Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Aftermath: Roles of Hubs

As promised, I’ve been processing my research in order to see how a basic understanding of the mathematical properties that govern networks can be applied in real-life networks. I believe that the key to understanding networks is to understand the functioning of the hubs. To review, hubs are places in the network that evolve to have lots of links (relationships) emanating from them, which they gained because they were either there first, are competitive in how they stack up against others, are already popular, or in most cases some combination of the above.

While this theory clearly explains why hubs exist, the next step is to understand the different kinds of hubs and what they actually do – i.e. how and to what extent they maximize the potential of their links (relationships). To do that, it is essential to realize that the most important commodity that hubs gain access to and, if they choose, can strategically share is information. Hubs form relationships, which lead to trust, which leads to access to information. This information can be leveraged in linking those who have or need it – or it can be applied toward a particular purpose or cause.

Taking this into account, here are three different types of hubs:
  • Community Organizer: A community, as we know, exists when there is a thoroughly interconnected cluster of nodes. In practice, these connections might exist because of geographic proximity or concern for a common interest or cause. A community organizer works with such an interconnected group, and also can recruit new entities, if appropriately interested or placed, to join in the community and likewise make lots of connections within it.

    A community organizer serves as the hub of up-to-date information within that community – think of the family member who keeps track of the family genealogy, or the college friend who knows everything going on with a particular crowd of your former college buddies. While everyone is already connected to each other, a hub is differentiated by its access to information, and others in the community are aware that such a hub is the place to go to share and to gain any information – whether it’s if you have relatives in Argentina, or if any college friends are in a particular industry and could help you out professionally.

    Community organizers can also strategically leverage their access to information about skills and other resources to effect change in a given place or for a given cause. Think of your local political activist or any activist for a local issue.
  • Network Weaver: A network-weaver is someone with access to many different communities and, as a result, a great deal of information. The gift of a network-weaver is the ability to manage and make sense of this information in such a way as to develop a keen understanding of the needs and resources of all sorts of geographic and interest-based groups. Thus, it is able to make connections as is necessary and beneficial to all parties in the network. While the resulting connections may appear random, they in fact represent a great deal of intentionality on the network-weaver’s part to ensure that it is connected to certain people and in turn can connect the right people where connections will be impactful. If you look at a visualization of a network-weaver’s network, you will see clusters of twos and threes who have been connected to each other – as opposed to the case of a community organizer, not everyone in the network is connected. Neither is the network-weaver necessarily connected to everyone in a given community – it will often suffice to be connected to one or two people, preferably community organizers, who can give information about who and how to connect in the community as a whole. Because the network-weaver has so many strategic connections, these connections tend to be more like weak ties, which are a tremendous source of information and new ideas, as Mark Granovetter observed.
  • Broadcast Hub: A broadcast hub is a hub that attracts an astounding number of followers – whether it’s by being a movie star, having expertise and therefore fame in a particular area, or by sheer force of a shining personality. Broadcast hubs are capable of playing a crucial role in disseminating information and ideas, setting trends, and ultimately shaping culture and society as a whole (as documented in Tipping Point and elsewhere). If you visualize a broadcast hub, it consists of a hub with lots of spokes emanating from it. These spokes are on average not themselves connected, because while broadcast hubs have enormous rolodexes, they do not usually devote the time to weaving networks or organizing communities, or at least don’t do it in a conscious and intentional way. 
The distinction is not always absolute; some hubs may behave in a combination of roles or in different roles over time. Yet the differentiation between network weavers, community organizers, and broadcast hubs means that different skills, goals, and perhaps even personalities are factors in each. Whether you are or aspire to be or to interact with any of these types of hubs, it is helpful to know the typical characteristics and methods and visualize each kind of social networks. I hope to delve more deeply into understanding these and look forward to continuing to share my results!

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