Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


Managing networking in social media – what’s in between the zone of homophily and broadcast?

I was interested to read George Siemens post on his loss of interest in social media, I did not completely agree with him , though my disagreement was not so dramatic as Donald Clark’s.  I think George might be confusing a channel/ web service with what people can do with it.

However, George’s post did get me to reflect on my own practice with Twitter.  I had a think and came up with this analysis of my own Twitter network.  Everyone’s Twitter network is different e.g. @Downes with 4k+ followers and following 1.
My personal Twitter network

My personal network contains two zones – the blue (those who follow me)and the red (those I follow).  The overlap between those is my zone of homophily. This is a bit of a comfort zone where those with whom I share interests can share resources and conversation (sometimes silly).  However, previous research warns us of the dangers of group think  and the dangers of familiarity can militate against questioning and criticality.

In the blue zone of those who follow me, there will be people I know but don’t follow – I broadcast to them!.  I suspect there are a lot of ‘dead’ Twitter users who followed me then left.  Some who found me via the 112 lists I am in (I own 1 list) may still be following me. I would also guess that there are quite a few bots and spammers that I haven’t managed to spot and block.  This all makes the apparent 1198 to whom I broadcast my tweets (without me seeing theirs) look like  a large  overestimate of ‘followers’. Although my attention is mainly focused towards the red zone, I still value the tweets from some of the 1198 that hop over to grab my attention by using @francesbell.  I will usually click on their name and take a quick look at their recent tweets, maybe following them if they look interesting.

In the zone of those I follow but they don’t follow me, I am on the receiving end of broadcasts from the great and the good of social media /learning technology, a band, a folk festival, news media feeds, a funding body, a cinema,  a couple of celebrities,and  my Vice-Chancellor. I definitely can gain information from these links but there is little or no conversation taking place.  I am in their blue zone and may @message them but only once if I don’t get a reply – I get the message they aren’t seeking conversation;)

So although the focus of my Twitter network may appear to be my zone of homophily, my broadcasters and broadcast audience are also important to me. If your zone of homophily is too big to manage, prune it but don’t blame the channel.  If my valued network decamps to G+, I might need to shift my activity there but currently, I find Twitter a lot more manageable and less intrusive than G+.  I ‘go to Twitter’ via Tweetdeck whereas G+ comes to me every time I log into to my Google account for other reasons.

Edit: a question from @heloukee made me realise I hadn’t said how I worked out the numbers.  I got the number of followers and followed by me from Tweetdeck then got the number I follow who don’t follow me back from I would have been in trouble if that number was more than 100 (twopchart’s limit) so this method won’t work for everyone.


francesbell • August 5, 2011

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  1. Andy Coverdale August 5, 2011 - 12:36 pm Reply

    Great post Frances. I thought I’d just add a couple of points…

    I like the idea of the Followers / Followees overlap as a ‘Zone of Homophily’ though this is fundamentally determined by reciprocity which tends to be subject to social (or academic) stratification / hierarchies.

    Actual user engagement with Twitter feeds are subject to inconsistent or selective viewing habits and strategies, which I touched on here – – which also highlights the limitations of research based purely on network analytics!

  2. Tim Marangon August 5, 2011 - 1:21 pm Reply

    Thanks for this post Frances. I’d never really thought about my activites in this way before and it was thought provoking. I’m also intrigued by how you created that cool looking infographic!!

    I read the George Siemen’s post with interest. Maybe he was having a bad day when he wrote this? Of course, I understand his frustration. As somebody who is increasingly getting interested and involved in the use of social media in the classroom (and for personal development activities) it takes an incredible amount of effort to set up a personal network, care for it, nurture and occasionally prune it. Imagine then finding that the ‘next big thing’ has come along and rendered the platforms that form the ‘scaffolding’ for your network obsolete. Cue hours of additional effort migrating everytihng across to this new platform and copious amounts of cuss words. On this point I am with George Siemens.

    What I disagree with is his attempt to argue that social media is a case of the ‘Emperor’s clothes’ . What we have there is a typical example of someone trying to make a point of general application based solely upon individual experience. As Donald Clark observes, maybe the real problem is not that platforms like Twitter and Facebook have no impact on the outside world, but rather it is that the way the Siemens himself used them that meant that those platforms ultimately had little value for him.

    As the saying goes ‘only a poor workman’ blames his tools’ and, whilst we should be wary of making grossly exagerrated claims about what social media can and cannot achieve, I remain satidsfied that there are sufficient examples of individuals out there who have demonstrated time and time again that it has real value.

  3. francesbell August 5, 2011 - 3:59 pm Reply

    @Andy I liked that blog post and completely agree about the unreliability of counts and stats in these networks of links – what about the quality?

    I also agree about social stratification – I recently posted after seeing some strange behaviour from what Dave Kernohan called the ‘big beasts’ of ed tech see

    @Tim the tool for the diagram was simply Powerpoint, then saved as a jpeg. George had some interesting things to say but also some strange comments amongst them

    “Social media=emotions.

    Blogging/writing/transparent scholarship=intellect”

    I found that really strange and worryingly close to Downes emotion/reason group/network generalisations

    For me, I am growing in my conviction that it is practice that should be the focus in our critiques of technology and innovation, with a rich consideration of context where power relations and lots of other (unspoken) influences come to play.

    • AnneMarie Cunningham August 14, 2011 - 10:58 pm Reply

      A few things – best tool to do these calculations is
      I have nearly 1000 mutual followers from very diverse areas so I don’t think homophily would be an appropriate word. It certainly doesn’t feel cosy at times.

      Next, I am very interested that you think we should focus on practice. That is something I definitely have a lot of time for and the main reason that I decided to start using social media. It’s something that academic journals have not been designed for- but could do more to support.

      I’m a health professional ( and a teacher) – of course I am a pragmatist!

  4. ailsa August 8, 2011 - 12:29 pm Reply

    Thanks for posting and for engaing in further conversation Frances. Particularly as it was in your response to questions that I engaged further. i fully concur, it is less about what’s assumed as more and less deep, and more about practice as negotiated. Reminds me of a conversation about reality with regard to oil paintings and facsimiles
    IReminds me also of my own study regarding resistance and whether text messaging is more or less real than other conversations.

  5. francesbell August 8, 2011 - 12:54 pm Reply

    That link didn’t work for me but hopefully this one will
    Yes I liked the part about contexts and the difference they make.

    Andy’s points about actual user engagements with Twitter feed resonate with me – it would make a good study.

    There is someone I ‘follow’ on Twitter whose behaviour I regard ( in a rather judgmental fashion) as overly self-promotional. Tweetdeck allows me to ‘inspect’ links and I use this feature to vet links for clicks to ‘old’ blog posts. Why do I follow this person? Because would find the unfollowing to be too public a statement. So that person’s role in my network is more apparent than real.

  6. Managing networking in social media – what's in between the zone … | Web Tech News

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