Groups versus Networks

What’s the difference between a group and a network? There is considerable confusion about this, and the question itself is complicit in the confusion.

Groups and networks are not alternatives to each other. We can point to a big leafy thing in our backyard and ask is that a tree or a bush? The dividing lines between trees and bushes maybe quite blurred, but the question is reasonable.

In contrast, asking whether something is a group or a network is anot a sensible question. A group defines a set of people, and the set of ties among those people is a network. Every group has a network as one of its aspects. So does any collection of people, such as the set of people attending a certain class. 

Furthermore, networks need not be connected. For example, at the beginning of a semester, the people attending a certain class may not have any connections, direct or indirect, with certain other members of the class. Later, these connections may develop. But it is always a network. 

A difference between groups and networks is that a group defines a set of actors, and a set of actors defines a network. 

Evolution of networks. It troubles people that networks can have no ties, or can have disconnected components. But this is important because it allows us to observe network evolution as it really is. Moody has some data showing that different components of a network form before it becomes connected, rather than starting from a core and diffusing outward.


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