Social Networks in the Classroom

Today's New York Times has an article on an educational software start-up that "has a social-networking twist."  The company, Piazza, provides a course page where students can ask and answer questions with moderation from the instructor.  I'm not sure what the "social networking" component of this site is.  From the Times article, it sounds simply like a message board with a few bells and whistles.  A quick search for the company's website left me empty handed, so we can only speculate that there is actually something more here.

In passing, the article raised another interesting point though: "As in the case of Facebook, the wildly popular social network that sprang from a Harvard dorm room, the close-knit nature of college campuses has helped accelerate the adoption of Piazza."  The idea that close-knit communities lead to increased technology adoption is something that I prove in my recent paper, "Friendship-based Games."  The idea of closely knit communities is captured by the clustering coefficient of a network.  This metric measures the probability that two individuals that share a mutual friend are friends with one another.  In the paper, I show using a game theoretic model that new (beneficial) technologies have an easier time breaking into a market in networks with high clustering.  The basic idea is that small communities of users can adopt the new technology and interact mainly with one another, protecting themselves from the incumbent.  This may be one of the reason that college campuses, which probably exhibit higher clustering than many other social networks, prove to be such fertile ground for the adoption of new innovations.