A surprisingly stark clustering into three very thinly linked groups, as generated by LinkedIn Labs Maps:
See the source of this image at LinkedIn Labs.
While LinkedIn can tell you the interconnectedness of my connections, it doesn't (yet) tell you how strong the connections are - although presumably this could be derived at least for online by analysing Twitter traffic, blog links etc. to see how often you @ message people, retweet them, link to their blog posts, comment on their blog posts... Then thicker lines could indicate stronger online connections (an interesting research project). And you might want to use brightness to indicate a fading over time of connections, if they are not maintained.
(I should mention before I launch into the rest of this that I am fairly stingy with my LinkedIn connections - in general it's limited to people I have worked with or communicated with extensively. I know some people use LinkedIn as an online rolodex of everyone they encounter in a work context, but I don't use it that way.)
In the absence of LinkedIn explaining the connections for me, here's my analysis: the story this tells is that I have three groups of LinkedIn connections: people from my workplace where I hold my substantive position, NRC-CISTI (green, lower left); people from elsewhere in the Government of Canada (blue, upper right); and a library / science / scholarly communication group (various orangey-purple colours, upper left). Most of the last group are not in Ottawa, and many are not even in Canada, instead being in the US, the UK and elsewhere.
What I think is interesting is the online and offline story this tells. In terms of maintaining social connections, when I'm working at CISTI, the green connections are maintained by face-to-face contact daily. The government contacts I see face-to-face weekly, mostly at after-hours events related to social media, collaboration and public service renewal. And the scholarly comms / library connections I see usually at most once or twice a year, at conferences.
So in an interpersonal sense, the lines to workplace colleagues would be very thick. But if you were to be able to apply an "awareness of work activities and interests" filter, the picture actually changes dramatically. In that case, the connections are strongest, the amount of information transferred largest, for people with a sustained online presence. Communication within an organisation is a classic problem. But it's interesting that it now is possible in some cases for me to have a much better understanding of what is happening outside my organisation, what people are working on and investigating, than to understand what's happening internally.
Twitter in this case can be thought of as a vibration of the connection, a continuous thrumming of quick notes of activity - a thought shared, a link retweeted. In network terms we would call this a "keep alive", a ping. "I'm here, I'm working on things," Twitter says. But for real information density, you need to have blog posts - a blog post is a thick solid line, a rich informational link, particularly if it has a lot of out-links and comments. And of course, this starts to look like synapses - frequently used connections get stronger.
This can lead to an odd dichotomy, where your social connections at work, which traditionally would have been the richest sources of information about what's going on, may actually serve only a tribal purpose, whereas "virtual" connections link you much more strongly into the information you need to do you work, and provide a sense of ambient awareness about important developments in your fields of interest.
The change - the fact that when people narrate their work, regardless of where they are, you can understand better what is going on - this change I think is part of what drives the gap in understanding, between the people who say they must be connected in order to do their work, and the people who see online activities are purely social, the "why do employees need Facebook" question. This is a result of a confusion between networking for social connections, and networking for information connections.
I also think people apply an odd scepticism to these online connections, as if they're somehow not "real", as if only face-to-face is real interaction. To which I say, is calling someone to tell them you love them not "real" because you're not both in the same physical space? Is writing someone a heart-felt handwritten letter of thanks not "real"? It's a very odd concept of real if that's the case.
All this to say, we have to be careful about analogies from the physical world to the digital world. People hear the "social" in social media and think employees are going into purely entertaining spaces, to take a break. Whereas what has actually emerged for some is a professional knowledge network that gives them more information and more context more rapidly from external sources than is available within their own organisation.
So be aware: if your organisation is a tight cluster of interconnections, with few links reaching outside the organisation, and with very thin amounts of information exchanged across the connections, you're going to be outperformed both by employees within your organisation who are better at making professional connections online and contributing to the online ecosystem of information, as well as by organisations that as a whole are able to learn this communications lesson.
If you want a classic example of an organisation failure in this area, there's no better one than the organisation intranet, an inward facing mirror that reflects only your own images and ideas back at you, typically outdated ones frozen in the web of intranet approvals and process. There's a reason it's called the World Wide Web, not the organisation internal network. The power came with open worldwide connections, not with organisations talking to themselves. Open allows serendipitous connections, unanticipated discoveries. Choose open.