In the past few decades there have been dramatic and rapid changes that have been witnessed in the telecommunication and media industries. This is as a result of interplay between various factors in the industry. One of the major reasons for this dramatic and rapid change is the complex network routes and computers connected through various physical and wireless links.
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It has led to the emergence of what many scholars refer to as the networked publics. This peculiar type of audience is characterised by connection between people who are miles apart. Such connections have also led to the emergence of portable communication gadgets. Gadgets such as phones, laptops and such others are indispensable to most people around the world today.
An increase in the number of social sites such as Face Book, Twitter, eBuddy, 2Go and such others is evident today. This form of communication (communication via social media) is used by many people including political bigwigs, celebrities and large corporations and companies. For example, it is noted that most politicians keep in touch with their constituents via Face Book and Twitter.
The same applies to celebrities and business leaders in contemporary world. This is especially so if the communicator is targeting members of the youthful constituent.
Cultural exchange is nowadays contributing to the emergence of revolutionized networks. In this paper, the author is going to define network and the networked publics that facilitate this trend. The author is also going to assess the impact of web 2.0 based sites.
Definitions of Scale Free Network and Related Terms
Various scholars have defined the concept ‘network’ variously. The different definitions depend on the philosophy of the scholar and their academic orientation. For example, Barabasi (2004) defines a network as “……..an algorithm that generates random scale free graphs that have non- trivial- topology features and uses an attached preferential mechanism” (p. 45).
Networks are easily identifiable in various natural and human-made systems that include the internet, social networks and the World Wide Web (Barabasi & Reka 1999). This type of network is also referred to by other scholars as complex network. It is classified into two broad categories.
These are scale free and small- world networks (Bruns 2008). A scale free network is characterised by power law degree distributions and clustering of coefficients. Barabási-Albert’s model generates the scale- free and small world networks which incorporate growth and preferential attachments.
A network is said to be scale free when the degree of distribution of a node is selected uniformly and at random from a number of links on the basis of the power- law. At this juncture it is important to identify what a node is and how it relates to the computer and the resulting network.
According to Barabasi & Bonabeau (2003), a node can be conceptualised as a device attached to a computer network or other networks that aid in communication. The aim of such a device is to serve as a link when activated. It is noted that at times, the number of nodes in a network is likely to increase.
Growth is a term used when the number of nodes in a network increases over time. On the other hand, preferential attachment is a term used when the number of nodes connected and are most likely to receive new links. Power- law on its part is a term used to illustrate the mathematical relationship between two quantities that vary in frequency of an event (Barabasi & Reka 1999).
According to Barabasi & Reka (1999), nodes with a higher power- law degree have a stronger ability to access links that are added in a given network. Preferential attachment (which is the one commonly used in social media) is the ability of an outside node to access an existing hub of links or page (Habermas 2002).
The probability of one randomly choosing or selecting an existing link over others and selecting a particular page would be proportional to the power- law degree of the node. Preferential attachment is commonly used in search engine sites such as Google, Yahoo and Wikipedia (Habermas 2002).
The Concept of ‘Network’ According to Barabási-Albert
When discussing network in the context of Barabasi and his arguments, it should be noted that this author is making reference to scale free network. This is the form of network that is commonly cited or used by Barabasi.
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Scale free network (or what is also referred to as real network) is routed into two generics. To this end, it is noted that large networks are scale free since their degree of distribution follows power- laws. They differ with other networks which possess an exponential tail as a result of their degree deviation. Their degree significantly deviates from a Poisson distribution (Barabasi & Bonabeau 2003).
Such an open network exhibits the growth feature as discussed earlier in this paper. A network starts from a nodular nucleus from where it is randomly connected or rewired without modifications.
This single node is noted to increase in number throughout the lifetime of the network by subsequent addition of new nodes. This is for example the exponential growth of a world wide web as a result of addition of new web pages or literature publications.
Scale- free networks also exhibit preferential attachment. As earlier discussed in this paper, it is the probability that two nodes which are connected are independent of the node’s degree. This means that a web page will more likely include hyperlinks to popular documents with already high degrees because such highly connected documents are easy to find by the user and thus in the public domain and well known (Barabasi 2004, p. 71).
This network works well when there is an average path length of a random graph with the same size and average degree and there is a correlation that develops spontaneously between the connected nodes.
There should also be clustering of coefficients as well as simultaneous and continuous spectral densities. Therefore growth and preferential attachment plays an important role in network development because of the power- law degree distribution.
One of the major limitations of model A is that exponential characters of distributions normally indicate the absence of preferential attachment thus eliminating the scale free character of the resulting network. This is as a result of the dependence of logarithmic time. This is an indication of the inefficiency of growth alone to produce a scale free structure.
When a node is selected randomly in model B and connected to or linked with another node in the system, there is elimination of the growth process. As a result of this, it is noted that during the network evolution the nodes are partially constant and there is the seclusion of growth. This also produces an inefficient scale free structure which solely depends on preferential attachment.
As a result of this, the correlation between growth and preferential growth is important so as to produce the stationary and stable power- law observed in real network. There are several examples of scale free networks in the ICT world today. These include plane computer networks, semantic networks, interaction network and protein networks (Barabasi 2004).
The figure below vividly represents the general structure of a scale free network. In the figure provided, the highest degree nodes are highlighted.
Figure 1: The General Structure of Scale Free Network where Highest Degree Nodes are Highlighted
Adapted from: Barabasi 2004
Networked Publics as Defined by Varnelis
Internet is now the “backbone of the human society” since most of the day to day activities squarely depends on it (Willinger, Alderson & Doyle 2009). Its dynamism can be traced back to the artificial intelligence and computing of networks as well as communication. This has led to the adoption of this technology in daily communication, commerce and content delivery.
The wider internet ecology has brought with it a sophisticated infrastructure for social interaction derived from web 2.0. Networked publics refer to a linked set of technological, social and cultural developments accompanied by rapid engagement with digitally networked media (Varnelis 2008).
The impact of internet in contemporary society is evident on the way people are networked and the way they are mobilized using or through the media.
This analysis provides another possible and working definition of the concept network. To this end, the term networked media can also mean audience or consumers and how they interact with each other with the help of the internet.
Networked publics as an academic discipline critically analyses the way publics are communicating with each other through a complex network involving sharing knowledge and culture through discourse and social exchange.
The emergence of personal media and communication in the recent past has collided with commercial and mass media. This collision is termed as “convergence culture” by scholar Henry Jenkins (Jenkins 2006). It is the process whereby the old and new media intersect and the power and influence of media producers and consumers interact in an unpredictable pattern.
Disparity in the nature of adoption of networked digital media and technology is also evident in contemporary society. Factors such as social class, gender, nationality and religion have been factored in as they cause delays in the development of this new platform.
What are Aids Networked Publics?
This new platform uses devices like multimedia mobile phones such as iPhones, Android and Blackberry, notepads, laptops, home and office personal computers. This is together with the aid of broadband and wireless internet network. These platforms have contributed a lot to the success of networked publics.
The term ‘networked publics’ was coined from the current state of politics, infrastructure, commerce, education and entertainment. For example, politics in Philippines has been revolutionized through the use of text messaging. It is noted that all over the world, politicians use social media to carry out political campaigns.
Entertainment has been redefined by the use of social media to create links to world wide websites. This helps musicians and other artists to sell their products and services.
The current growth in networked publics is basically due to the spread and accessibility of technologies and networks. This unprecedented distribution and dissemination of digital production tools and knowledge has enhanced social interaction and cultural exchange.
The emergence of new networked platforms such as blogs and digital cameras is spurred by factors such as multimedia publications and web editors (Bruns 2008). The decentralization of communication networks and exchange venues has led to the multiplication of communication channels creating a virtual community.
The growth and expansion of networked publics is attributed to the proliferation of web 2.0. The audience and customers are able to link to each other through the web 2.0 site creating a communication platform. It is noted that the internet acts as the link between them.
Web 2.0 sites are defined as a loose connection of web applications that facilitates the sharing of information and user- centred designs in collaboration with the World Wide Web. This site helps users to connect and interact with each other through dialoguing, sending text messages and sharing videos reducing the whole world into a virtual community.
Examples of web 2.0 sites include blogs, wiki hosted services, video sharing sites and social networking sites such as My Space, Facebook and many more (Varnelis 2008).
How Web 2.0 Creates a Networked Public
Web 2.0 provides users with user interface and they benefit from its dynamic contents, metadata, scalability and direct participation. Collective intelligence and freedom to contribute are other benefits that are associated with the developments.
Users are able to find any form of information by simply typing a keyword. The users are connected to meaningful information using the web. They are also able to create and update contents and download software.
The author is now going to assess how Web 2.0 provides a space for creating networked publics reflecting the most used social networks. These are sites such as Facebook (Willinger et al. 2009).
Social networks allow people to be in touch with those in their social circle. This typically starts with a request to create a personal account. From their personal account pages, users can invite their colleagues to become “friends” and can send messages and contents such as texts, video, pictures and sound to their network of friends. On Facebook, the modalities of exchange among friends are extremely varied.
This is from news stories that automatically allow users to know about the Facebook activities of their friends during private (such as e- mail features) and public (such as “wall”-to-“wall” posts) content exchange.
Furthermore, one’s network can be extended not only through invitations to “friends” but also through becoming, for instance, a fan of a public figure, political cause or a TV series. This is in addition to the creation of and signing up for events and groups.
The rise of social networks has enabled users to mainstream, maintain and build social ties. This is in addition to engaging in discussion on public issues and reviving public participation in public affairs. For instance political activism and revolution in Egypt in 2010 started in the web 2.0 platform of Facebook.
The sharing of this information between various individuals later escalated to riots in the streets and due to pressure, the president had to step down.
According to the Canadian Journal of Communication, during the presidential elections of 2008 in USA (where Barrack Obama was elected president), his group had more than 1.2 million supporters on Facebook. The web 2.0 social media have emerged as alternative platforms enhancing public participation and communication regarding public issues (ABC News [ABC] 2008).
- Social Relations
Social ties had been broken with some people migrating to far flung towns, cities and even countries. Communication between them was difficult considering that one had to call, send a text message, e-mail or post a card. This was inefficient because they had to communicate with one person at a time.
Web 2.0 has made it possible for one to communicate with many people at a time providing real time feedback. This is for example through dialogue boxes that web 2.0 supports, sharing of video and live casting. It is also possible now to chat with many people at a go. Facebook has been recommended for its ability to connect people (Castells 2010a). This has revamped social ties creating a networked society.
The interaction of people through web 2.0 interfaces has facilitated cultural exchange. Sharing of digital videos between people of different cultures has created a networked culture. An emerging trend of live video sharing and recorded conference on cultural exchanges has been noted (Habermas 2002). This trend has increased tourism in countries with rich cultures in the world.
Web 2.0 has improved education across the globe with features like live video casting and e-mail hosting making major contributions. Educational institutions have created their own websites that enable them to provide online education to students that are miles away.
Documents can be uploaded by teachers and later downloaded by students on a particular topic. Academic research has been made much easier especially with web 2.0 sites such as Wikipedia, Google and Yahoo search engines.
Web 2.0 has enabled companies to open up their websites which has enhanced the marketing of the companies’ products. Appointments have also been made through e-mails.
Conferences and meetings have been held through live video streaming across the globe. As a result of this, top executives are saved from the trouble of travelling miles away to do the same. Electronic transfer of money supported by web 2.0 has enhanced proper functioning of businesses (Karl 2008).
Technological networks have been created all over the world. Transfer of this technical information has enabled engineers to make advancements in their areas of specialization (Castells 2010b).
Web 2.0 based platforms have created avenues for researchers and technicians to meet and share knowledge. As a result of this, they progress by making new inventions and innovate new ways of solving problems facing humans.
In conclusion, it is important to note that technological advancements that humanity is enjoying today in the information, communication and technology (ICT) sector can be traced back to the development of web 2.0 technology.
These advancements have reduced the world into a virtual community enabling the free flow of information which has in turn created a networked public.
These advancements in networks and website technology have enabled the public to instil a sense of responsibility on their politicians as far as management of public assets is concerned. It has also created new social links, enabled easy learning and transfer of technology across the universe.
ABC News, 2008, Facebook. Web.
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