Monday, February 27, 2006

SOCIAL SCIENCE: Social Network Analysis



With all the activity around new sites that build community and support networking and collaboration, I wanted to dig deeper into the science behind social media and networking. This is one of these paradigms that is driving many new useful services such as Linked-In, Friendster, MySpace, Ryze.com, Spoke.com and Yahoo 360. Social networking sites can fall into several categories such as business, common interest, dating, face-to-face facilitation, friends, MoSoSo (Mobile Social Software), pets, photos and music.

Social network analysis [SNA]
is the mapping and measuring of relationships and flows between people, groups, organizations, animals, computers or other information/knowledge processing entities. The nodes in the network are the people and groups while the links show relationships or flows between the nodes. SNA provides both a visual and a mathematical analysis of human relationships. Management consultants use this methodology with their business clients and call it Organizational Network Analysis [ONA].

A method to understand networks and their participants is to evaluate the location of actors in the network. Measuring the network location is finding the centrality of a node. These measures help determine the importance, or prominence, of a node in the network. Network location can be different than location in the hierarchy, or organizational chart.

We look at a social network, called the "Kite Network"[see above], developed by David Krackhardt, a leading researcher in social networks. Two nodes are connected if they regularly talk to each other, or interact in some way. For instance, in the network above, Andre regularly interacts with Carol, but not with Ike. Therefore Andre and Carol are connected, but there is no link drawn between Andre and Ike. This network effectively shows the distinction between the three most popular individual network measures: Degree Centrality, Betweenness Centrality, and Closeness Centrality.

Degree Centrality

Social network researchers measure network activity for a node by using the concept of degrees -- the number of direct connections a node has. In the kite network above, Diane has the most direct connections in the network, making hers the most active node in the network. She is a 'connector' or 'hub' in this network. Common wisdom in personal networks is "the more connections, the better." This is not always so. What really matters is where those connections lead to -- and how they connect the otherwise unconnected! Here Diane has connections only to others in her immediate cluster -- her clique. She connects only those who are already connected to each other.

Betweenness Centrality

While Diane has many direct ties, Heather has few direct connections -- fewer than the average in the network. Yet, in may ways, she has one of the best locations in the network -- she is between two important constituencies. She plays a 'broker' role in the network. The good news is that she plays a powerful role in the network, the bad news is that she is a single point of failure. Without her, Ike and Jane would be cut off from information and knowledge in Diane's cluster. A node with high betweenness has great influence over what flows in the network.

Closeness Centrality

Fernando and Garth have fewer connections than Diane, yet the pattern of their direct and indirect ties allow them to access all the nodes in the network more quickly than anyone else. They have the shortest paths to all others -- they are close to everyone else. They are in an excellent position to monitor the information flow in the network -- they have the best visibility into what is happening in the network.

Boundary Spanners

Nodes that connect their group to others usually end up with high network metrics. Boundary spanners such as Fernando, Garth, and Heather are more central than their immediate neighbors whose connections are only local, within their immediate cluster. Boundary spanners are well-positioned to be innovators, since they have access to ideas and information flowing in other clusters. They are in a position to combine different ideas and knowledge, found in various places, into new products and services.

Peripheral Players

Most people would view the nodes on the periphery of a network as not being very important. In fact, Ike and Jane receive very low centrality scores for this network. Yet, peripheral nodes are often connected to networks that are not currently mapped. Ike and Jane may be contractors or vendors that have their own network outside of the company -- making them very important resources for fresh information not available inside the company!

Network Centralization

Individual network centralities provide insight into the individual's location in the network. The relationship between the centralities of all nodes can reveal much about the overall network structure.

A very centralized network is dominated by one or a few very central nodes. If these nodes are removed or damaged, the network quickly fragments into unconnected sub-networks. A highly central node can become a single point of failure. A network centralized around a well connected hub can fail abruptly if that hub is disabled or removed. Hubs are nodes with high degree and betweeness centrality.

A less centralized network has no single points of failure. It is resilient in the face of many intentional attacks or random failures -- many nodes or links can fail while allowing the remaining nodes to still reach each other over other network paths. Networks of low centralization fail gracefully.

See how social network analysis was applied to the 9-11 Al Qaeda terror network.

Recent applications of SNA...

* Build a grass roots political campaign
* Determine influential journalists and analysts in the IT industry
* Unmask the spread of HIV in a prison system
* Map executive's personal network based on email flows
* Discover the network of Innovators in a regional economy
* Analyze book selling patterns to position a new book
* Map a group of entrepreneurs in a specific marketspace
* Find an organization's go-to people in various knowledge domains
* Map interactions amongst blogs on various topics
* Reveal key players in an investigative news story
* Map national network of professionals involved in a change effort
* Improve the functioning of various project teams
* Map communities of expertise in various medical fields
* Help large organization locate employees in new buildings
* Examine a network of farm animals to analyze how disease spreads from one cow to another
* Map network of Jazz musicians based on musical styles and CD sales
* Discover emergent communities of interest amongst faculty at various universities
* Reveal cross-border knowledge flows based on research publications
* Expose business ties & financial flows to investigate possible criminal behavior
* Uncover network of characters in a fictional work
* Analyze managers' networks for succession planning
* Discern useful patterns in clickstreams on the WWW
* Locate technical experts and the paths to access them in engineering organization

5 comments:

Jessica said...

I just happend on your blog and I dig it. The post on SNA is interesting and, as you note, has limitless applications. Do you think it seems possible that once we wrap our minds completely around this idea we will attempt to engineer hiring patterns (weather for a corporation or a grassroots organization) to produce an optimal social network?

Michael Moir said...

Jessica... What any interesting comment.. to some degree this already happens informally. Classic example is when a company hires a Senior Executive the are also hiring that Executive's network of people and influence. But I like the idea of a companies HR and Recruting thinking about how to build the optimal organization based on a successful network model. Lets start a company that can consult on this area!

Jessica said...

I'm game for the company, but... I think the commute from SoCal might be a bit of an issue for me.

I look foreword to reading more of the blog

I noticed the nod to photography. You didn't take the light bulb photo, did you?

mvm said...

This SNA concept is facinating! I'm in a dead end job at an automotive agency in Detroit and I believe this concept is awesome. Would you be interested in starting a Detroit Office? We are in a serious rebirth here and this type of application will go far....

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