Are Communities Just Small World Networks In Disguise?

There’s been a shift recently across many of the major social media players such as Facebook, Instagram and Reddit: movement from an open, hyper-connected world, to a closed, more intimate one (with less focus on individuals, and more focus on groups/interests).

As we're making our way around Asia, we're also bumping into people who happen to know others we know. So much so that we often hear, “Wow, it’s such a small world.”

Have you ever experienced that before?

This “small world” phenomenon is a relatively modern one. It’s related to small world networks, which is a type of mathematical (near complete) graph whereby most nodes are not neighbours of one another, but the neighbours of any given node are likely to be neighbours of each other. Most nodes can be reached from every other node by a small number of “hops” or steps.

In laymen’s terms, it’s what you may see or experience through 1–3 degrees of separation. For example, on LinkedIn, how often do you connect with someone who’s a 3rd or more degree contact? Probably not often. This is the small world network effect in action.

Are Communities Just Small World Networks In Disguise?

On Twitter, we posted a question, “are communities just small world networks in disguise?” This generated some rather interesting answers from the Twitter-sphere. Mention of the Dunbar Number to Mandala Networks were thrown into the conversation. It expanded our curiosity.

Since the words “network” and “community” often get used interchangeably, it most certainly makes sense as to why many mistake networks as “communities.” It has to do with the density and quality. With Small World Networks and Mandala Networks, you move from small worlds to “ultra” small worlds (Mandala). And, even according to this article, when it comes to security, network setups like Mandalas actually get stronger the larger the network grows. Why? Because more and more “ultra small networks” get created in clusters, while still retaining connectedness.

How can this knowledge help you though?

Playing Local Global

I’ll use a concept in the ancient strategy game of Go (weiqi) called “Local Global.” Essentially, when playing, you need to constantly switch between local (tactical) and global (strategic) moves. Stay too long in either, and you make yourself vulnerable to the opponent.

So, as you’re growing, you need to break things down into teams/segments/chunks. By doing so, you make things more manageable. At the same time, you need to always make sure that you’re staying in sync with the global moves. The bigger picture.

Therefore, when it comes to communities (or even teams/organisations), there’s a reason why people often get divided into smaller groups. You simply cannot manage larger groups at scale (unless you’re possibly using AI) — which ties into the Dunbar Number of 150 — you need to split apart, while staying connected through competent and synchronised leaders. Yin and yang.

Also, this shift towards the “small world” is a sign that we’re returning to basics/fundamentals.

Where else can you see this “small world” effect play out in your own life or business? Can you see the shift to fundamentals? Comment below or subscribe to our newsletter.


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