Big Data | Big Problems | Big Ambitions

Studying or analyzing social networks can be like playing with double edged knives. Because data is so commonly generated and archived, we are left to question the feasibility of the data we are presented with. However, if we can ‘tame the dragon’ of large data sets, the truths they behold could lead to great treasures.

Wikipedia’s page on Big Data is a great place to introduce yourself to this problem.

One tried and tested approach, commonly employed in the social sciences, is to use some good old triangulation. By triangulation I’m referring to the idea that fancy computers and clever code aren’t the only way to understand how networks can work.
Interviews and surveys are just one way someone can extrapolate even more data, perhaps helping clarify something that doesn’t quite make sense in your social network graph or data.

Here is an example. I have been trying to analyze different subreddits on the website Reddit.com. While this seems like an easy enough task for some programmers out there, it isnt always easy to understand how these networks emerge and work. If  i could ask a few redditors for some of their posting information it might help me to formulate better ways to analyze the graphs, formulate data or understand anomalies.

Some questions you might ask:

  • How often do you post?
  • where do you post on?
  • How many different places do you browse/post?
  • How many people do you know on forums?
  • How many strangers have you met on Reddit?
  • Do you comment, post a link or reply mostly?
  • Do you rely on websites/friends/others for information?
  • etc

Questions like these can help understand the more human sides to social networks and graphs. Hopefully, with clever triangulation, the arts and sciences can meet halfway and combine their efforts in helping to understand massive networks that arise within the our social lives.

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