I’ve written before about Facebook and the strength of weak ties, and I think Michael Clarke’s The Strength of Weak Ties: Why Twitter Matters in Scholarly Communication is right on.
The key part of the post is where he talks about how Twitter differs from other social networking sites/tools:
Twitter, however, diverges from this model in 3 important ways:
1. Followers not friends. On Twitter, your status update is sent to your “followers” … When you first start using Twitter, your followers are typically people you know personally…But then a curious thing happens: other people—often complete strangers—become followers based on the content of your status updates.
2. Content not relationships. You develop followers on Twitter in large part based on what you have to say. If your posts are interesting to other people, they will follow you…
3. Open not closed. On Twitter, status updates are visible to everyone. I can perform searches on Twitter … Moreover, retweeting (reposting) other people’s messages is a common practice on Twitter. .. Additionally, the use of hash tags to indicate content is related to a particular topic or event can result in further dissemination of one’s posts. Using these mechanisms, posts on Twitter can circulate in surprising ways.
Clarke rightly notes that Twitter’s networking advantages are best described by the work of Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter, whose seminal AJS article “The Strength of Weak Ties” anticipated the effects of online social networking by three decades.
In his subsequent book Getting a Job, Granovetter demonstrates that our “weak ties” are more valuable than “strong ties” for leading us to important outcomes like getting a job, finding a mate, etc. Our strong ties tend not to be particularly diverse in ways that are valuable for leading us to the kinds of new, unique leads that connect us to job opportunities and the like.
For me, Twitter has expanded and exposed my “weak ties” and exposed me to a more diverse set of people, who provide me a more diverse set of information on a daily basis than my “strong ties” could possibly do.