July 28, 2007

Network analysis, class divisions, paranoia

This is a fascinating piece of sociological research by danah boyd, that, besides being valuable in and of itself, foreshadows immense changes in the way that sociology research will be conducted in the future.

What's the paradigm shift? Social networking sites force people to reify their social relations. Better yet, they put all of that data into one accessible, easy-to-mine place. If that's not a sociologist's idea of a goldmine, I don't know what is. Of course, with this come all sorts of privacy concerns, which is the part that I'm not really interested in.

The other important issue that danah's paper raises is that despite the discomfort, denial and decades of rhetoric to the contrary, it is time to face the fact that out of all the nations claiming democracy, the US has one of the most pervasive and manifested socio-economic class divisions in the modern world.

On a related note, I regularly keep going back to the thought of using network analysis to reveal the real power structure of governments - which business leaders met which government leaders for what reason when? Not that business and political leaders will start to reveal their lives in Facebook profiles (although I heard rumors that a recent strategy change by a local startup involves doing "LinkedIn meets Facebook" - the only image that comes to mind is executives posting photos of themselves drunk at the company picnic).

This issue has become more critical with the rise of special interest groups and lobbies (masked by the benign euphemism of "civil society" by their originators and eagerly picked up by those sucking at the NGOs' tits). After all, network analysis is already being successfuly used by governments to track the activities of their enemies.

There is a fascinating interview with Valdis Krebs of orgnet.com about mining publicly available information on the 9/11 hijackers using network analysis. Why not use these tools for the real benefit of civil society? Of course, some people may argue that the actions of the "Coalition of the Willing" in Iraq already qualifies them as a terrorist network.

The more paranoid will point out the connection between Accel Partners, the VC firm that initially invested in Facebook, and the CIA (I wonder if this connection was discovered using network analysis?), but that seems more coincidence than conspiracy.

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