Joi Ito posts his reflections on strong and weak ties after reading Granovetter's original paper in the context of the job market.
...What I can see emerging is a way to amplify the strength of weak ties. (I knew this before, but it's becoming more crisp to me now.) IRC allows me to see the style and personality of many of the people online. Blogs help me see what their interests are and focus is. LinkedIn provides a professional context for referrals. I think that supporting the process of developing your assets and character and finding a job that best suits you will be one of the single most important benefits of social software...
Hiring someone is an act of trust. What Joi is getting at is how social networking models can augment trust.
Recall that trust is greater at the bottom of the model (see its table). Private, referral based, networks provide what Joi calls context for his hiring decision -- but fundamentally its the referrer putting their social capital on the line for the recruit. That and a Physical meeting may suffice in most cases, but first impressions often fail no matter what your interview process is.
That's where conversational networks come in. IRC allowed Joi to "get to know them" because he shared a conversational space over time. Time he couldn't have spent with them in person and shared with others. Chat's real-time nature makes it more difficult for people to mask themselves (though it should be noted not all people are adapted to this mode, nor will be). It has been shown that rapid responsiveness in communication (e.g. returning emails quickly) begets trust. IRC forces rapid response, a basis for trust, which if backed up by short message quality provides deeper context for an initial relationship.
Connections are also initiated by blogs as a mode of communication. As its asynchronous responsiveness is less of a factor, but still remains (ever post back-and-forth in a short timespan with someone new to you?). But the ability to draft and compose messages, like email, enhances message quality. And the depth of one's writings makes public facade's permeable.
Socialtext is hiring a few folks soon and I am looking for people that complement good references with getting to know people beforehand through informal communication. Job boards have lost their usefulness as social networking models have come in to play. Don't email me, its broken and you will only bother me. But do spend time in these spaces, not for me, but for yourself and the real relationships you will foster. Thank goodness we all woke up and realized the people around us matter.
Joi also mentioned the role social software may have in raising self-esteem. This reminded me of the post yesterday on how people tend to cluster geographically and temporally (went to school together, etc.).
If diversity within physical places is keeping us from realizing our ideals, and work bounds us in many ways -- that third place, often talked about, the virtual bowling alley may hold a partial solution. Third places are retreats into social spaces from a selfish need with those of like mind. Its where we foster some of our self-esteem, and a great deal of our social capital, that helps us survive and bridge home and work. Perhaps if we fulfill our need for the like-minded through virtual bowling alleys, we can allow work and home (where we phyisically spend our time) to be more diverse.