what’s in a tie?

i recognize that my last few posts really haven’t done much for hitting the target of the theme of this blog. So, with that i give you Stephen Colbert. No seriously, it’s relevant i promise. James Fowler’s on pitching his book with Nicholas Christakis: Connected.* In the interview he makes the shocking revelation that social networks aren’t new to social network sites like Facebook.** Gasp! He then starts to get into a little bit of the “what can we learn about real world social connections from Facebook?” question in the interview.

This is something i’ve been puzzling over a bit, and found my class more than willing to discuss last semester. We launched the discussion with a paper from a couple of years ago by Jason Kaufman and some colleagues (including NC among the team). In that paper they parse tie strength based on three levels – friends (=acquaintances), “picture friends” (those where one friend posts a picture tagging another) and “mutual picture friends” (where each have tagged the other in a picture) showing what seems to be some correspondence to increasing tie strength from friends to mutual picture friends.

While that was definitely an interesting start, my class (and i) still found it less than ideal. And (un-?)fortunately, given some privacy concerns/limitations, their data have never really made the public appearance that article was in theory announcing, making any further considerations difficult to explore. Here‘s another pretty thorough (though relatively small-N) data-mining approach recently presented.***

So my question is this. If we were able to really use Facebook in some way to approximate offline social ties, what would be some ways we might want to think about the strength of ties? Or is it even worth considering?
* There was a good overview of some of their work in the New York Times Magazine last year, including some of the pertinent critiques of it (though you have to stick around through the last page of the story to get those). i actually just ordered the book today myself, so can’t comment on it just yet.
** I have to start out my undergrad social networks class with some variant of “this is not a class about Facebook” each semester.
*** A paper i actually learned about via Twitter.


4 Responses to what’s in a tie?

  1. We’re still working on making our longitudinal Facebook T3 data available to other social scientists. Since publishing our Social Networks piece, many computational and legal issues have cropped up. It’s imperative that we protect our subjects, but it’s not very easy to do.

  2. jimi adams says:

    Yeah, i can only imagine what releasing those data would take. Good luck with that!

    When that article first came out i thought it was going to crack the door on some really interesting potential uses of FB data. Unfortunately not a lot of people (that i’m aware of) have figured out how to get those kinds of data just yet, to continue that conversation. i’m definitely of the opinion that there are some very interesting potential research questions in FB data, i just haven’t spent the time wrapping my head around what exactly those questions/corresponding data needs look like.

    For what it’s worth – i also find that article to be excellent for teaching. It does a great job of getting students to think about something they’ve had some sense of but haven’t quite been able to put their finger on. It also sparked some good discussion about other possibilities / how boundaries impact findings, etc. A definite keeper on there for future offerings of the class.

  3. jimi adams says:

    …and while we’re at it – Have any PhD students interested in these types of questions and looking for a fellowship? Facebook’s funding 5. (HT: BW)

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by SoulStice, Eric Gilbert. Eric Gilbert said: Thanks to @blurky, I get a quick mention on Permutations. http://bit.ly/6rnIof […]

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