A now classical result of the sociology of social networks is the distinction between formal social structures defined by kinship, inherited hierarchy or companies' organisational charts, and infor...
Yes, this piece is 'academic'. But there are some exquisite nuggets to unravel with a careful reading:
On the way the "formal organisational chart and the informal advice (or trust or communication) network are just two different ways of construing social structure and objectivating it".
How these formal (rigid, hierarchical, functional) structures and informal (fluid, flatter, collaborative) networks are "informed by different political and epistemological orientations: those of (old-style) employers for the former, those of social researchers (and perhaps enlightened employers) for the latter".
How the "resulting formal-informal dichotomy would then be the result of a cleavage between two competing approaches to the management of organisations (and more generally of human groups or communities)"
And the challenges to the traditional dichotomy from the disruptive social web where "only apparently spontaneous, digital networked interactions are in fact codified, ritual, and often systematically traceable. Connections are no longer only in the minds of people, and barely depend on their perception, but are objectivated by the very technological tools they use, and by the design of online networking services" - where interactions on social networks, via text messages have ended up "making written communication prominent. Everything is more explicit, and virtually every action is recorded and feeds a database. Thus, one no longer finds the ‘invisibility’ often attributed to informal networks in the classical literature. Social structures are now in the data, and these data are not elicited by questionnaires with all their subjective biases, but are digital traces of the actual outcomes of people’s behaviours".
As scholars like Christian Fuchs have been advocating for some time, "digital social networks and data mining from the web require re-examining our understanding of what a network is, its apparent objectivity, its heuristic validity, and the very place of the researcher in its definition and implementation".
We are all still trying to understand the basics of communications power. Somewhere between Castells' "network society" and Fuchs' assertion that we cannot discuss information technologies and their impact on society without engaging with social theory, and deconstructing the capitalist agendas of the companies we 'trust with our online data - lies the wisdom of another hybrid theory in the making.