Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Homophily Pittsburgh

Last Sunday's New York Times Magazine surveyed the "Year in Ideas." Among the innovative concepts explored is homophily:

“Similarity breeds connection,” the sociologists Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin and James Cook wrote in their classic 2001 paper on the subject, “Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks,” and “the result is that people’s personal networks are homogeneous.” This year, other academics have cited homophily in elucidating everything from why teenagers choose friends who smoke and drink the same amount that they do to “the strong isolation of lower-class blacks from the interracial- marriage market.” Researchers at M.I.T. even published “Homophily in Online Dating: When Do You Like Someone Like Yourself?” which showed that you like someone like yourself most of the time, online or off. So much for “opposites attract.”

My experience as a blogger is a strong example of this phenomenon. I'm busily connecting with like-minded people, represented by the list of links to other blogs and sites I check daily for updates on topics I find interesting. There are a number of sites that exploit how we connect with other people (more or less looking for a reflection), efficiently fostering the linkages we seek.

While social software allows us to network faster, it doesn't encourage us to network better. Instead of reinforcing held ideas, you might branch out to explore the frontiers of yourself and your peer group (choosing quality of interactions over quantity of interactions). The goal is to improve the results of your non-F2F interactions, promoting creativity and collaboration in the process.

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