Monday Grok: Facebook and the flow of ‘novel’ information

It's the weak ties that bind, says Zuckerberg

Facebook, Twitter, blogs ... hell, the whole damn internet mess does two things very well. It upsets rich old tycoons, and it reinforces the users prejudice. It's the later that's got Grok thinking today. Or rather it's got Mark Zuckerberg thinking, and Grok thinking about Zuckerberg.

That's because The Zuck has come down from the mountain, stone tablets in hand, to share the wisdom. By an extraordinary coincidence, the visions of Zuck align symmetrically with the kind of outcome that might be favorably predisposed to say, oh, I don't know, an IPO that is now planned for May.

We're not saying those things are related or anything like that. But if we were, we'd take it to Twitter and Facebook where a legion of like minded amigos would find cause for agreement.

Over the weekend, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted research debunking the idea that people go to Facebook to have their prejudice reinforced. As with all such entreaties, you need to read it yourself rather than rely upon a stranger’s half-hearted summation — putting the fun making aside, it’s worth the effort.

The basic argument is as follows:

“We found that even though people are more likely to consume and share information that comes from close contacts that they interact with frequently (like discussing a photo from last night’s party), the vast majority of information comes from contacts that they interact with infrequently. These distant contacts are also more likely to share novel information, demonstrating that social networks can act as a powerful medium for sharing new ideas, highlighting new products and discussing current events. The research suggests that Facebook isn’t the echo chamber that some might expect – online social networks actually increase the spread of novel information and diverse viewpoints.”

Or to put it very simply, weak ties between clusters of strongly tied groups facilitates the flow of ‘novel’ information. For example, I may share information only with a close friend, and they may then share that on with a close friend of theirs whom I don't know, thus contaminating the third party with my genius.

Zuckerberg provides supporting arguments from ancient history (well 1973) quoting the work of economist Mark Granovetter who's paper called The strength of weak ties found that people are more likely to acquire jobs through people they interact with infrequently, rather than from their close personal ties.

If you are so inclined, you can read Granovetter's original work over here with links to the efforts of other pointy heads also available at the end of Zuckerberg's note.

Google's plan B

Over at PandoDaily, founder Sara Lacy notes that Google, while still largely a one trick pony, has managed to develop a second healthy revenue stream from a very old fashioned (by netizen standards) business model — online display advertising. As Lacy noted, "Display advertising has become a $5 billion a year business, according to Google’s earnings call yesterday – doubling in size since October 2010. Google CEO Larry Page crowed about it on the earnings call."

But Lacy offers two cautionary notes on Page's optimism. Firstly, this isn't a home grown business, but rather one Google spent billions acquiring — $1.65 billion on YouTube and $3.5 billion on Doubleclick for starters. Secondly, if they haven't built the next big thing within Google in the last seven years, they are unlikely to start now. Lacy found the root of the problem partly in what is often regarded as Google strength — it’s a “cushy” work environment. “Can anyone really have the drive and hunger to innovate in that much comfort?”

Andrew Birmingham is the CEO of Silicon Gully Investments. His office today is a wooden stool at a sushi counter in Glebe. Yeah, cushy!

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