Monday, March 27, 2006

Salon: You are who you know

Missed this one (must have been head-deep in social networking literature when it was making its way around the 'sphere), but Salon has an article on the online social networking phenomenon dated 2004 which has caught my eye in all the right places. social networks are God's gift to sociology. As late as the mid-'90s, notes Watts, sociologists who wanted to research social networks -- how people related to each other, who became friends with whom, how information traveled through a social network -- found their job very difficult. Information had to be gathered by hand, by passing out surveys, and the data was always suspect, because people might not answer truthfully, or even if they attempted to be truthful, might not be accurate. "A much better approach is to record what it is that people actually do, who they interact with and how they interact," writes Watts.

And that is exactly what an online social network enables. When we sign up on a social networking site, we are diving into the petri dish, and gladdening the heart of every scientist with a key to the lab. If the network can figure out what groups you are part of simply by the patterns of e-mail sent back and forth, imagine what it can learn when it knows every last bit of data you have input into a five-page profile, which might include everything from your favorite breed of dog, your sexual orientation and marital status, to your turn-ons, bedroom accessories, and tastes in music, movies and books?


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