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.