Daniel Romero, a scientist at the Center for Applied Mathematics at Cornell University, and HP Labs, just sent me his latest research paper on the online social networks that “truly matter”. His team focused on the Twitter network, analyzing a total of 309,740 users, who on average posted 255 posts, had 85 followers, and followed 80 other users.Â The gist:
[E]ven when using a very weak deï¬nition of “friend” (i.e. anyone who a user has directed a post to at least twice) we ï¬nd that Twitter users have a very small number of friends compared to the number of followers and followees they declare. This implies the existence of two diï¬€erent networks: a very dense one made up of followers and followees, and a sparser and simpler network of actual friends. The latter proves to be a more inï¬‚uential network in driving Twitter usage since users with many actual friends tend to post more updates than users with few actual friends. On the other hand, users with many followers or followees post updates more infrequently than those with few followers or followees.
Many people, including scholars, advertisers and political activists, see online social networks as an opportunity to study the propagation of ideas, the formation of social bonds and viral marketing, among others. This view should be tempered by our ï¬ndings that a link between any two people does not necessarily imply an interaction between them. As we showed in the case of Twitter, most of the links declared within Twitter were meaningless from an interaction point of view. Thus the need to ï¬nd the hidden social network; the one that matters when trying to rely on word of mouth to spread an idea, a belief, or a trend.
Note this: “a link between any two people does not necessarily imply an interaction between them.” That bodes detrimental for the many assumptions of influence and value-weighting that have severely shaped social-media metrics and authority. It’s similar to SEO strategy, where many practitioners will conveniently overvalue top search-engine results and undervalue the volume and quality of traffic that results.