Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Topologically (contrived opportunistically) connected social networks: rethinking a basic paradigm

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on June 1, 2017

I am a geneticist and molecular biologist, at least according to my postdoctoral training. So I have at least somewhat followed the literature relevant to that, as our molecular level understanding of genetics and of life processes have advanced. When I was a graduate student and a postdoctoral research fellow, the concept of genes as sequences of DNA on chromosomes was well established, as was the fact that in “higher” organisms: eukaryotes, DNA sequences that code for specific genes: for the specific proteins that they represent, can be interrupted by sequences called introns. And it was known that genes were accompanied by and generally flanked by special DNA sequences: regulatory sequences that controlled their activity, and that these sequences where controlled in turn by the binding of activating and inhibiting proteins that managed and regulated them. Those proteins were and are encoded on other genes. So the genome of an organism as a whole was and is managed for its expression by complex systems that include feedback control among other process considerations that would determine when and where a gene would produce its defining end products. Insulin, for example, would be produced by specific types of cell in the pancreas and myoglobin in muscle cells and not the other way around. True, a gene on a given chromosome might be regulated for its function by gene products produced from other genes that are distantly located, and even on other chromosomes entirely. But all action involved there, and certainly on a facilitation of gene activity side of these functional relationships, occurred within single linear stretches of that DNA and without consideration of the location of that stretch of DNA in space, relative to other unconnected or only distantly connected stretches of DNA. Passive diffusion and active transport mechanisms would bring outside (of a target DNA sequence) regulatory proteins and other factors to where they would work, and the precise location of DNA segments and sequences relative to each other in this was at most only secondarily of importance, and then in at most a non-systematic manner.

Then a game changing phenomenon was observed, where more direct regulatory and other functional relationships were found to arise between distinct stretches of DNA sequence, and in a manner that was fully dependent on how closely positioned they were physically as a result of how the chromosomes were folded to fit into a single tightly packed cell nucleus. And it was found that recurring folding patterns led to consistent patterns of specific groups of genes and their regulatory elements essentially always ending up physically adjacent to each other in the cell nucleus and even when they were not linearly linked to each other. And these genes and their regulatory sequences and mechanisms in place do directly interact. These “regular neighbors in consistently recurring three dimensional neighborhoods” systems came to be called topologically associated domains, or TADs. And it was found that at least some diseases are either influenced for their occurrence and severity, or even directly caused by systematic miss-folding, that would break up expected TADs and create what amount to new and less normatively functional ones.

A TAD represents what might be considered a contrived pattern of opportunistic alignment that creates consistent patterns of possible cross-communication and interaction between what would otherwise be distant and functionally unrelated genes. And evolutionary pressures have led to the development of particularly beneficial TADs that have come to routinely recur and from cell to cell as new cells are formed through the process of mitosis, and for entire organisms and even throughout entire species. Similar TADs and patterns of them are even found in related but evolutionarily distinct species too. I have found myself thinking about the basic organizing paradigm that this represents in a here, genetics-systems special case context. TADs as such are more usually thought of in that one particular context. But the basic principles depicted and highlighted there, have much wider possible application, and certainly in contexts such as social networking. And my goal here is in this posting is to at least begin to “think out loud,” in rethink social networking and business social networking in particular, for how similar, conceptually parallel processes might play a role there.

I chose to cite “topological social networking” and its perhaps less pretentious sounding alternative: “contrived opportunistic social networking” in the title of this posting, with this perhaps analogous system organizing process in mind. And I at least begin to pivot from the foundational and thought inspiring genetics example as briefly and simplistically outlined above to a social networking context by repeating a basic social networking taxonomy that I have offered in this blog and that I have used and offered in my own social networking and in my consulting practice (see my earlier posting: Social Network Taxonomy and Social Networking Strategy). And I begin by repeating a basic list of categorical types of individual networkers from that:

• Active networkers – people who are seeking to expand their connections reach and who really connect with their contacts to exchange value.
• Passive networkers – people who may or may not be looking to expand their networks and who primarily wait for others to reach out to connect with them. They tend to be less through in following through than active networkers when they do make an initial new networking contact, in effect rendering those new connections stillborn when they fail to do so.
• Selective networkers – people who are resistant to networking online with anyone who they are not already actively connected with and networking with by other means.
• Inactive networks – people who may very well lean towards selective networking as defined above or tend to be passive networkers when working on their networks but who are not doing so, at least now. They tend to start networking when and if they have a specific immediate reason to do so, such as reaching out to perhaps old contact lists when searching for a job. But they stop networking and either actively on their part or in response to contact efforts from others as soon as their own self-perceived immediate need for this ends.

Active networkers are essentially always open networkers, where that means having a willingness to meet new people and connect with them in a networking context as an initial point of contact. Selective networkers and (currently inactive) at least situationally inactive networkers tend to be closed and will not in general accept or even appreciate invitations to connect from complete strangers. Passive networkers and situationally inactive ones who happen to be currently networking can generally be found somewhere in the middle for this and fit into a spectrum from being at least situationally wide open to being fully closed, depending on their self-perceived circumstances and needs.

And now let’s categorically consider networking strategy types as would be pursued by members of these above categorical types, phrasing this in individual networker terms too. And I focus here on special networker categories who in effect collectively maintain networking communities as coherent connected groups:

• Hub networkers are people who are well known and connected at the hub of some specific community with its demographics and its ongoing voice and activities.
• Boundary networkers or demographic connectors are people who may or may not be hub networkers but who are actively involved in two or more distinct communities and who can help people connect across the boundaries to join new communities.
• Boundaryless networkers (sometimes called promiscuous networkers) are people who network far and wide, and without regard to community boundaries. These are the people who can seemingly always help you find and connect with someone who has unusual or unique skills, knowledge, experience or perspective and even on the most obscure issues and in the most arcane areas.

And in any given networking and potentially networking community, to include passive and inactive members and most active ones as well here, most people simply network such as they do within single demographic groups and communities and even when they do reach out to new possible contacts there. A leavening of hub, boundary and boundaryless networks serves to provide greater overall reach, and certainly when networking communities are considered from a “degrees of separation” perspective.

As a first consideration, and if “topological” per se were considered entirely on an individual networker level, then topological social networking per se might only represent a collective term for a combination of hub, boundary and boundaryless networkers and how they and others network and connect together. But that does not offer much if any clarifying value for understanding how networking is organized or carried out. But I see this term as taking on a more genuine meaning at a potential networking community and demographic level, emergent to that.

• Topological, or of you will contrived opportunistic social networking is networking in an opportunistically arising context where people come together for perhaps transiently shared reasons and for perhaps transiently shared purpose. The important point here is that this takes place in contexts that would not fit the more usual predictable demographic patterns that planned and intentional networking is usually carried out in.

Open networkers: people who are comfortable with reaching out to new possible networking contacts are obviously going to be more open to this type of networking than are more closed networkers. But even if a less active networker sees a known and trusted acquaintance in such a gathering and that person makes an introduction of a stranger to them, in effect validating and vetting who they are introducing, then even an otherwise closed networker, whether passive, selective or inactive to use the above outlined terms, might find themselves opportunistically networking to a new potential contact anyway – and certainly if they find themselves in a conversation with them that they would want to in some way continue.

And this brings me to active networkers and the word “contrived,” and back to the issues of networking strategy again: and to the basic concept of genetically defined TAD’s arising as recurring and predictable patterns that with time can take on functional potential and capacity.

• What types of contexts do we find ourselves in where unexpected networking opportunities might arise, or where they could at the very least be cultivated?
• Where are our social networking counterparts to TADs, to explicitly use the genetic term here, that we can cultivate and network through?

As soon as you decide that it might be worth your while to look for novel but meaningful business or other networking opportunities in unexpected places, and even “just in case,” you take a big step towards being both an open networker and a more boundaryless one too. But you also open up new doors to finding unexpected and even disruptively game changing sources of value too.

• Always carry business cards with you, and at least a pen if not paper and pen.
• Business cards are obvious in this and so are paper and pen in the event that someone who you meet and would network with does not have a card to give you in return. But the real value of having a pen is in giving the business cards that you receive some sustainable value. Always write the date when you receive a card on it, and a word or two to help remind you of the context and of what you discussed with them that would prompt a card exchange. If you do not do this, and just push another business card in your pocket, it is likely that when you see it next it will be without context and you will not know precisely why you have it as a door opener for a specific networking connection. Cards alone tend to simply gather dust until they are discarded and nothing actually comes from them.
• Remember, real networking begins with that second point of contact as that is when a real conversation begins.
• And in this contexts under discussion here, “always” as stated in the first of this set of bullet points really means always – and if not “on your person when you are swimming at a beach” then nearby and readily available.

Think of this posting as representing wildcard networking opportunity and the value of at least occasionally behaving as if a more open networker, and certainly if you see real possibility of meeting people who you would want to network with in specific upcoming types of events. And this means thinking at the very least about networking and the types of situations, events and contexts where you might expect to find that type of sharable value.

I suspect that the basic conceptual model underlying genetic and I add social networking TADs, is going to be found to be much more widely applicable than suggested up to here in this posting. As a final non-social networking possibility and putative example that is also biological in nature, consider the possible role that neuron to neuron cross-talk might play in overall brain function. There are already a variety of at least somewhat clearly characterized examples of this type of phenomenon in the medical literature, and perhaps the most clearly established of them is referred pain. Anyone who has ever eaten a really cold ice cream cone on a hot summer day and found their eyes aching from that – that is referred pain. The discomfort you experience then does not result from your eyes getting cold; it comes from cross-talk between adjacent sensory nerves, where activity in one triggers activity in another that is it not actually connected to, but that it simply close to.

I suspect that this type of cross-talk process also plays a role in the phenomenon of synesthesia too, one type of sensory input is consciously perceived as being of a different type, such as perceiving sounds as if colors too and certainly given the overt reality of perceived pain and its mechanism. And where else might this apply too, in a neurological and brain functionality context? I expect that variations on this mechanism are going to be found in a wide range of functionality contexts, where contiguous functionally and structurally distinct brain nuclei and neural pathways can and do exchange signals and by proximity of location-based topological networking. In principle this might even play a role in higher level widely neurologically-interconnected contexts such as self-awareness and sapience too.

But to pull this posting’s narrative back from the more speculative and to the more readily validated, and back to social networking: this is an approach that I will return to and both in exploring and analyzing observed networking behavior and to discuss how it can be intentionally applied as a source of networking best practices. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

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