"What I got most interested in was the idea of being able to look at what people are doing not only as individuals, but as individuals acting in a pattern or network of pre-existing relationships."
If Jordi Comas would like you to remember one thing from this article, it may be that, contrary to popular lingo, MySpace and Facebook are not social networks. Rather, those Web sites are platforms that enable people to build social networks, which have been around much longer than computers.
"Social networks are as old as humans. There is nothing novel about them," said Comas. "The term is just a way to talk about patterns and relations among any group of people."
As an assistant professor of management, Comas studies social networks formed both with and without the help of the Internet.
"What I got most interested in was the idea of being able to look at what people are doing not only as individuals, but as individuals acting in a pattern or network of pre-existing relationships," he said.
One concept Comas has explored is the "strength of weak ties." First proposed in the 1970s, Comas illustrates the idea by asking, "If you need to find a job, are you better off going to your dad's best friend or to someone who sits three pews away from you in church?"
Most people assume the close tie, the father's best friend, is the best option, but research has found that weak ties are often more fruitful. Comas explains: "People who are very close to you probably know about the same job contacts you do. If you want to increase the range and heterogeneity of your job contacts, you want to tap into your weak ties."
Likewise, an overabundance of strong ties in a company might tend to swamp the diverse ideas that would flow from a weaker network.
Comas has been a visiting professor at Bucknell since 2003, when his wife joined the English department faculty. With Management 101 students, Comas explored the idea of weak ties by looking at how the level of connectivity within each class affected the creativity of the students' ideas as they collaborated on group projects.
"They are interesting to me because in the course of one semester they go from almost no network ties among them to being very connected," he said.
Posted Sept. 22, 2008
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