The Diversity-Bandwidth Tradeoff

American Journal of Sociology, Forthcoming

78 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2007 Last revised: 31 Jul 2011

See all articles by Sinan Aral

Sinan Aral

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Marshall W. Van Alstyne

Boston University – Questrom School of Business; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School

Date Written: April 15, 2010


The authors propose that a tradeoff between network diversity and communications bandwidth regulates the degree to which social networks deliver non-redundant information to actors in brokerage positions. As the structural diversity of a network increases, the bandwidth of the communication channels in that network decrease, creating countervailing effects on the receipt of novel information. This tradeoff occurs because more diverse networks, presumed to provide more information novelty, typically contain weaker ties across which less novel information flows due to limited interaction. Information advantages to brokerage positions then depend on (a) whether the information overlap among alters is small enough to justify bridging structural holes, (b) whether the size of the topic space known to alters is large enough to consistently provide novelty, and (c) whether the knowledge stock of alters refreshes enough over time to justify updating what was previously known. The authors test these arguments by combining social network and performance data with direct observation of the information content flowing through email at a medium sized executive recruiting firm. They find that brokers with bridging ties to disparate parts of a social network can have disadvantaged access to novel information because their lower bandwidth communication curbs the total volume of novelty they receive. These analyses unpack the mechanisms that enable information advantages in networks and serve as ‘proof-of-concept’ for using email content data to analyze relationships among information flows, networks and social capital.

Note: Previously titled "Network Structure & Information Advantage"

Keywords: Social Networks, Social Capital, Information Content, Information Diversity, Network Size, Network Diversity, EMail Networks, Performance, Productivity, Information Work.

JEL Classification: D24, D83, J24, M12, M54

Suggested Citation

Aral, Sinan and Van Alstyne, Marshall W., The Diversity-Bandwidth Tradeoff (April 15, 2010). American Journal of Sociology, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Sinan Aral (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

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Marshall W. Van Alstyne

Boston University – Questrom School of Business ( email )

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School ( email )

Initiative on the Digital Economy
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