Apr 15

Nat Torkington

Nat Torkington

Social Network Analysis I Can Believe In

Why do Friendster, Orkut, LinkedIn, Yahoo! 360 et al. leave me cold? It's the act of retyping my social network and labelling everyone "friend", "family", "acquaintance", "uncategorized" that is deeply unsatisfactory. Finally, someone has explained why ... Why do Friendster, Orkut, LinkedIn, Yahoo! 360 et al. leave me cold? It's the act of retyping my social network and labelling everyone "friend", "family", "acquaintance", "uncategorized" that is deeply unsatisfactory. Finally, someone has explained why!

This great blog entry talks about what's missing:

Russell's disappointment in LinkedIn implies that the term 'social networking' makes little sense if we leave out the objects that mediate the ties between people. Think about the object as the reason why people affiliate with each specific other and not just anyone. For instance, if the object is a job, it will connect me to one set of people whereas a date will link me to a radically different group. This is common sense but unfortunately it's not included in the image of the network diagram that most people imagine when they hear the term 'social network.' The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of people. They're not; social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object. That's why many sociologists, especially activity theorists, actor-network theorists and post-ANT people prefer to talk about 'socio-material networks', or just 'activities' or 'practices' (like I do) instead of social networks.
I know my friends through Perl, through OSCON, through talk.bizarre, through O'Reilly, through specific projects I did with them. We are asked to categorize our friends, which feels weird, but I wonder whether it'd make more sense if we were asked what object/place/occupation connects us to these people it would be better. The friend-of-a-friend network works here, too: the object that connects me to the foaf is a person--the friend we have in common.

And as Tim has said you don't want to be typing all your friend relationships into your social network service. It should be derivable from email. One reason it's not so easily derivable is that email implicitly tags things with projects, locations, etc. I wonder what a mail client and address book would look like if they were based around the objects that connect people, rather than the messages used to implement the relationship?

Oh for Where and OSCON and Euro OSCON to pass so I can hack on some of these ideas!

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Comments: 8

  Sandeep [04.21.05 02:05 AM]

The only categories I have on my Y! 360° account are "People met IRL" and "People yet to meet". Yeah, categorizing friends feels really weird.

  vanderwal [04.21.05 07:34 PM]

Things in common that you like are the connectors, but to some degree what you do not like is also important. I completely agree that the categorization is odd, but they are large broad lines. We do not have broadlines between any of us, we have small thin threads based on interests. Over time these interests strengthen and we may grow many similar interest and it is upon these granular interests that social networks fail us. The social networks can not be used for anything of importance until we get down to understanding the threads.

You listen to Rael on new technologies of interest, but also find he has a similar interest in food and t-shirts. These are three threads of interest that can be used to reference others Real knows that have similar proclivities. The long-tail on these granular items builds a usable world of possibilities.

I wrote more on this a while ago at:

  Colin Donald [04.22.05 02:17 PM]

It's a simple and elegant explanation of why we create and - more importantly - maintain relationships with people over time.

And the explanation's power is in its ability to point to possible future commercial and non-commercial uses for social networking. As I noted when I came across Jyri's post:

  muzyka_sfer [05.25.05 02:15 PM]

No, you did not understand it correctly.
Providing the ease of connections between people is what matters; people then SELF-ORGANIZE and find shared topics (i.e. your so-called "objects").

The problem is with the kind of people that inhabit those blogs - their demographics peak betweent 17-18, and they live without a spec of intelligent interest in their little worlds induced by the US education system.

I can provide a great example of a blogging world of approximately 250,000 that includes a great part of a country's elite as well as ordinary people - famous writers, journalists, scientists, local or expats, right and left - demographically much more mature, from 17 up to their 50s.

It is seething with ideas, news, feuds and friendships that spill over into the off-line life. People can travel to another place - and meet their blogfriends. [there is a paper describing this world with great animated visualizations]

No, I do not think you are right, although things like freeware projects also give life to great communities. [there is another paper on this with other great visualizations]

  Greg Prosl [04.04.06 12:44 PM]

Most online communites require users to explicitly "announce" their interest or as you call them "shared objects", like affliations and realationships. Complicating themselves social netrworks futher require many steps to create "groups". At MySpace, I wanted to find and link up with other snowboarders and online videographers, so I had to jump thru a bunch of hoops create "broadbandsports" group and then recruit folks to join it. What a pain.

At, what we have done is simple said "tell us about yourself" and we'll instantly show you everyone else that shares those interest, traits or affliations,; those shared objects. Every music group, movie and sport that is in your profile becomes a 'tag" and fed into a tag cloud. It's dynamic and self organizing, just like the real world. You click the tag and voila, there's everyone else who snowboards from Seattle and likes Green Day, or whatever it may be.

It's powerful and entirely self-defining and self updating. It's tagtastic!

  Michael [04.05.06 07:34 AM]

Hey, this post might seem a little spammy because I'm going to describe our site(s), but it's right in the sweetspot of what this discussion is about, so I thought people would be OK with it. is a network of over 100+ dating/community sites based on individual themes/passions/similarities. People join one time, and then pick the sites that match who they are, and what their interests are. Then they are surrounded by like-minded people (or at least people with something in common with them) on each site within the network. The profiles and links within each site are unique to the site and based on the 'theme'. This allows people to speak to their interest in Music on, and leave political discussions to (or,, or Basically, the idea is that everyone has lots of different sides to themselves, and that it make sense to create individual communities where people can congregate to meet one another, based on shared 'passions' in life. And by tieing it all together under one network, it allows easy maintenance of all the sites and profile descriptions for all the sites. You can have your sports buddies on one site, and you movie friends on another site. Of course people can and do discuss whatever they want on any site, but it can be easier to break the ice on a site where you share something in common.

  Trent Dayton [11.16.06 10:08 PM]

Colombia's vice president is "baffled" by Kate Moss's success following cocaine allegations...

  femi samuel [04.26.07 06:38 PM]

i need full explanation (SNA THEORY)SOCIAL NETWORK ANALYSIS but it unfortunate that i cant find it here plz i need the reply into my email id thanks yours faithfully femi samuel

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