This work takes a structuration view of entrepreneuring in online social networks. Social capital theory informs the idea that network entrepreneurship is a function of brokerage and closure qua agency and structure, respectively. The purpose of this undertaking is to extend existing theory to the emerging phenomenon of network entrepreneuring as it applies to a little understood, yet rich in potential, area of social action, online networking. The importance of this contribution is to extend existing theory to, and indicate the empirical potential of, online social networks, while revealing the entrepreneurship dynamics that are essential to the networks’ formation.
In online social networks, connecting strangers is entrepreneuring. Wikipedia defines a virtual community as “a social network of individuals who interact through specific media, potentially crossing geographical and political boundaries in order to pursue mutual interests or goals. One of the most pervasive types of virtual community includes social networking services, which consist of various online communities.” Using the internet to enable individuals the traversal of boundaries defines network entrepreneurship; successful entrepreneuring results in online social networks.
Online social networks have come a long way from the early days of Usenet, the worldwide-distributed discussion system organized by subject, yet we know little about how the role of the network entrepreneur. Today’s online social networks represent the “ new era of democratic and entrepreneur networks and relations where resources flow and are shared by a large number of participants with new rules and practices” (Lin, Cook et al. 2001). Facebook, arguably the most successful online social network to date, boasts an active membership in excess of 500 million, that spends over 700 billion minutes per month on its website as reflected also by the “over 900 million objects that people interact with (pages, groups, events and community pages). ” Flickr, an online network of photography enthusiasts reported on its blog that it hosted 5 billion photos as of September 19, 2010. As well, by January 2011, LinkedIn, the online networking site for professionals, has reached over 90 million members at a membership rate of one new member per second. These data points suggest that online networks are emerging as an important social phenomenon whose implications can hardly be overstated, yet we are only beginning to grasp.
The internet, as network of networks, makes it trivial to set up networks, yet people do not seem to simply aggregate in online social networks. This is the role of the network entrepreneur, to identify the networking opportunity round a social focus, and create the social network accordingly. The current work is a theory driven exploration that considers the entrepreneurial opportunity in online social networks as interplay between agency and structure. The thrust of the theoretical argument is one whereby the perception of value between brokerage and closure explains, and is explained by, the structural evolution of the social network. The contribution is a model describing entrepreneurial opportunity in online social networks.This work continues by theoretically positioning network entrepreneurship as a structuration process whereby the entrepreneur is prompted by network structure and associated perceptions of value into action. Next, the connection between network structure and value is made by means of social capital. After a summary of the relations along network structures, types of social capital and network actions is created, the whole analysis is redone in the particular context of online social networks, which change the prior relations among structure, value and action. Next, a couple of examples from Flickr illustrate different alignments along structure, value and action. In closing, there is the section discussing the results and evaluation the methodological implications for future research.