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Facebook began as a digital representation of a person’s strong social ties. People friended people they knew in real life. They found the people that they wanted to keep in touch with and added them. The interaction of wall posts, pokes, and message exchanges were regularly done based on high touch friendships.
The growth of Facebook turned it into a place of weak social ties. Frequently, people’s friends lists would be littered with people that were not directly connected to their lives. Adding someone on Facebook became synonymous with meeting someone for the first time. After finding a common interest, people exchanged information for the purpose of finding each other on Facebook. Compared to in-person opportunities to develop these ties, social networks fall short.
In the past, social services based on Facebook initially exploited the viral social-recommendation service. Through having a single person sign-up, the person’s friend’s and friends of friends were immediate targets for social referrals. After the days of Zynga, a series of Facebook apps that exploited the social graph emerged. One example is the notorious birthday apps that crawled all of a user’s social graph to map out Facebook.
I think of the early and mid 90’s as a period of dying weak social ties. Robert Putnam wrote extensively about this is Bowling Alone. He points out the fading presence of social communities such as country clubs, community centers, and bowling communities. He emphasized the importance of weak social ties for providing opportunities for indirectly connected people to interact. These interactions were important for political, career, and social awareness. These micro exchanges that previously existed through occasional indirect interactions have been replaced by the social media relationships we foster online.
Social networks have transformed into a place of strong social ties to weak social ties. The decline of in-person opportunities for individuals to develop weak social ties is replaced by the self-initiated association into larger digital communities. The social network has become the place where we exchange ideas, share news, and learn about current events. The algorithmic nature of Facebook, the time-based updates from Instagram and Twitter, and the community structured interactions of web forums are the new place for weak social ties to develop.
This is interesting for the sake of discovery. No longer do we need to manipulate the social-graph ridden referral engine to attain growth on social networks. The usage patterns of users are incredibly varied, so content circulated on the networks have long circulation periods based on the weak social ties. For example, some users login to Facebook on a daily basis, while others login a few times a week or a few times a month. Based on the varied usage, the content deemed important on certain social clusters sustains its period of exposure.
The transition of social networks from strong social tie communities to weak social tie communities make it a good target for circulation. The weak social ties between users insure a variety of content amongst a user’s curated index. Oppositely, news websites and periodic media communities such as Reddit have low circulation periods. While the traffic density is relatively high, the lifespan is very short. As a result, new links are circulated on a daily basis and sustained exposure is difficult.
This has huge implications for circulation of new media.