Don’t mess with social network analysts

by | Feb 20, 2008

And so to Network Weaving, a blog by and for people who use network mapping tools.  Network mapping folk like nothing better than to, y’know, network, and so it was clearly with a swing in his step that blogger Valdis Krebs went off to the 28th annual conference of the International Network for Social Network Analysis.  [Not Institute; Network.  Obviously.  Duh.] 

But all was not well.  If there’s one thing that social network analysts need in order to stay happy, then of course it’s adequate wireless network access.  But at the conference hotel, Valdis found, the wi-fi was definitely substandard.  Now as Valdis explains,

Hotels are used to dealing with disconnected customers — hotel guests who do not know each other. They can tell these guests anything. Since most guests do not talk to each other, nothing is verified, no action is coordinated. In terms of social network analysis: the hotel staff spans structural holes between the guests — occupying the power position in the network.

But the hotel had reckoned without the networking capacity of INSNA members.  “When INSNA arrived”, Valdis continues with evident satisfaction, “the hotel guests were no longer disconnected — many people in INSNA know each other and after initial greetings started to talk.”  What do you suppose they talked about?  Ah, yes: 

The conversation soon went to the lack of connectivity in the hotel — no one could get a connection out of the hotel to the internet. Not only did everyone discover they were having the same bad experience, but they discovered they were receiving the same lie from the hotel staff — “everything is fine, no one else is complaining”. Being lied to made “being disconnected” all the more infuriating.

But the hotel clearly had no idea of who it was dealing with.

Soon “emergent clusters” of INSNA members went to the front desk as small groups and started demanding better service — after all we were being charged for WiFi.

The emergence was clearly too great for the hotel manager, who “became overwhelmed by the coordinated action and soon went into hiding and refused to talk about the topic”.  Now, I know what you’re wondering.  How had the network topology changed?  Well, Valdis explains, what was actually happening here, was that “power dissipates when people in a hub-and-spoke network [a.k.a. hierarchy] start to talk to each other”, and “learning begins”.  And he’s helpfully provided a White Paper explaining how it all works.

Oh, you think this stuff is nerdy?  Then you haven’t been paying attention to Colombia



  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.

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