The Birth of a Link

This diagram is absolutely fascinating.
It comes from Easley & Kleinberg’s new book from an excellent paper by Crandall et al (2008) (pdf).
It is a sort of anatomy of how links between people are created: it tries to capture the birth moment and the forces before and after it.
The upward curve is intriguing but straightforward to explain by homophily – like seeking like.
The most interesting bit is the curve just before the first communication occurs.  People get suddenly more similar – a kind of gravitational attraction occurs in the affiliation network and the first communication is sparked into life, closing the triads.
Although is tempting to explain this by creating physics based models, as the paper does,  I can’t help feeling there is a simpler explaination.   I would guess that the base of the curve is generally where ‘awareness’ happens.  At this moment the editors become aware of each other, and at that point a basic psychological effect takes over: simple curiosity. People actively seek each other out, viewing each other’s activities and building a picture of the type of the other person. Partly this is also to de-risk the first encounter in order to make the right first impression.
It isn’t often that one sees abstract concepts like curiosity in science, but I guess that is the power of big data & a great set of research questions ;-)

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