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Social Network Analysis of the Social Media Club - Kuala Lumpur

SMCKL is a group that meets occasionally to explore matters relevant to social media and industry. The most recent one was about social media monitoring tools, and featured three presentations by comScore, Brandtology and JamiQ. They were interesting, but I was surprised that nobody was talking about social network analysis - so I thought I'd do a little demonstration here.

There was much tweeting going on before and after the evening, which was also an occasion for people to meet and network. Using NodeXL, I gathered all the tweets with the hashtag #smckl: in all there were 71 tweeters, and 757 'edges' (i.e. links in the form of 'Followed' relationships, 'Mentions', or 'Replies to'). The following examples only take into account the Followed relationship - i.e. I am only showing a link between tweeters when one follows the other.

A question for social media monitoring has to be: how influential is any particular tweeter? Here I'll look at two ways of visualising that.

Followers
A common measure is how many followers a tweeter has.
nodexl social network analysis sna visualisation twitter social media malaysia

In these images, the size of the profile picture is proportionate to the number of followers - the bigger the profile picture, the more followers. Also, the more central the tweeter is, the more ties s/he has with the other tweeters. The person in the middle is the most embedded in the network - with the most ties to other people, directly or indirectly; on the other hand, as you can see, there are some really on the edge - with only a couple of lines attached them to the denser cluster in the middle. They are outliers, less likely to be influential within this group.

The first picture was very dense, so I have filtered out all tweeters with less than 500 followers
nodexl social network analysis sna visualisation twitter social media malaysia

and with less than 1000 followers.
nodexl social network analysis sna visualisation twitter social media malaysia

Again, a pattern emerges of a denser cluster in the middle with a few outliers. What this suggests is that most people at the SMCKL evening already know each other. But not all: I said above that outliers are less likely to be influential within that group - it's important to note here that the person with the most followers (@victorliew) is an 'outlier'. This suggests that he could be an important 'bridge' for this group to connect to another group. The question would be - who is he? And why are so many people following him?
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How can 10,000 unique visitors mean an audience of 100?

A distinct advantage of internet advertising is the ability to accurately measure the audience (through page views), and to know precisely how many people took an interest in the ad by clicking on it. 'Click fraud' (simulating different people by repeated clicking) is detected by automated software, and 'unique visitors' (based on the IP addresses) deals with the problem of the same person refreshing a page in order to simulate a different person.

This is how Google has made billions of dollars, so it must be pretty reliable overall.

However, how can 10,000 unique visitors equal an audience of 100? To answer this, we have to consider the network within which the ad is displayed. For this example, let's imagine a random blog advertising network - called 'BlogAdNet': BlogAdNet works by registering thousands of blogs, all of whom allocate space on their blog for advertisements to be automatically displayed as and when BlogAdNet wants to. They then go to potential clients and say, for example, 'Our network of blogs receives 10,000 unique visitors a day'; but this does not necessarily mean 10,000 different people. Imagine a very dense network of 100 bloggers, all of whom visit each other's blog every day - each blogger reads 99 other blogs every day. 99 x 100 = 9,900. So, the 10,000 unique visitors could in fact be 100 people, plus one other person (imagine BlogAdNet doing regular monitoring) visiting all the blogs.

I've used NodeXL (a useful social network analysis (SNA) tool that integrates with Excel), to think about a few examples that demonstrate how SNA can give more insight into the behavioural aspects of blog readers. Represnted in an SNA graph, the dense network of 100 readers would look like this (except that I've scaled it down to ten users to be easier to see):
social networks analysis sna blogs malaysia

Everyone is connected to everyone else, and nobody is more 'influential' than others.

However, this would be very unusual. Most networks are clustered - using the above ten blogs, I've chosen A, B and C as the 'top bloggers': everyone visits them, and they always visit each other (but don't visit the other). DEF always visit ABC, and each other. GHI are a similarly clustered sub-group. And J, who is visited by nobody (aww) always visits ABC (like everyone else), and also D, F, G and I.

Now, the same network, based on the same calculations, looks like this:
social networks analysis sna blogs malaysia

The size of the nodes are based on the 'in-degree' - i.e. the number of incoming visitors. So A, B and C are the biggest, and J the smallest.

You can also calculate 'Betweenness'. In a network, it's not only the direct connections that matter - someone 'between' you and another person may be relaying your thoughts, or enhancing your reputation.
social networks analysis sna blogs malaysia

So, the node J is now bigger than the other two sub-groups DEF, and GHI. So, in theory, J could be seeing something on A's blog, and then telling others about it; or starting conversations in their comments section and acting as a 'bridge' between sub- groups DEF and GHI. Or maybe J is just a lurker, who never says anything? The only way to find out would be to go and look at what J does. This points to one of the limitations of SNA - you can detect the presence of a link, but you don't always know what it means in practice.

The Eigenvector Centrality calculation combines the above, looking at the number of connections each blog has, and the degree of the blogs it connects to:
social networks analysis sna blogs malaysia

E and H are now smaller, because they have less overall connections. J remains apparently influential, but the lack of incoming links is not reflected here.

OK, I've got to stop this, and get on with writing my thesis!! :-|

Some conclusions

The density of a blogger network tends to depend on a few factors such as: geographical location, shared cultural features, blog genre, gender, and interest. For example, Malaysian bloggers/readers are more likely to read other Malaysian blogs; or female bloggers/readers interested in fashion and makeup will read blogs that focus on that. The density will be increased when they go to events together, when they link to each other, and so on.

If you want to measure influence on the internet, relying on classic data that is based on non-contextualised quantities is not enough. For example, if you say ‘There are 5,000 mentions of new product X since we launched the campaign’; this does not tell you the relative importance of each mention. You can combine that with unique visitors: ‘5,000 mentions of which 200 were on blogs that receive more than 2,000 daily unique visitors’. But still, what if all those 2,000 visitors are part of a densely clustered network who mostly read each other’s blogs?

The subjective and 'thick' understanding of the contextual meaning of links still needs human eyes. But they can be helped by automated processes that, for example, detect key words, emotional content, etc.

What do you think? How important can SNA be in elucidating these more subjective social aspects of online interaction?

I’m still learning about SNA, and don’t know much about what happens in social media monitoring companies, so if anyone has any corrections or advice, please use the comments section below. Thanks! :-)

My favourite podcasts

I love listening to podcasts - they are a great way to use some of that downtime in an interesting way - when you're driving, walking the dogs, cooking, and so on... I can listen to my favourite programmes whenever I want, pause them, rewind, turn up the volume (great for people like me with hearing problems), etc.

If you're wondering how to get podcasts, the first thing to know is that You don't need an iPod to listen to podcasts! (obvious to those of you who know, but not obvious to all). A podcast is just an mp3 file that you can download and listen to on any mp3 player, your phone (if it plays mp3 files), or on your computer, and some home stereo systems. If you have the proper equipment, and your mp3 player supports it, you can also transmit from an mp3 player to a car radio.

If you do have an iPod, then it can connect seamlessly with iTunes to update automatically when you connect it to your computer. But, you don't need an iPod to use iTunes - I like iTunes as it does really useful things like organising all my sound files in neat folders for me. It also makes subscribing to podcasts very easy.

When you subscribe to a podcast, this means that you tell iTunes (or other software too I suppose, but I never used another) to check online regularly and download the latest podcast. Most sites that offer podcasts also have a 'One click subscribe to iTunes' button which makes life easy.

Here are some of my recommended podcasts:

On Point with Tom Ashbrook: a daily phone in talk show from NPR (public radio) in America. Invites knowledgeable guests and covers a range of subjects. A bit America-focused, but generally interesting, and I've learnt a lot about America too, since I've started listening to it.

BBC World Service has many, including:
From Our Own Correspondent: BBC's foreign correspondents do random stories that are not necessarily breaking news. Great snippets and insights into all parts of the world. My long term favourite.
Interview : half-hour interviews with interesting people - politicians, business leaders, activists, celebrities...
Crossing Continents: "On the ground reporting from around the world which focuses on the human dimension of the big international stories."

Examples of other choices are:
World Book Club ; One Planet; Newsweek (Cantonese); World Business News

Radio 4
Thinking Allowed: Laurie Taylor usually has the author(s) of books on history, and social sciences, and host analytical conversations about the world we live in.
In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg : "The history of ideas discussed by Melvyn Bragg and guests including Philosophy, science, literature, religion and the influence these ideas have on us today."
Woman's Hour: News, Politics, Culture : Sometimes interesting daily programme on 'Women's issues'. I listen to it mostly for tips on bringing up children, but it also discusses other issues related to women - legal issues, art, whatever...

• Tech/Geek stuff
Digital Planet: Weekly BBC techie podcast, with the latest on gadgets, and the effects of technology on society.
The Digital Edge: local Malaysian weekly discussion on all things techie, geeky and related industry matters; hosted by @johnlim.
This Week in Asia: Weekly Singaporean-based Singapore/Malaysia based techie discussion with a regional focus (thanks @Cerventus for the clarification); similar to The Digital Edge.
Digital Campus: More or less bi-weekly. Based in George Mason University, academics discuss issues related to Digital Humanities - with a particular focus on history, libraries and museums.
Supernova Hub: regular high calibre discussions with leading academics, business people and technology experts - you can learn a lot here!
Yi-Tan Weekly Technology Call: this came highly recommended, but has yet to live up to expectations I'm afraid. The site is a bit messy, but if you want to subscribe via iTunes, click here.
TED Talks: also highly recommended, but all online streaming video as far as I can see. TED means 'Technology, Education, Design', and there are regular top speakers (e.g. Tim Berners-Lee) who impart wisdom in relatively short talks.

• Finally, The Teaching Company has many great lecture series with proper academics teaching everything from "Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition" (I actually understood quantum physics for a while!), through a "History of Ancient Rome", "History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon", to the "Roots of Human Behavior". They're not free, but if you're lucky you may find someone with a copy to share.

A historical chronology of English language blogs in Malaysia

OK, the title pretty much says it all :-)

To get an overall view of the history of blogs in Malaysia, and my fieldwork, I've made a table.

Of course, this only represents what I know of, and the events and so that I was able to attend during my fieldwork. There are many many thousands of blogs out there, and I can never hope to cover all of what blogs have been to all bloggers over the years.

So - I'd really appreciate any feeback! Anything I've missed out, got wrong... please tell me!

It's too long to post as a table (or rather, I don't know how to convert the Word table into html), so I've uploaded it as a pdf.

Just to give you an idea of what it looks like, here's a screenshot - click on the picture to get the full version!
history of malaysian blogs

My 2009

One useful thing about blogs is that they also serve as a kind of 'digital memory' - like a diary, memories and thoughts are stored for a future time when you can go back and be reminded of what you've been through. How some things you thought were so important at the time have turned out to be insignificant, and others have developed into so much more.

Anyway - here's my retrospective of 2009

January
Nine posts. As for most of the year, I was reflecting and thinking about blogs - the topic of my PhD. I was ruminating about the importance of comments in The Commentosphere, and Bloggers, transparency, truth and personhood.

Also, as Chinese New Year and the Dancing God of Prosperity! beckoned, I made one of my many failed resolutions 'blog every day' in Decisions, decisions: ethnographic focus.

February
Sixteen posts for this month, which is probably a record. More thoughts on comments with The 10 types of commenters, musings on How SoPo blogs helped the advertisement industry; a fieldwork experience at Profit Blogging Bootcamp - Meeting for money?; and a cryptic references to events in Perak in Silver transformations.

Apart from helping me to get a cinema premiere ticket in I’m Going Kame Hame Ha with Dragonball Evolution, our dog Gambit appeared in The Star in Canine Car Seat Belt :-) (yes it was just a pose, no we didn't actually strap him in like that).
malaysian dog wearing seatbelt

March
Eleven posts in March; I tried initiating a map of Recycling Centres in Petaling Jaya, and did a little Tourist in KL post after a friend visited.

But the most important thing for me this month was on March 9 - myBlogS 2009 - Malaysian Blog Survey now open!. I relentlessly promoted and harassed anyone I could about it for a month, including at the Dragonball Evolution Premiere and my Thought Bubble :-)
huai bin sixthseal julian hopkins dragonball premiere

and the eLawyer Conference - Be informed!.

And amongst a few food posts, I admitted to My food fetish - Cili goreng!

April
Nine posts for this month, which saw quite a few events - I won a PS3 for dressing up as Bob Marley at the Nuffnang Music Bash - Super prize!. Due to that, and the myBlogS survey (myBlogS 2009 - 538 already and only two more days left!), I got some attention from The New Straits Times, who did a full page spread on me, boosting my readership (temporarily) by thousands, thanks to mentions by other bloggers, leading me to remark that Bloggers are not journalists, and blogs are not newspapers

May
Eight posts this month (note the decline :-|). Thanks to AMBP, I met some Star Trek Camwhores
trekkies in Malaysia
Continue reading "My 2009"