Grouped by Paul Adams

I recently came across ‘UX Week 2011’ talk by former Google User Experience Researcher and former Facebook Product Manager, Paul Adams. I found the talk both fascinating as well as useful. As a result I decided to read his book, ‘Grouped.’ The book essentially builds on the ideas that Paul Adams discusses in the talk. The 10 chapter book is crisp and concise and one can easily finish reading it within a couple of days which exactly what I did. The book draws on a lot of network science, social psychology and sociology research findings and points to how these insights can be used for business success in the web world. Another highlight of the book is the number of simple but powerful diagrams to drive home the point that the author is making.

The book starts by discussing about four key shifts that are shaping our world:

  1. The rise in accessible information
  2. Change in the structure of the web
  3. Our recently acquired ability to accurately map and measure social interaction
  4. The dramatic increase in our understanding of how we make decisions

Towards the end of the introduction chapter, Paul Adams makes the following observation, ‘Humans are social creatures, and an understanding of social behavior on the web will soon be required knowledge for almost all businesses.’ Paul Adams also discusses multiple instances of web 2.0 companies reaping the benefits by putting their understanding of this ‘social behavior’ to good use.

The author points to research studies that divide our family, friends and acquaintances into strong ties and weak ties. The discussion on how we don’t make friends but groups of friends based on different contexts that we are embedded in different stages of our life is fascinating. In his Paul Adams’ own words, ‘Social networks of connected independent groups of friends is the most important observation in this book.’

I found the fifth chapter of the book, ‘The myth of the influentials’ very interesting. The basic premise of this chapter is that highly connected individuals are not necessarily highly influential and in a sense each one of us influence people around us to varying degrees. Quoting Duncan Watts’ research study, Paul Adams notes that, ‘The most important factor in determining whether an idea spread was not whether there were influential people, but whether there was a critical mass of easily influenced people who were connected to other people who were easy to influence.’

There are individual chapters focused on ‘how our relationships influence us,’ ‘how our brain influences us,’ and ‘how our biases influence us’ each filled with multiple ‘Aha!’ insights. In a way ‘Grouped’ by Paul Adams is an antithesis to Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘The Tipping Point.’ Overall the book is a very delightful and informative read and is recommended to anyone who wants to understand social networks and influence in social networks.

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