Structural and Cognitive Bottlenecks to Information Access in Social Networks
Information in networks is non-uniformly distributed, enabling individuals in certain network positions to get preferential access to information. Social scientists have developed influential theories about the role of network structure in information access. These theories were validated through numerous studies, which examined how individuals leverage their social networks for competitive advantage, such as a new job or higher compensation. It is not clear how these theories generalize to online networks, which differ from real-world social networks in important respects, including asymmetry of social links. We address this problem by analyzing how users of the social news aggregator Digg adopt stories recommended by friends, i.e., users they follow. We measure the impact different factors, such as network position and activity rate; have on access to novel information, which in Digg's case means set of distinct news stories. We show that a user can improve his information access by linking to active users, though this becomes less effective as the number of friends, or their activity, grows due to structural network constraints. These constraints arise because users in structurally diverse position within the follower graph have topically diverse interests from their friends. Moreover, though in most cases user's friends are exposed to almost all the information available in the network, after they make their recommendations, the user sees only a small fraction of the available information. Our study suggests that cognitive and structural bottlenecks limit access to novel information in online social networks.