Thanks to Frank van Ham, co-creator of ManyEyes and researcher at IBM's Visual Communication Lab, for giving me the title of my next talk: "Social network metrics are for eggheads." I don't know where or when this talk will occur, but that will be the title.
One case study I will share as part of the talk will be the the following wonderful project by Valdis Krebs. He was working with a group advocating for healthy affordable housing. Time and again they had cornered one dilapidated building or another into cleaning up its lead paint, only to hear the owners announce, “We just sold the building, sorry.” After hearing this excuse a few times, they sensed something was up. With a little research at the library, they found all the real estate holding companies involved in the series of sales were associated with one “godfather” who ran the whole empire through a network of children, siblings, spouses, and in-laws. The piece of evidence that ultimately convinced the judge to throw the book at the lead-paint mafia was a network map like so:
Real estate companies are green at the top, godfather/mother are at the very bottom, and intermediaries who own/run the companies are in the middle.
Those of us participating in the debate over how best to measure social networks in ways that predict important outcomes (such as revenue, profit, or shareholder value, to name a few) can forget that there are also simpler and less controversial applications of SNA. Valdis' Family Ties picture above is one great example.
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