Social networks: creation, evolution, and uses

If you haven’t heard about The Seed Salon, here is your chance – it hosts scientific debates. This week, it features Barabasi and Fowler. “The physicist and the political scientist discuss contagion and the Obama campaign, debate the natural selection of robustness and ask whether society is turning inward.” Few highlights follow:

  • we’ve thought about individuals as though they were islands?—?a Robinson Crusoe model of social science. Being able to integrate information?—?not just about people, but about their relationships —?is something that’s completely new…. Now we can ask, “What’s happening in that whole complex set of relationships that we could never learn by looking at just each individual?”
  • So, rather than knocking on someone’s door or cold-calling them, you help them have coffee with one another, where they’ll discuss the candidates. So you’re promoting social interaction. What Obama did is take this to a larger scale.
  • Weight gain and weight loss can spread from person to person to person through the network, up to three degrees of separation. We also found this for smoking and, more recently, for happiness.
  • I’ll have a cluster of friends who are not on Facebook and when one becomes my friend, all of a sudden?—?in a matter of days?—?they will all become friends with me … the web also evolves through bursts.
  • in the real world, popular people tend to be friends with popular people. But in these technological networks, as in metabolic networks, it’s just the opposite.
  • here’s a genetic basis for human social networks?—?that the number of people who name you as a friend is actually heritable, and about half of the variation in the number of friends can be explained due to variation in the genes.
  • When you look at the social network as a whole, you see the hubs. But when you look where people pass the messages, the hubs are missing. Somehow, when people are asked to participate in a game, they’re avoiding the hubs … I would never pass it to my president, because I would not bother him with such a silly thing.

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