In 1963, meteorologist Edward Lorenz asked the question: Does the flap of a butterflyâ€™s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? Postulating the so called “Butterfly Effect“, the idea that the flapping of fragile wings could start a chain reaction in the atmosphere. Today, Lorenzâ€™s Butterfly Effect theory can be applied to information technology infrastructures – changes to one element of a system can cause subsequently larger and more complex changes to other elements of the system.
In today’s world of the Internet the question might be rephrased: Can a single e-mail from Brazil set off a torrent of action in Texas? Sociologists postulate that what a few influential leaders think and say can spread and grow and bring about big changes in the thinking of large numbers of people. The Internet offers a compelling new place to look for this phenomenon by studying very large groups and especially, seeing how groups change over time.
Social networking mechanism’s on the Internet, like Usenet, forums, blogs, wiki’s, communities etc., all influence the propagation of the Butterfly Effect. Cornell researchers say that one way to find the influential people would be to identify those who have the most links to others, or the ones who can reach the largest number of others with the fewest “hops” through other people. However, due to the “small world phenomenon” — the fact that everyone is on average “six degrees of separation” from everyone else — so counting the number of hops between people doesn’t help. It’s better to look for people who have many different short paths connecting them.