Author: Derek Hansen, Ben Shneiderman & Marc A. Smith
Publisher: Morgan Kaufmann
Aimed at: Social media research community
Pros: Unique reference for NodeXL, reports extensive research
Cons: Niche topic
Reviewed by: Janet Swift
Interested in social network analysis? - This book describes the theory, gives an overview of a free, open source tool for the job and presents case histories.
Subtitled "Insights from a Connected World" this book is a practical introduction to social network analysis (SNA) from members of the team which developed Microsoft NodeXL, is a free, open-source add-in to Excel 2007.
The book is divided into three parts - or rather
"is organized in the form of a tree with roots, a trunk and branches".
Part I provides the necessary grounding (the roots); Part II is a practical introduction to NodeXL and then the majority of the book is given over to a series of case studies in Part III. An appendix NodeXL for programmers gives a brief outline of how to customize NodeXL to import graph data from any data source and create graphing applications using its class libraries.
The audience for this book is envisaged as
"practitioners, researchers and students interested in the study of social media"
and at the end of each chapter you'll find two brief résumés: Practitioners Summary and Researcher's Agenda. In keeping with a textbook sections and subsections are numbered and some sections are flagged (by being on colored backgrounds) as Advanced Topics. References are heavily relied on and listed at the end of each chapter.
The first of the three chapters in Part 1 sets the scene with a fairly academic tone and despite the fact that we are looking at 21st century social media networks, refers to scientists including Kelvin, Newton and Galileo, admittedly in the context of measurement, mathematical models and analysis tools, which might come as a surprise. The introduction to Chapter 2 mentions Vannevar Bush and Douglas Engelbart as "pioneers of the information age" but it goes on to a give an up-tp-date list of social media examples categorised by types that include asynchronous threaded conversation, synchronous conversations, social sharing, social networking services and so on. The idea of measuring, mapping and modeling network connections is the topic of Chapter 3, which is where Social Network Analysis introduced and discussed with plenty of helpful illustrations.
Moving from the introductory theory to the practical, the second section of the book opens with "Getting Started with NodeXL", a chapter that includes downloading and installing the add-in and walking through the basis using a simple friendship network as an example. The next chapter is on "Calculating and Visualizing Network Metrics" then comes one on "Preparing Data and Filtering" and the final one is on "Clustering and Grouping" and shows off the capabilities of the software with some sophisticated examples.
There are eight case studies in Part 3 and a list of their titles indicates that they cover the entire gamut of today's social media:
Chapter 8 : Email: The Lifeblood of Modern Communication
Chapter 9 : Thread Networks: Mapping Message Boards and Email Lists
Chapter 10 : Twitter: Conversation, Entertainment and Information, All in One Network!
Chapter 11 : Visualizing and Interpreting Facebook Networks
Chapter 12 : WWW Hyperlink Networks
Chapter 13 : Flickr: Linking People, Photos, and Tag
Chapter 14 : YouTube: Contrasting Patterns of Interaction and Prominence
Chapter 15 : Wiki Networks: Networks of Creativity and Collaboration
Each case history combines theory and practice and is well illustrated with graphs that provide the insights from a connect world promised in the book's subtitle.
This is a niche book that is also mult-disclipanry. NodeXL has involved experts in information studies, computer science, sociology, human-computer interaction and cultural studies and this book has contributions from researchers in all these fields and more. It is however highly practical and will motivate readers to use this tool for their own research.