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The Tangled Social Webs We Weave (Network & Relationship Visualizations)

Last week I wrote about people and networks in business at a high, abstract level. Today I want to zoom in. The lead picture here is a snapshot of my LinkedIn network from the InMaps tool. It’s awesome and it’s powered by magic. But it’s more than just a cute visualization – it tells us interesting things, too. (I’d love to see what the LinkedIn data teams have done with the information, e.g., how different segments of network users vary in terms of how their networks look.)

For me, my map of ~300 links clearly shows distinct networks of which I am a part.

I’ve labeled these in the image below. The interesting thing is that each is a different shape.

  1. Yale (College)
  2. Exeter (+ some preceding elementary / other High School)
  3. Google (3 Summers of Internships)
  4. Oliver Wyman (Full-time employment)


{1,2,3} are highly dense since everyone knew each other in the network-groups pictured here, with high degrees of interlinking.

(1) is largest because I know so many people from Yale, and so many are now in the ‘professional’ world. (2) is smaller because of a small pool, and the fact that most were not using LinkedIn when we were 13-17.

(3) has two different pieces, overlapping. One is the first summer of Google BOLD, and the other color is the 2nd and 3rd summers combined. I’m not sure why the 2nd and 3rd summers are analytically distinct from the first, or conjoined, but they are.

(4) is more diffuse since it’s the smallest in ‘absolute’ time, and my links are distributed based on who I have worked with or know of the 3000 consultants at OW, whose constituents appear to have less overlap.

There is some overlap shown, limited by the requirement that edges connect with me; below are two examples of overlap.

Tariq and Sophia both graduated from Yale and joined Oliver Wyman at the same time I did, so we share a lot of ‘Yale’ connections as well as OW ones. Raymond’s placement is more complicated since we share connections from high school and Google, but he graduated in a different year and his Google network became more complicated since he now works there full-time and included different time-series.


So why should anyone care, besides data visualization art?

What should this kind of display remind us of? Well, the merits of thinking about your social ties, and the value they bring. We are constantly reminded of this through serendipity – example here, where a post on FB receives 2 posts from people I knew since elementary school, one I know from HS, and another from work – with the new discovery that the latter two knew each other beforehand. Etc., etc. It’s a small world and it keeps getting smaller.

Earlier this year I helped produce an internal training on relationship & network management. As part of this, I went around and asked partners at Oliver Wyman “What do you wish you knew when you were younger [about said topic]?” The answers, if you’ve read this far, should not surprise you. Some samples:

Start Early.”

“In the long haul, everything happens through, with, and for people.”

“Don’t underestimate the power of building relationships with junior level people and your peers.”

“I wish I had known how important personal references are…”

“Successful sales and relationship management is far more dependent on small, yet consistent activities… than charisma and schmoozing.”

The message serving just to re-emphasize how singularly important this asset / skill / activity really is. Still, it doesn’t make me like ‘networking’ any better… unless it comes in the form of having drinks, cheese, or fun with friends.

What’s YOUR experience?

P.S., for extra credit, create and share your LinkedIn map in the comments.



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