Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reaction: Balancing Systematic and Flexible Exploration of Social Networks

This paper describes the SocialAction system, which proposes an improved way of exploring and analyzing social networks based around ranking one aspect of the network called a "structural feature." The paper discusses some of the current problems with visualizing social networks and then explains how the new system will address those issues. I agreed that knowing how to explore the network being one of the biggest barriers to effective analysis. There's such a large amount of data associated with social networks that even knowing what to look for is daunting.

I'm not sure the approach used for this system was the most ideal. They spoke with a lot of sociologists to figure out what the sociologists would look for in a social network analysis tool. What they came up with was, unsurprisingly, very sociologically focused. A lot of the data that they allowed improved access too would be useful for a sociologists. I'm not sure how general their approach was. There was also quite a lot of information being conveyed in each section via position, size, color, etc. It was confusing to keep track of and I would need more understanding of the sociological background to truly understand what it was talking about.

The ninth section actually addressed some of my concerns by acknowledging that the system was designed around the terrorist group, but was not intended to be solely for that kind of system. They talked about additional ways of testing the system to ensure that it had a broader appeal. I was interested in learning how those studies went and what the actual results were because my impression after reading the article is that it is a rather limited system. Overall, it was good to learn about these issues and I think the general techniques they described seemed useful, but I would want to know more.