Social networks, long tails, social ties

Today’s post is really a (very) mini case study in the power of integrated corporate social networks, the benefits of long tails in learning, and the strength of weak social ties.

Now read on…

If you’re not familiar with the latter two concepts here’s a little background: the idea of the strength of weak ties is a theory from sociology; according to its originator Mark Granovetter:

…the argument asserts that our acquaintances (weak ties) are less likely to be socially involved with one another than are our close friends (strong ties). Thus the set of people made up of any individual and his or her acquaintances comprises a low-density network (one in which many of the possible relational lines are absent) whereas the set consisting of the same individual and his or her close friends will be densely knit (many of the possible lines are present).

It follows, then, that individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends. This deprivation will […] insulate them from the latest ideas.

(1983, pp.201-202)

The concept of the long tail is something both the late, much-missed Jay Cross and  Tony Karrer (still alive) have recently discussed and is example of how the web (and particularly social technologies) changes the way assets – whether physical artifacts like books, or knowledge and informational assets persist for an extended period beyond their supposed “sell-by” date:

Long tails for the enterprise occur when the power to create and publish is widely held, the content can be distributed at near-zero cost and a market exists that connects knowledge workers with a nearly infinite number of content creators.

(Kilian, D. 2007)

Here’s a pertinent example of how these ideas manifest themselves in the workplace: recently, I suffered from a niggly problem with my Outlook e-mail client – it wasn’t updating  as it was supposed to do. So I logged a snag on the corporate Bugzilla implementation about the issue. The IT person, who I would describe as being a a journeyman level of competence (has passed their certification exams and is no longer a novice, but is not yet an expert) went though all the things your supposed to do to resolve such issues

  • ran ScanPST.exe
  • checked my e-mail profile
  • consulted MSDN
  • looked at forums for similar issues based on the Error ID
  • called out to his buddies on WhatsApp for help

… as well as some “well beyond the call of duty” stuff (a time-consuming MS Office reinstall).

All to no avail.

So I got my laptop back and had resolved myself to living with this seemingly intractable minor inconvenience, when a third contributor (a more knowledgeable IT support person), working from home, happened to encounter the issue when scanning through Bugzilla, entered the discussion with a simple “I know what this is.”

So, by accessing my laptop via a PC-sharing application, the issue was resolved in about 20 minutes, after 5 days of dead ends and frustration.

The moral of the story is: by developing a corporate culture that encourages wide-ranging participation, and by providing a corporate knowledge-sharing environment (Bugzilla in this case), you increase the chances that somebody you’re associated with, no matter how loosely, will have the appropriate knowledge and expertise to find a solution to an issue. The added learning benefit from the journeyman contributors perspective is that they have added to their knowledge experientially, by interacting with the More Knowledgeable Other via their corporate social network. I would suggest that the experiential knowledge  acquired by being involved in this problem-solving activity has been synthesised into their personal experience schema, enabling them to grow a little more knowledgeable (or even wiser), and a more effective practitioner.

Oh yes… the solution?

Delete and recreate your profile in Outlook.



Cross, J. (2008) Strength of weak knowledge sources. [Internet] Available from: http://internettime.com/2008/04/21/strength-of-weak-knowledge-sources/ Accessed 1 July 2017

Granovetter, M. (1983) The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited. Sociological Theory, Volume 1, 201-233. State University of New York,
Stonybrook. [Internet] Available from: http://www.si.umich.edu/~rfrost/courses/SI110/readings/In_Out_and_Beyond/Granovetter.pdf Accessed 1 July 2017

Karrer, T. (2008) Corporate Learning Long Tail and Attention Crisis : eLearning Technology. [Internet] Available from: http://elearningtech.blogspot.com/2008/02/corporate-learning-long-tail-and.html Accessed 1 July 2017

Kilian, D. (2007) The Learning Organization Meets the Long Tail (Part 2). [Internet] Available from:
http://www.clomedia.com/guest-editorial/2007/October/1949/index.php Accessed 1 November 2007: Personal Archive

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