We review reasons for the increased interest in network analyses in organization studies and information research. We also note the impact of new information technology capabilities for this increase in terms of improvements in analysis techniques, new ways to generate and maintain connections within and between social units, and new social connection-focused IT capabilities. We also review main streams of network-based analyses in information system research. We conclude by making some propositions for future research in information systems and networks, and summarize the main contributions made in this special issue.
Keywords: networks, network analysis, information technology, research challenges
Social networks provide a simple yet powerful abstraction for social scientists that can represent almost any type of human interaction or connection, including its structure and dynamics. Social network analysts observe a social world consisting of nodes (social or other types of units like persons, teams, organizations, or their combinations) and ties among them (connections like communications, dependence, or vicinity). These relatively simple discrete "ontologies" offer a surprisingly fruitful way to analyze how social formations organize, change, and grow. By focusing on networks, social scientists can explain: a) the observed structure of social formations and b) how the structure affects other critical traits of social units or formations such as their rate of innovation, change, performance, or operational failures.
Empirical studies over the last 40 years have resulted in multiple theories of networks and a rich corpus of data and empirics (Barabasi 2003; Christakis and Fowler 2009; Monge and Contractor 2003; Nohria and Eccles 1992; Shapiro and Varian 1999). At the same time, new powerful computational methods have become an indispensable research tool helping scientists to conduct increasingly complex network analyses (Wasserman and Faust 1994; Lazer et al. 2009). These analyses provide the unprecedented ability to trace, visualize, analyze, explain, and simulate the structures and behaviors of social networks (Agarwal et al. 2008; Lazer et al. 2009). Recently, webbased collaborative software has generated new forms and modalities of interactions that are fundamentally re-shaping the structure of existing social formations while at the same time creating new ones. Not surprisingly, a growing stream of research on social networks has, therefore, been devoted to the design and uses of information technology in social contexts and their impacts on organizations (Agarwal et al. 2008; Wasko and Faraj 2005), as well as how they shape end-user behaviors (Fogg and Iizawa 2008; Steiny 2009; Oinas-Kukkonen and Harjumaa 2009).
Social networks are a rapidly growing research area for information system scholars. Social network analysis, or more broadly network analysis, provides a rich, rigorous, and systematic means for IS scholars to assess networks and their structure as organized or enabled by various information systems. In this way scholars can map and analyze relationships generated by IT artifacts among people, teams, departments, organizations, or even geographical regions or markets (Cross et al. 2001; Lazer et al. 2009). Web-based services, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, also convey new means to render interpersonal relationships more transparent and traceable, and allow researchers to study how such information is being deployed by social agents. Users can now connect with ease to their friends and business acquaintances and keep them aware of their activities. As a result, they can now probe for others in the same networks based on queries like "who knows someone who knows someone who knows the person."
Even though studies on social networks have been conducted in fields like sociology and anthropology for decades, recent developments in …