Between Friends / Sites Like Facebook are Proving The Value Of The "Social Graph" / By Erica Naone
March / April 2008
The idea of a social graph--a representation of a person's network of friends, family, and acquaintances--gained currency last year as the popularity of online social networks grew: Facebook, for example, claims to have more than 64 million active users, with 250,000 more signing up each day. [snip] The push to understand the nature and potential value of links between people online has led to imaginative ways to represent such networks. Here, we look at some of them.
Maps of online social networks often reveal little more than the fact that two users have linked to each other's profiles. That type of map becomes meaningless when, as is typical on MySpace, many users have more than 100 such links and sometimes as many as a million, says Dietmar Offenhuber, a research assistant at the MIT Media Lab. The Comment Flow visualization he created with associate professor Judith Donath traces actual communication between users. [snip]
IBM's Atlas maps social networks in the workplace; the program's MyNet component can identify users' connections on the basis of their relative positions within the company and their communications by e-mail and instant messenger. The resulting map not only shows contacts (along with their locations and organizations) but also measures how close they are. One view shows particularly close contacts near the center of the diagram and distant ones toward the perimeter. Chris Lamb, senior product manager for IBM's Lotus Connections software, says workers can use the tool to maintain their professional networks. For example, a person might notice an important contact drifting toward the perimeter of the circle and take steps to catch up before the connection fades.
Copyright Technology Review 2008.