Mapping offline social networks

There is a lot of software for mapping/analysing online social networks (there is a wikipedia explanation with links). The data is floating around – links between blogs, chat applications, e-mail, sites such as Facebook and Myspace etc. Mapping these types of relationships involves software that fall into two categories – every expansive or free (open source). Both varieties tend to be complicated to install and seem to require a PhD to use. Mainly because social network diagrams are really graphical representations of complex relationships coughed out of a database. What ever the complexity of the underlying technology you got to admit that they do result in rather pretty images.

It is legitimate to wonder why a nut like me who has barely any time to scratch out a blog post is puttering about with such seemingly esoteric things. Its not the hope of big money via data mining by mastering social network mapping tools.

What I find fascinating is the possibility of seeing how deeply interconnected we humans are. As a Sri Lankan I’ve been constantly awed by the Mafia like web of friends, aunties, uncles, “batch mates” friends of friends and other relatives. They ARE everywhere – having encountered many facets of it in my travels. The scary part it how easy parts of the network can reach across to another. And its essentially seems like a self regulating ecology that putters on on trust (or dare I say love?) and a desire to share/connect.

I don’t have the time to dig deeply into this sort of thing. But decided that I’ll try to steal time to some how simply plot who I know and how they connect to each other. Simple stuff for a self learning primitive. No data mining for me. I’m hoping to use a simple off-line data sources – my knowledge of who I know. And then perhaps badgering those people as to who they know.

Documenting and managing the data via simple “static” diagrams doesn’t look easy. A social network is not just a simple A to B relationship. There are other factors such as the nature of the interaction, the details of the actors involved, the types of information that can be exchanged, even places etc involved. Way too much data for keep it simple. I found this old post/page on about Social Network Analysis on which I think might be a good simple (no doubt problematically inaccurate) starting point.

The bigger question is IF I’ll ever find the time for all this. Yes, the perils of being fascinated..


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