Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Diffusion and Transmission

The other day in class we were discussing about “diffusion and transmission” and what the difference was between the two.

I was able to find an article that gives the definition of diffusion within sociology. The article name is “Theories and Models of Diffusion in Sociology” by Alberto Palloni. The article is very extensive but here is the definition according to his article. “A classic definition of diffusion is the following: “(diffusion) is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. It is a special type of communication, in that the messages are concerned with new ideas” (Rogers, 1983).”

Here is the website if you wish to read the article:


As for transmission it was hard to find it defined within sociology or social networks. I was able to find the definition of cultural transmission. Which if you think about it, the interaction that people have on the web could be considered like a culture. The article name is “Cultural transmission” by Alberto Bisin. Culture transmission according to the article is “The transmission of preferences, beliefs, and norms of behavior which is the result of social interactions across and within generations…”

Here is the website for this article:



Monday, September 28, 2009

Network example and a Free Project Idea


First, if you are still thinking about networks from last week take a look at www.theyrule.com. I’ve always thought that the interface and visualization pretty clean. Additionally, even though it hasn’t been updated since 2004, if you are a conspiracy theorist you will find the content fairly compelling.

More importantly, though I’ve sort of gone my own way on my individual project I wanted to make a suggestion that I think would be pretty neat for anyone having trouble thinking of something. If any other individual/group wants to take this project up it is all theirs.

Most introductory stats classes start with a fun little exercise about the probability that someone in the room shares your birthday. The Ask Dr. Math forum has a pretty good description/analysis of the problem here. However, the Dr. Math forum looks like its clip art was designed by a second grader,so for a more compelling graph of the change in probability of sharing a birthday vs. group size I turn your attention here.

The Wikipedia article on the birthday problem, without an actual citation, accurately notes that one of the fundamental assumptions in most computations of the birthday problem, that birthdays are uniformly distributed, is false. An example of non-uniformly distributed birthday data is found for years 1978-1987 here.

An implied conclusion to all of this is that birthdays are based on other real world events that occurred nine months prior to any given date. These real world events, such as seasonal variations in temperature, the admission practices of hospitals, or a particularly long power outage in a portion of rural Connecticut, are likely be correlated to social characteristics in addition to birth dates. For example, the likelihood that individuals meet and/or form friendships is probably higher in that town in Connecticut.

Sample Hypothesis:
There will be a difference in birthday distributions in different individuals social networks.

Facebook provides an amazing opportunity to combine social network with birthday data. While I haven’t seen anything like this, I am sure there is some application that aggregates your friends’ birthdays. Get a couple people in a small group to do this and you have an interesting representation of both a larger population sample and individual social network samples. Some graphs and a couple statistical tests later (maybe Chi-squared Counts by Months?) and you have a really interesting project.

Even if no one does this I would be really interested on hearing what you have to say about this kind of a hypothesis, do you think that the friends you make are more/less likely to share your birthday based on other physical and sociological features?


Sociology or graphic design?

Social network mapping has the fantastic capability to transform otherwise abstract and nebulous networks of interpersonal connections into concrete, easily observable systems of nodes and edges.  This system of analysis uses complex mathematical algorithms to offer us unprecedented insight into the nature of large-scale social dynamics.  A great deal of information about innovations in mapping technology are available online, such as this one offered by slashdot: http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/03/15/2233217. 

The site design site www.visualcomplexity.com specializes in displaying visually beautiful and organizationally innovative examples of this analytic tool.  Included below are a few examples; visit http://www.visualcomplexity.com/vc/index.cfm?domain=Social%20Networks to see more.  Think of it as educational eye candy.

Here is a chart of co-authorships between physicists who have published works pertaining to social networking:

Here is one researcher's attempt to map the social connections she make over a five month period after moving from Germany to London:

This quasi-celestial tangle of edges maps "reveals cross connections between conversations on Twitter."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Digital inequality.

There is an excellent article about Facebook and Myspace--two social networking tools that compete for use. Before Facebook, almost everyone used Myspace (with a fringe population using Bebo and others). However, when Facebook was invented, many members left Myspace--an occurrence that has been examined and deemed a digital form of "white flight" by many. Facebook, a site originally intended exclusively for those in college, attracted middle and upper class students and further separated the lower class from the rest of society. Formerly thought to be the great equalizer, it is now becoming clear that the internet is anything but.

For the full article from Cause Global (a blog dedicated to using social media to engender social change), please click here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Facebook MySpace article

I brought this up on etherpad and someone had asked me to post it to the blog. The URL will bring you to a brief article about some research done on Facebook and MySpace, and class distinctions between the two.



Sunday, September 20, 2009

A visualization of data mining


I found this link over the weekend - you put in your name (or anyone's name), and the algorithm tries to make sense of what information is publicly available online, categorizing it in the same way as a data mining program. It is, essentially, "how the Internet sees you," inaccuracies and all.

In light of our recent discussions about seeking patterns in data and technologically tracking these changes across time (e.g., baby names), it is interesting to see how this might work on the level of an individual. It also speaks to issues of privacy, facework, and the decentralization of information (which is particularly relevant to Benkler). If there is an inaccuracy, there's very little one can do about it. While Benkler argues that this decentralization gives users more power, it also makes the management of that information much more complex.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Connections and more connections

I found this image after seeing this plea on Reddit: "Help us Reddit". Then I followed a link to a Youtube video of part of the recent protests. And then a link to a Persian online newspaper/blog. On which I saw this icon. I copied it and reposted on the possibility that the Newspaper might be taken offline.

The icon is doubly interesting. First, in terms of representing the protest movement in Iran, and second as an example of diffusion of stylistic cues, since this is certainly in the style of Banksy's stencil graffiti. Or see this discussion of his work.

One of the interesting potentials of online systems of communication is how they make it easy to combine threads of ideas and spread them in new ways, which also allows the ideas to evolve and become something other than what they started out as. The Benkler book "The Wealth of Networks" for this coming week in our course, and well as Larry Lessig's discussions emphasize this issue as a key justification for why ideas, and much of cultural production should be free, in the sense of open for re-use and modification with attribution, promoted by the creative commons.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Here Comes Everybody - airline example

The following is an example from Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody, outlining how a pissed off airline passenger used technology to coordinate action for passengers' rights.

Brief overview:
In 1999, a plane full of passengers traveling from Miami to Detroit landed on time. However, because of a snowstorm in Detroit and consequent gate backup, passengers were not permitted to deboard the plane for seven hours. Because the flight was short, food, drink, and bathrooms were in limited supply. After 5 hours, the passengers and pilot called the CEO of Northwest airlines at home and spoke to his wife, which got results. While the passengers were annoyed, they weren't annoyed enough to do anything about it after.
This scenario was repeated across multiple airlines. One passenger on a similar flight became especially annoyed and formed a group to create a passengers' bill of rights.

technological change:
Even if you are stuck in a plane you are not completely isolated. Passengers used cell phones
to contact CEO - but they were still stuck on a plane for 8 hours. Nearly everyone had cellphones. On the second described flight, one or two passengers were pissed off enough to stick with it and create a passenger's bill of rights, mobilizing people to pay attention to the incident long after it was over. She used the comment section of an online newspaper to contact other passengers on the flight. This triggered a chain of contacts. While newspapers were previously one-way media endeavors, online newspapers allow for a shared platform.

social mechanisms:
Able to find out information quickly (speed)
; situation people can relate to (who hasn't been stuck on a plane?). Because of the familiarity and relative commoness of the experience, the petition for a bill of rights was able to garner thousands of signatures - far more than the passengers affected by these specific incidents. This happened because one person was committed to creating a change - there was no diffusion of responsibility, which could create a situation where everyone expects others to do the work, so no one does.

social outcomes:
The lane was deboarded, passenger bill of rights proposed, JetBlue CEO resigned because of a similar situation, VERY bad press for airlines
. The Passengers' Rights movement also received additional press in major news outlets, further creating pressure on airline industries. Consumers have the opportunity to respond to businesses and to the public - a online revewing site such as Yelp.com is one example of how individuals can shape perceptions of others about a business.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Etherpad Meetup.com example class notes.

Etherpad shared classroom notes discussing Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody.

Meetup Example

Meetup.com is an example of a website that allows latent social groups to form by providing a ready made web-platform for groups to organize and eventually meet in real life.

“He designed Meetup to help people find each other online and then meet in the real world, taking the burden of coordination off the hands of the potential users. Meetup users can search by interest (Are there any relevant Meetups in my town?) or they can look by area (I live in Milwaukee, what Meetups are nearby?)” –Shirky p196, Here Comes Everybody

Technological change: Pervasiveness of websites and access to computers, the use of user profiles and databases that could cross list users in the same town AND by interest. The emergence of national online social gathering sites like Meetup, or Yahoo Groups.

Social mechanism:
Reduces the transaction cost of establishing social groups. Allows group formation of groups that would not have otherwise formed.

Social outcomes: Local gathering of people that would not have been able to easily organize or meet before Meetup.

“The net effect is that it’s easier to like people who are odd in the same ways you are odd, but it’s harder to find them. Meetup, by solving the finding problem, created an outlets for many new groups—groups that had never been able to gather before.” –Shirky p200, Here Comes Everybody

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Model of Emergent Change

This image represents a conceptual model of emergent change. It is a version of what sociologists often call "The Coleman Boat" in honor of James Coleman (see Foundations of Social Theory).
Coleman who championed the notion that any sufficient explanation of a social outcome must include the social actors who actually do things. In Soc 419/519 I want to emphasize that our potential to understand and even predict particular social outcomes related to technological change will need to take into acount (1) social context, and how that context both constrains and creates opportunities (2) the actors in that context, including attributes, goals and relationships of those actors (3) the nature of social action they perform, and how those actions are structured in relattion to others.
During the course we will study concepts, theories and methods that highlight different parts represented in the diagram. I don't imagine that any one part is the key to understanding social life. Instead, I hope this course conveys the notion that we should be thinking carefully about all facets of this model, and varying our attention to different aspects according to what makes sense for a given context, and given constraints on the data that we can actually collect.

Soc 419/519 started this week

“The intended effects of new technology are nothing compared to the unintended effects… the Internet is an accident. . . . Nobody planned it. If we had planned it, they wouldn’t have let us do it… if somebody had showed up in 1960 and said ‘this is what we’re going to do: it’s going to do everything and it’s going to put pornography in your daughter’s bedroom…’ it wouldn’t have been allowed. - William Gibson

Overview of Sociology 419/519 at Ohio University

In recent years, social change has been driven by the intended and unintended effects of technologies that make it easier for people to “do things together”. Email made communication easier. Cell phones made coordination with friends easier. Web pages made distribution of materials easier. Blogs . . . . Wikis. . . . Social network sites. . . These technological innovations are inherently social. They are altering, and will alter, the lives of individuals, the dynamics of group, the fates of organizations, the development of cultures, and the course of history. This course studies social change by combining research on group processes with contemporary examples from around the world and the depths of ‘cyberspace’. This course provides a general framework, specific concepts, and a think tank for articulating new connections between social science and social change in contemporary life. We will place special emphasis on an international and cross cultural perspective, highlighting similarities and differences between North America and South-East Asia. Through their own digital media creations students will play an active role in the public, trans-national discussion of the nature and trajectory of these changes.

We will be using google documents, skype, and etherpad to facilitate interaction and collaboration in the course. We have a wide range of readings, but will start the first week with Clay Shirky's recent book: "Here comes everybody". After an introduction to the course we will focus on three general areas: networks, collective action, and social psych aspects of status, identity, and roles.

The class will engage in three general tasks:

  1. Understand that social change is an emergent process. Group processes (as I understand it) is focused on understanding how collective outcomes result from the actions and interaction of people in social contexts. Thus constraints and opportunities of the context or situation combine with attributes and actions of individuals and the structure of their interaction to result in collective outcomes. In this sense, outcomes, like the extent that a meme spreads, or the level of contribution to collective goods in a particular group, are emergent outcomes of people doing things together. Looking for evidence of emergent outcomes, and testing models of processes that can account for patterns in emergent outcomes are a major focus of this course. Collective outcomes can vary in scale from the quality of conversation in a given course meeting, to the global diffusion of cell phones or 'mobiles'. Research, because it has to have DATA, tends to study small to medium collective outcomes, while our discussions will range across the full scale.
  2. Survey the most relevant theories, processes, institutions, structures for understanding social change. This task will take us on a tour of major areas of research across several disciplines in order to understand parts of social systems in ways that help us understand, explain and predict social change at a variety of scales. Our aim will be to build a toolbox of concepts that we can apply to concrete social situations and situations in order to better understand the dynamics of that example.
  3. Make new connections between the components of social change and contemporary examples. This is the especially creative aspect of the course. All members of the class are required to identify, discuss and explain examples drawn from social situations in contemporary life. Emphasis will be placed on examples that could become potential research topics and those that are interesting and important, but unlikely to be tested or answered through actual research.

Students will select from a range of options for the various assignments. Ultimately final grades will be based on a digital portfolio of their contributions and creations in the course. Some of those creations will appear on this and other blogs. Stay tuned.