy members, some choose to not vote when they aren’t familiar with the category, and others vote based on influence. I, for example, saw media reports on violence and “difficult-to-watch” scenes in 12 Years a Slave. Based on these vague ideas (influence by adoption without social contact, Kadushin p. 135), I chose not to see the film, which is apparently one of the best of the year and the front runner for best picture.

I would have voted for Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and her back-stabbing be damned. I’m sure it was a terrible scandal at the time and that many voters simply took sides between Davis, the queen, and Baxter, the rising star. In this case, choosing one actress or the other is similar to following an opinion leader. Certainly the press would have been sharing opinions on “WHAT REALLY HAPPENED” and why one should choose one over the other.

avatar-8As for the brother-in-law, that’s influence by emulation. Someone likes a film, so I’ll go check it out. Next thing you know, it’s top-grossing. This happens according to a power law or long-tail graph: the more accessible a film is, the more people will emulate others and go see it (unless you’re me, and you think that superheros are particularly asinine. Sorry Dave.)

Melissa Leo won her battle partly based on her performance (she’s no fool; by taking out those ads she knew her win would depend on factors outside of her art) and partly by influence by persuasion. A person sees an ad saying “Consider Melissa Leo” and the person starts to consider her. Perhaps that person thinks “You know what, I wasn’t, but damn, she cleans up nice” and watches The Fighter again.

So, while you’re watching the beautiful people on the red carpet tonight, you may curse me for ruining yet another of our simple pleasures with Network Theory.

Sorry, cohort.


The Small World IRL

Yesterday I had brunch with three lactose intolerant women and two with citrus allergies. I burst out, “That’s not even weird!” and proceeded to explain homophily like a giant geek. “It’s one of the natural networking phenomena!” I declared, delighted to be in the presence of such overwhelming evidence.

In a room full of attractive, white, university-educated women in their late 20s to early 30s.

The multiple displays of homophily in this group aren’t even the most interesting thing about Leah’s birthday brunch. No, Leah’s brunch was an extension of a small-world experience I’ve been hoping to write about for quite a while. The brunch shrunk that world even further.

I’ve been excited about the small world theory since I first read about it in Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody for COMM503. This is one part of network theory that we see and use in real life, every day.


The first network diagram shows people as nodes who only know the nodes beside them. While this is a useful theoretical construct, it is unlikely to occur naturally in the real world. The best examples I can think of for a network like this would be monasteries in the middle ages, waiting for dispatches from Rome to arrive by horseback, or the old visual telegraph networks. Today, it is possible to imagine constructed networks like this, perhaps prisoners in solitary confinement, but our densely connected world makes a natural network state like this hard to imagine.

The third network diagram is a random network. I participated in one of these this morning, when the BF and I shared a table with two strangers while watching the Olympic gold medal hockey game. We arrived at the restaurant at the same time. They did not have a reservation, but we had two extra chairs at our table. We had a shared interest, but five minutes in either direction could have had us at the table alone, or with different company.

As for the middle diagram, that’s the small world.

Let’s roll back the clock to 2010. I’d been dating the BF for only a few months. Our worlds had only started to mesh. I’d never heard of the small world phenomena, hadn’t thought about networks; propinquity, homophiliy, effectance, all were terms I would have told you were made up, but I’d already experienced the small world: one of my best friends, Maria, knew the BF! I discovered this via Facebook. Thanks, social networking tool! Terrified they’d dated, I immediately emailed Maria, who assured me they were acquaintances from the U of A debate club. Phew!

That summer, BF was my date to an old friend’s wedding. He knew her sister. He knew her photographers. He was acquainted with one of her bridesmaids. But he had never met the bride. I’d never met any of these other people except for the sister!

BF and I have stayed together. I’ve become friends with the sister—that would be Leah, from brunch. The bridesmaid is Gabi. We’re friends now, too. And one of the lactose intolerant people? We’re becoming friends, and she knows the BF because she works at the gym he goes to.

It’s easy to see the small world and the effects of homophily in real life, after we experience them. How do we use network theory to predict this? Is there any way we can predict who will be in our social circles when we meet strangers?