Does having too many friends in online social networks make radical, innovative thinking harder to develop and foster group-think instead? That's the conclusion of one scientist contributing to a recent issue of Science magazine, but we're not so sure.
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, director of the Information + Innovation Policy Research Center at the National University of Singapore, argues that "the over-abundance of connections through which information travels reduces diversity and keeps radical ideas from taking hold."
Mayer-Schönberger is specifically interested in what it will take to see the next major stage of the Internet come into being and believes that extensive social networking could favor slower iterative development instead of radical paradigm shifts. Smaller networks of developers are more likely to give unusual ideas the time they need to grow and mature, before other thinkers shoot them down or rip them off. Big networks can also be very distracting.
Other factors to consider though, we would contend, include the positive impact of collaboration, serendipitous social discovery, rapid news dispersal, interdisciplinary cross-pollination and the increased scalability of support for ideas that living large on social networks enables.
A "good or bad" analysis may be too crude for evaluating the effect of extensive social connections online on innovation: it seems true that both extended periods of uninterrupted work time are essential to innovation and that online noise is good for you. Is participation in large social networks a net positive or a net negative? That probably depends on the person, but smaller networks are probably an important option to consider as well.
We would post a poll asking for your opinion on the matter, but in writing about group-think online that would seem too ironic.