The #TeamHarpy Affair – My Comments a Bit Too Late

The #teamharpy result ended exactly as I feared, but also as I hoped, but then again as I feared it would.

I feared that the people accused of libel could not prove their statements are true. I feared that they based their claims on hearsay and innuendo, but, egged on by people who should have had IANAL pasted on their foreheads with super glue, would continue to make the claims because they appeared true, or ought to be true, or had a vague air of truthiness to them. I feared that they treated the justice system in spiritual or normative terms when all of my knowledge and experience reminded me that the justice system is not a spiritual system, but a cold, hard materialist system. “Ought to be true” does not stand up in court.

I hoped that the plaintiff would understand just how stupid the world has gotten with communities and friends and followers. I hoped he would use that knowledge to compromise and negotiate with the defendants. I am not particularly fond of people who think that complete annihilation of their opponent is a virtue. It appears that the plaintiff has gone in that direction, and for that he’s gained a good amount of my respect. I learned from restorative processes that when harm is done, the person harmed most wants to be believed.  I don’t know him personally, but his (still alleged) choice to look for an apology instead of a big cash reward is magnanimous — empirically magnanimous. Everyone is not an angel, but occasionally people show flashes of moral brilliance. This seems like one of those cases. It’s better than I hoped.

Before I get to the final fear I had, I kept holding Don Quixote in my head as a mantra. Don Quixote. Don Quixote. Don Quixote. But the reality is that this was not like Don Quixote. Don Quixote had a Sancho Panza who tried to tell him to look ahead and see what was real. The defendants in this case, were spurred on by an army of Don Quixotes – all “fighting” symbolic ideas of … well, no need to go into that. Anyone who has read a really great book understands that sometimes symbols have a truth of their own. Don Quixote is a likeable character, probably because he has read too many books about chivalry and knighthood. The only problem he had was that he became so lost in the symbolic battle (there are plenty of abstract giants to overcome in our world) that he broke his lance. In fact, he was lucky that he didn’t all break the windmill, otherwise he may find a miller coming after him for restitution.

In short, the #teamharpy fiasco reminded me of this wrestling moment (be sure to start from 7 minutes):

I wonder what people really meant when they said “I support #teamharpy.” Was it real support or was it using the defendants’ reputations and livelihoods as a means to support their own foolish self-interest? Then again, what *is* real support? We all find ourselves throwing a little bit of money towards causes that inspire us, assuming that it actually helps.

This leads me to my last fear. The librarians I thought I knew claimed that their role was, at least in part, a way of improving information literacy. A big part of that was promoting critical thinking, evaluation of sources and better understanding of materials. This year it seemed that these ideas were all thrown out the window by some. The concept of professional librarianship took a big hit this past year.

I can hear a small band of Twitterites making the irrelevant claim that we should believe women, because harassment is a real issue and it needs to be addressed. And moreover that the only reason I am speaking out now is because I am a cis-gendered white male who is invested in this patriarchial system that oppresses men.

My reply rhymes with “duck shoes,” not because it is an absolutely false claim (the idea is so general, that is has to be at least partially true) but because it assumes that I do not have real life experiences that can inform the experience of the defendants here. I have had my own Don Quixote moments, and I am extremely thankful to the kind and supportive _female_ librarians who reminded me to pay attention to what is really important, and think hard about what hills are really the sort to die on. I got through my Don Quixote situations, not because I am special or heroic, but because people cared about me and helped me tell the difference between a crusade that was truly principled and one that was a sham.

I’ll also say that a good number of the #teamharpy Andy Kaufmans on my feed were white cis-gendered men. Consider King Lear, but reverse the genders. Those who disagree are not necessarily your enemies, and those who agree are not necessarily your friends.

My last fear was that we now live in a society that finds it nearly impossible to learn from the experience of others, and where diversity somehow became a “fight” instead of a set of values that lead us to make the world just a little bit better. And when we speak of a “fight” we usually mean one where other people pay the physical costs while the rest of us sit at home clicking stupid stuff, perhaps forgoing the occasional Starbucks so we can pretend we are changing the world.

This fear is in parallel with the loss of the principle that ideas should be judged on their merits rather than from their source.

It also suggests that the values of library 2.0 that i held in such high regard not too long ago, may have made our society worse off than better.

And as I watch people using the #teamharpy tag to continue to bully people from stupid anti and pro camps, largely to support their own ideological beliefs rather than the actual people involved, I cannot say that my last fear has not come true.

My Peer Review of Your Paper (A Parody)

Dear author(s):

I am going to start out with a summary of your paper and a few complimentary remarks. Unfortunately for you, I am a PhD student who just went ABD and is now in the process of writing a dissertation chapter that encompasses everything tangentially related to your topic. It will eventually be thrown away for something more sane, but I digress.

While this appears to be a peer review, it is in fact a game of Battleship. I will make a series of remarks A-2, B-12 etc. in the hopes that i can somehow sink the battleships which are your critical review, theoretical framework, sampling decisions, methodology, analysis and conclusions. In anticipation of this sinking, I will be a little bit nice this time in hopes that karma will extend this favor to me at some time in this process. For this reason, I recommend that your paper be returned with a request for major revisions.

Unfortunately, your theoretical framework does not encompass all aspects of the ever-changing and oft-debated discipline. Worse, it does not include some of my very favorite authors. You should include many more authors and especially my favorites in order to make your contributions to a fairly narrow, but relevant aspect of the field much less clear. The world is complex, my friend, therefore all straight-forward positivistic experiments much include at least one paragraph on postmodern social theory.

Your critical review of the literature is even worse than your theoretical framework. There are at least twenty authors who have said the exact opposite of “this thing that you referenced in your paper” and you need to deal with each in turn, even though they come from popularly tweeted blog posts of something some famous academics wrote one night when they were obviously either bored or very drunk. I also have written a few drunken posts on the topic that I will not mention here, but they are popular enough that if you google the appropriate terms you will find them pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I do not have any published works you can refer to, but that’s only because they are all in revisions themselves.

I don’t really understand how you came to select the cases you did. Please insert a few lines of bullshit that justify why people become interested in a research topic to the point that they wish to write about it. I kind of want to know why myself.

You elected to use some methodology that i do not completely understand myself. Good for you! If I don’t understand it, it must be pretty cutting edge. But, I am pretty sure that if I did the same thing with my own cutting edge methodologies, I would come up with fairly different results. This likely has nothing to do with your analysis, but instead with the way I treat research like a Yahtzee game. You see, whenever I get some great data, I shake it up a few times until I get a Yahtzee! Once I see that Yahtzee, I come up with a great research question. Like this: How many dice are showing the exact same number? Hypothesis 0: not 5. Hypothesis 1: 5. Result: Yahtzee! (otherwise, I wouldn’t bother to write up the results.) Either way, choose a different methodology that is closer to the way I like to study problems.

I am not sure that your analysis follows from your theoretical framework. This makes sense because if you were going to use the theoretical framework in the way it was intended, it would just be duplicating the rather mundane and old methods of people who have already got their first academic job and have received promotion and tenure — not to mention tons of grant money to now do all that research work properly. This will not do. Your first mistake was trying to be both cutting edge and working from the foundations of a discipline. If I can’t sink you on one side, I will definitely sink you on the other.

Your conclusions are adequate of course, because we all know that attacking a conclusion is petty. You are free to speculate away all you want so long as you are sure to include the need for further research. Of course, that need would be subsided if people actually began to accept my papers, but there I go again digressing on the issue.

I noticed a number of minor typing and grammar errors. Hopefully these will not matter as the primary goal here is that this paper never makes it to the final proof stage.

Also, I thought I’d include a little bit of speculation here at the end because I am kind of on a roll. In fact, if it weren’t a complete violation of the rules of peer review, I think I’d want to publish this myself. I think it could become Internet gold.

P.S. I may still be drunk.

P.P.S. In my opinion Rusty Nails go very well with revisions. If you have no Drambuie, just add lime juice and marachino cherries and make a Whiskey Sour instead.

1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series Hockey Game 8: A Social Network Analysis Part One (1st Period)

The 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series to some is a defining moment in Canada’s history. At the height of the Cold War, 28 hockey players went into a tournament thinking they it was an exhibition series that no one would take seriously. By the end, the 28 were defenders of Canadian hockey against the surprising hockey prowess and political power of the Russian bear. The final game, number 8 in the series of 8 was particularly dramatic. After a closely-fought first period, the Canadians fell 5-3 in the second, but came back to tie it in the third until 19:26 of the third period when Paul Henderson … well if you don’t know the story, you probably aren’t Canadian and don’t care anyway. Well, here’s the game on YouTube if you want to see more.

Game 8 is a good case for social network analysis centrality at work. A hockey game is a network where people pass a puck to and from each other over the course of 60 minutes. Each time the puck passes from one player to another, we can create a directed tie. We may also be able to make some statements about the game. For instance, is it more important to give or receive a pass from a diverse group of players? Who passes to the biggest passers? Who receives passes from them? Rather than going through all this preamble how about I just get to it?

The Roster

Maybe later I will add the last names, but right now I’m going with the numbers.  You can use this roster as a key to find your favourite players.

Team Canada

  • 02: Gary Bergman
  • 03: Pat Stapleton
  • 05: Brad Park (if it weren’t for Bobby Orr, the greatest defenseman of his era)
  • 06: Ron Ellis
  • 07: Phil Esposito (big goal scorer and captain of the team)
  • 08: Rod Gilbert
  • 10: Dennis Hull (Brother to Bobby)
  • 12: Yvon Cournoyer (The Roadrunner)
  • 17: Bill White
  • 18: Jean Ratelle (One of the great Rangers, amazing goal scorer)
  • 19: Paul Henderson (A very good player, but the hero of the series)
  • 20: Pete Mahovlic (Overshadowed by his brother Frank, but actually very good)
  • 22: J.P Parise (Great player, but got thrown out early for threatening to slash the refs)
  • 23: Serge Savard (Eventually became captain of the Habs)
  • 25: Guy Lapointe
  • 27: Frank Mahovlich (Big “M” – hero of the Toronto Maple Leafs)
  • 28: Bobby Clarke (was chosen last for the team, but brought the Broad Street Bully element to the game.)
  • 29: Ken Dryden

Team Russia

  •  02: Alexandre Gusev
  •  03: Vladimir Lutchenko
  • 06: Valeri Vasilev
  • 07: Gennadey Tsyganov
  • 08: Vladimir Vikulov
  • 09: Yuriy Blinov
  • 10: Alexander Maltsev
  • 12: Yevgeni Mishakov
  • 13: Boris Mikalov
  • 15: Alexander Yakushev
  • 16: Vladimir Petrov
  • 17: Valeri Kharlamov
  • 19: Vladimir Shadrin
  • 22: Vyacheslav Anisin
  • 25: Yuri Liapkin
  • 30: Alexander Volchkov
  • 20: Vladimir Tretiak

Getting the Data Using R’s iGraph Library

The data were created using edge lists separated by spaces. Here is a sample of what it looks like:

Off16 Can07 
Can07 Can23 
Can23 Rus26 
Rus26 Rus22 
Rus22 Can29 
Can29 Rus22 
Rus22 Rus26

A few things that may be added in the future are the times of the pass, goals, steals (although this could be calculated on its own), power-play information and so on. But for now, I just have the edge lists. The first entry is the “from” player (Rus=”Russia”, Can=”Canada” and Off=”Official / Referee”) and the second is the “to” player.  You can enter the information in to an R graph object pretty easily using iGraph. You can assign descriptive values to the hockey players (vertices) by using V(df)$description.  In this case, I’ve used color to easily identify the Russians from the Canadians in the graph plots (igraph will automatically plot the colors if there is a descriptor available).

library(igraph)
el <- read.csv("summitseries.txt", header=F, sep="") #sep="" means any whitespace
df <- graph.data.frame(el) # create a graph from the dataframe el

#Create a color vertex trait so that Russians are red; Canada is white and the Refs are black.
V(df)$color <- ifelse(substr(V(df)$name,1,3)=="Rus", 
               "red", ifelse(substr(V(df)$name,1,3)=="Can", "white", "black"))

Overall Degree

Degree refers to the number of different people a person passed/lost the puck to, or received/stole the puck from. It’s basically a count of the number of “sticks” for each ball.

The code to calculate the values is this:

V(df)$degree <- degree(df) 

Each player gets a value based on the total number of pucks received or sent.  To plot:

plot(df, vertex.size=V(df)$degree, layout=layout.kamada.kawaii)

This is what the graph looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 11.21.54 PM

This graph is not particularly meaningful, but it does offer a few insights. For instance, Phil Esposito (#7) was out a lot in this game and managed to both take passes away from the Russians as well as lose them. It kind of speaks to his garbage can approach to hockey – his play in this period, like most days was gritty and he found himself in the midst of almost every play. This also shows quite a bit of the classy Russian style of play with a lot of quick passes and fancy footwork. Almost every player on the Russian team had the puck quite a bit. Vladimir Shadrin (#19) is mostly ignored in the English world today, but he was amazing in this series, scoring more than even the Russian hero Valeri Kharlamov (#17) who barely shows up on the charts.

Out Degree

V(df)$outdegree <- degree(df, mode="out")

“Out” degree is the same measure, but only counting “outgoing” passes. These represent passes made or intercepted.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 11.28.23 PM

Like I said earlier, Phil Esposito (#7) was finding himself giving the puck away quite a bit in this first period, but also making some pretty strong passes. Brad Park was also pretty busy. Both these guys happened to score goals in the period by the way. On the Russia side, Lutchenko (#3) and Yakushov (#15) are nothing particular special in the pass department even though they scored goals as well. That could be because the Russians were much more team players.

In Degree

V(df)$outdegree <- degree(df, mode="in")

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 11.51.10 PM

Not too much more to say about this one, except that it’s not too different from the outdegree measures. This is not that surprising given that if you have the puck either you are going to pass it or someone will steal it from you. I should also note that goalie Ken Dryden (#29) was pretty busy in this period. Not good for Canada.

Bonacich Power (Beta=0.5)

Now we can look at some eigenvector-like centrality measures. There are a variety of them, but I’ve decided to use Bonacich in this case. Bonacich uses a beta value that assigns a weight to the degree centrality of the neighbours. In the case of a positive value (cooperative networks), the more “passy” your neighbour, the more power you have. Unfortunately, this method produces both positive and negative values which is a little challenging for plotting.  So I have a little linear mapping function that I borrowed from here:

linMap <- function(x, from, to)
          (x - min(x)) / max(x - min(x)) * (to - from) + from

And then assign the values and plot.

V(df)$eigen <- bonpow(df, exp=0.5)
plot(df, vertex.size=linMap(V(df)$eigen, 0, 25)

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 12.16.15 AM

The picture is a little bit different in this case. Now we see the great New York Ranger, Jean Ratelle (#18) finding his way into the largest influencer position along with Bobby Clarke (#28). On the Russian side, Yakushev (#15), Karlamov (#17) & Mishakov (#12) find themselves in their rightful place as the elite members of their team. Phil Esposito, on the other hand shrinks to almost nothing.  Why? Well, he tends to find himself taking and losing the puck from defensive players more than picking up passes from his line-mates Yvon Cournoyer (#12) & Frank Mahovlich (#27).

Bonacich Power (Beta=-0.5)

V(df)$bonpow <- bonpow(df, exp=-0.5)
plot(df, vertex.size=linMap(V(df)$bonpow, 0, 25)

The picture is also quite different when looked at from a negative Bonacich power perspective. Usually negative bonacich power is used for networks that are competitive in nature, when it’s much better to have less powerful neighbours.Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 12.17.12 AM

In this case, it’s pretty obvious that its the defensemen that have the least powerful as neighbours.  This makes sense because defensemen usually end up playing with a wider variety of forwards than other forwards do. Canada’s top defenseman, Brad Park, certainly found himself passing to and from the lesser lines in the first period, and likely stealing from Russia’s lesser lines as well!

Conclusion (for now)

This post goes to show that you can get a different answer from a social network analysis depending on how you decide to measure it. There are no mind-blowing revelations here (likely because the game was somewhat even at this stage) but still quite a bit of diversity among the different graphs that it gives pause. At the end of the day, this is why it is important to think clearly about your research question before you start looking at your data.  If you don’t, you’ll probably find yourself getting the answer you want just by rolling through different measures. I haven’t even gone through all the possibles – betweenness, closeness, clustering values and alpha centrality are all measures I’ve decided to leave out just for now (but may revisit later).

Another thing that might be interesting to look at is what the centrality values look like when I separate the Canadians from the Russians – from that perspective you could see how well the teams play with each other. Also, we could look at the edges where the puck changed hands from one team to another. In this case the negative bonacich power may be quite telling as per who was really coughing up the puck to the wrong people.

The data is not up in my git site yet, but I will share it eventually. I’ll keep the data open so that people can add or edit it as needs be. Certainly there may be problems with the way I coded everything. It was not always easy to see who was touching the puck. Sometimes I just had to guess based on position and the usual line-ups.

Libraries and Power

I don’t work in libraries anymore. Instead, I am doing research in public policy. I have gone from my days of community-led service development and critiques of professionalism to considering, essentially, how people come to do what they are told. Then I thought about libraries again, because somehow, libraries, public ones in particular, are places where people kind of do do what they are told. Of course public librarians have their share of war stories where they, for whatever reason, have had to kick people out for some misbehavior or another. But for the most part, people do what libraries tell them to do. Here’s a little catalogue of why:

  • Tradition

“We’ve always done it that way!” is a pretty powerful force in our societies. But unlike the critics of the phrase claim, it is not solely a source to avoid change. Instead, it is a source of what Charles Lindblom called the “science of muddling through” or what more formally has been called incrementalism. Fitting into pre-set town and city routines is a pretty important source of power.

  • Symbolism

While librarians often lament the stereotypes that get associated with them, it is still a source of considerable power. Librarians are perceived as dangerous, polyglots, subversive, inspirers of communities. Thank goodness these stereotypes are perpetuated in popular culture. Librarians have symbolic significance to their communities, even when they do nothing but sit at a desk and scowl. They represent people advancing themselves through knowledge and people feel it when the librarian scowls at them. Not because they are walking around with weapons and military power, but because they represent a measure of social authority.

  • Bureaucracy

Seen as one part of a large network of institutions that govern how and what we learn from each other, a library exemplifies the power inherent in rationalism, routines, emotional distance and hierarchies. Although a good amount of the service ethic that underlies this model has dissipated with library 2.0 and the “roving” model, consider the way we librarians suppose they should answer reference questions. A good amount of the practice involves pretending we have emotional distance away from the subject. Even when we talk about being enthusiastic about reading, the efforts are based in a somewhat precarious idea that reading is objectively beneficial, rather than just something librarians love doing and want to compel others to join in.

  • Institutions

“Pay your fines.” “Bring the books back on time.” “Don’t dog-ear the pages.” “Shhhhh!” These are all institutions that libraries to one degree or another use to compel their users to behave in one way or another. While these sorts of things seem quite minor, they also have a heavy influence on the behavior of a community. If you say that someone has three weeks to return a book, that creates a cycle of library visits that occur once every three weeks. That’s going to have an effect on everything from parking to coffee sales.

  • Networks

Watching the growth of library blogs between 2005 & 2009, there could be no doubt in my mind how librarians were quite successful in exercising power through networks. I am no longer a librarian and still feel compelled to speak to a library audience. That’s because librarians make friends with other librarians and they back each other up. This will put librarians at an advantage in comparison to others who do not have those network connections.

I suppose I’ve only partially covered this topic and I am sure there is more you can add. I’m not even sure if this is even surprising to most people. I guess the most important thing I am trying to convey is that power does not have to be overt to be important. Libraries influence the behaviors of even those who never go to libraries. It’s good to keep that in mind.

Material vs Post-Material Visions of Community

Being online has a weird effect on people.

When I read my timelines,  I hear much about one community or another being spoken of in very broad terms, without so much as a whimper about what these communities mean. If I play a game, am I a gamer? If I once was a librarian, will I always be a part of the library community? If I have an autistic son does that make me part of the autism community or do I also have to be aneurotypical to belong? If I liked Anthrax at some time in my life, am I a metal head?

Sometimes we seek ‘communities’ out and other times ‘communities’ are pushed on us. But what do they mean? Well, I think you need to distinguish between what are material communities and what are post-material or symbolic communities. Although that is the sort of separation that will be harder to define in some cases than in others.

But perhaps we can start with the idea of community as being versus community as doing. Community as being is mostly a symbolic thing. I am French in the sense that my parents were (mostly) French. I am not French in the sense that I speak the language fluently. Being French is mostly a symbolic notion of the French community. It means I can pretend to have a lot in common with some of my favourite French people like Pierre Bourdieu, Jean Baudrillard and Bruno Latour. The irony of all this is that while I have an affinity for these philosophers, I lack the actual ability to communicate with them! This distinction is what I mean by material versus post-material visions of community. In symbolic (post-material) terms I have access to the French community because of my last name. In material terms, I offer them nothing nor they me – there’s no real relationship that defines us as being in the same group.

But these symbolic ideas about identity do make a difference. Bourdieu’s Distinction offers a pretty convincing catalogue about what determines people’s tastes (usually class identity). If you are French, you get pay-offs for looking the part, even if you don’t do French. That’s why I typically brag about wanting to be an old man with a flask of Calvados, espouse the value of free speech (likely to a greater extent than others) and have tourtiere for Christmas Eve. It’s also why Nova Scotia has a tartan, when the actual social make-up of the province is almost anything but Scottish.

On the other hand, there is something in the post-material idea of community that lets us off the hook. In a discussion about the anti-vaccine movement I heard someone talk about an affinity for “the autistic community” as if that had salience beyond the words used. The autistic community I know includes a range of people including social workers, parents, sisters, brothers, babysitters, health professionals, psychiatrists and, of course, people with ASD. For my son, autism is something that is thrust upon him, he’ll have none of it. He belongs to an “autistic community” for two main reasons: 1) He is not accepted in the mainstream at school and 2) he benefits from treatments that are offered to him by health and social services. Otherwise his “community” consists of a few loyal friends, frequently of people older than he and his family. There are people around him that do “autism” and he variously loves and hates them for it. But the key point here is that in the “doing” community, he has people who both support him and hold him accountable when he doesn’t meet the expectations of the group. To me, that’s the “real” (material) autism community. It stands in contrast to the more idealist “autistic” community consisting of Sheldon Cooper, the silicon valley and any number of ubercool geeks. It’s possible that I am being unfair to my anti-vaccine person (by the way, vaccines do not cause autism and yes, you should vaccinate your kids. Also, if you don’t vaccinate your kids, I do think its okay for the government to force you to to protect others), but I did not see any evidence of “doing” autism in her/his tweets.

On the other hand, my son has material needs as well. And frankly, there are very rare and and special people who are willing to provide these to him. Things like friendship and support and understanding. People do not learn these things by receiving information, hearing recitals of theory or watching memes. Instead, they discover how to give these things through conversation, not only the in the occasional generosity of silence (“please listen”), but also the generosity of authentic feelings about the world.

I thought about this after reading this article by a male feminist writing about people in the MRA. Behind every marxist, capitalist, feminist, mra, gamergater, libertarian, hippy, yuppy hipster is a real story of how they got to where they are. It is a real gift when you can get that story, no matter how privileged or oppressed the person is. To me, critical theory (or rather their practitioners) forget this at times. And that power is more fluid than personal or group identities. The only thing worse than having power and privilege is not bothering to use it to make the world a better place.

Socrates says that getting to that point of clarity and learning requires nothing short of intellectual midwifery.  Whoever you are, it’s inside you and getting it out is going to be painful, arduous and messy. We need more people with the kind of empathy and understanding that bring new things to this world.

Ten Implications of Social Networks That Matter

“What exactly do you do?”

I was told this would happen when I was doing my PhD.

The true answer to this question is “I write code in R, do maths, write articles, manage data and read lots of books” but this doesn’t really answer the question implicit in the subtext.

“What do you do?” actually means “what do you accomplish” or, perhaps in even more market-ey jargon “what difference do you make in the world?” In answer to that question, it is probably better that I should say: “I describe political groups in order to help them identify potential blind spots, function better internally and connect their ideas to resources.” Also, I tend to focus on the habits of social groups in online social movements. And generally, I use social network analysis to do that.

There are tutorials and classes about the main elements of social network analysis if people actually care about things like degree centrality, clustering and path length. It’s all quite fun stuff, especially because I enjoy things like Linear Algebra. However, the details of social network analysis are different from their implication, which are often more interesting. So, I thought to offer ten core implications that make Social Network Analysis Matter.

1. Your Thoughts and Ideas Exist in a Social Context

Sorry for the jargon, but this basically means that your ideas are at least partly a function, not only of who you know, but also of who also knows the people you know.

2. It Matters Whether A Social Context Runs Both Ways

You get ideas from others, and sometimes you get to share them back directly. Other times, you share the ideas and it goes nowhere. Even other times you share the idea and it goes through a round of “telephone” before it comes back to you looking like something completely different than what you said.

3. Social Costs are Important

The more attention your ideas get, the more likely it is that there will be some social costs that come with that attention. Some people are more free to share their opinion in public forums than others. Therefore, we should not be surprised to see only a few voices left over after a big online drama.

4. Most Major Social Problems Online are Actually Local New York (or big city) problems.

Manuel Castels famously theorized that flows of information across networks are a source of power. More specifically, he argued that virtual space is guided by a “space of flows” that focuses attention on public problems. This space — namely the space of ideas that have mainstream appeal — is usually dominated by those who are the best connected overall. That’s why catcalling ends up being a salient women’s issue that captures more attention than the atrocities of boko haram. People in New York are overall better connected than those in Nigeria and have much more power to spread their messages whatever they may be.

5. Both Friends and Acquaintances Matter to Us

Friends give us both social support and hold us accountable when we don’t behave as we should. Acquaintances help us access communities that we otherwise wouldn’t have access to. Friends will give us their shoulders when we lose our jobs, but acquaintances will most likely help us find a new job. So says Mark Granovetter.

6. The Org Chart Rarely Tells the Whole Story

There are people with cushy executive titles and then there are people that we trust to get the work accomplished. Sometimes you need to get the latter person onside before you can get approval from the former.

7. Networks are Usually Dynamic

Networks in real life are often like an amoeba. There is a nucleus that stays more or less stable, but the overall the shape can change dramatically from one moment to the next. Perhaps there may be a way to tell how the shape of the amoeba changes based on the actions of people in the nucleus. Interesting hypothesis – I might test that out some day.

8. As Time Goes By, The Default Network Shape Will Be A Star

It may not be the best situation for our communities as a whole, but most networks will feature a few “representatives” that with a whole bunch of followers. In social network graphs this looks like a “star” with one person in the center and everyone else following that central person.

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 10.09.13 AM(Notice how everyone seems to follow that one orange ball in the centre?)

9. “Brokers” fill the holes in our relationships and Make Us Stronger as a Group

Inside any social group, there are those few people who will show up to a biker bar in the three-piece suit, or attend a Symphony concert in a mohawk. Watch these people because they connect groups in new and interesting ways and encourage innovation. So says Ron Burt (more or less).

10. Social Network Analysis can find Rabble-Rousers

It’s a double-edged sword, but using social network data, you can find the person who matters most in a network. Consider the hypothetical example of British Colonialists looking for this revolutionary named Paul Revere. In short, there are a lot of ethical questions to consider when using social network analysis. Like any tool, it’s bound to benefit those with resources to use it the most against those who are capable of using it the least. Edward Snowdon seems to have a very important point here.

That’s 10 things. Hopefully it helps provide a bit of context for people who know nothing about social network analysis. At the least I hope it shows the potential power the method has to describe the invisible ways that our friends friends’ friends have a real impact on our daily lives. And I did it by showing only one social network graph!

Anyone else have any ideas on some of the big picture things that social network analysis can tell us?