Mathew Lowry

[update, 31/12/2013: literally hours after this post came Tony Lockett’s Mapping the EU digital public sphere(s)]

The above image is from ‘s FastCompany article “Why Successful People Have So Many Groups Of Friends”, which is all about networking for career success, something I’ve never done and am very unlikely to start. Nevertheless I recommend it as it’s also an excellent article on network theory, which is central to understanding the EU online public sphere.

Let’s start with some quotes:

“ideas are like germs: they don’t diffuse through populations of people at random; they make their way through networks–that is, the relationships you have with people and the connections they have with others. …

we tend to form clusters of relationships”

Right now, conversations in Europe about policy take place in 29 clusters – 28 national conversations, plus the Brussels Bubble. The links between these clusters are weak, which has consequences.

But first, some more info about what happens within clusters:

“Clusters get stronger as people form mutual friendships, establish norms, and gain reputations…

[within a cluster] Information goes faster and faster and gets repeated again and again … leading to unwritten rules and normalized, reinforced behavior.

Information doesn’t move between groups: Since you start speaking in shorthand – whether it’s ROIs or ROFLs – you begin to be less intelligible to outside groups. As a result, knowledge stays within one group and doesn’t move .”

Groupthink in the Jargon-fuelled Brussels Bubble, anyone?

So far, so normal (if this is all new to you, I also recommend The Primal Forces that Drive Social Networks).

Brokering the conversation

The key point here is that forming links between clusters – brokerage – is essential:

“We tend to stay within our clusters… Staying put feels good, as you acquire a reputation and social validation within your peer group… stepping into other clusters makes you vulnerable to new ideas.

A broker makes the information market more fluid … Great ideas will never move if we wait for them to be spoken in the same language. …

The more that you live between clusters, the more exposed you’ll be to different ideas.”

While this validates Hashtag Europe’s focus on helping ideas and information spread more easily between clusters – and hence across Europe – it helps to remember that these ideas flow between people, not impersonal web servers.

Perhaps I should network a bit more.

Author :


  1. Great to see that we share an interest in social network analysis!

    You say that “conversations in Europe about policy take place in 29 clusters – 28 national conversations, plus the Brussels Bubble”. That may be part of the picture, but it seems to me that one of the main breakthroughs enabled by digital media (compared with traditional media) is the development of conversations that transcend national barriers.

    Social network analysis of EU-related topics also shows sub-groups based eg on political affiliation, professional activity (journalism, business, civil society etc…) and policy sector/issue. See, for example, this social network map created last year of discussions relating to the #eurozone on Twitter: or this one on #ttip

    Looking at these different layers (and, as you say, the links between the different clusters) can help us to get a better picture of the complex web of conversations about the EU that are taking place online.

  2. Of course, the 28+1 image is a massive simplification – as I pointed out around mid 2010, “sub-groups based eg on political affiliation, professional activity (journalism, business, civil society etc…) and policy sector/issue”, as you put it, are probably the most important vector for pan-EU conversations – see Vacancies: Specialists required to build bridges.

    The problem is in finding people to have that conversation with in other countries. Even if you have similar interests, the language and contextual barriers between countries will mean that it will always require an extra effort to get involved in EU-wide conversations.

    Hence rebooting bloggingportal to provide a better map of the conversation, organised by language and topic. In this way we can reduce the content discovery barriers preventing people discovering ideas, people, opinion and other content in their topic of interest from other countries.

    Apart from providing a better EU conversation on EU issues, this cross-fertilisation of ideas will be a source of true innovation, which generally only happens when ideas from different contexts collide.

    PS I hadn’t thought of integrating network mapping tools into the system, but then the focus for now is getting the Minimum Viable Product up and running. Once that’s done, there are plenty of other bells and whistles, beyond Rebelmouse, which could be added on top of the underlying database.

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