The Structure of Your Social Network

LinkedIn is the only “social networking” site I use. What it doesn’t have that I really want is a visual map of the structure of my social network. The structure of social networks in general is a hot research topic*. But I want to see what my social network actually looks like. Preferably out to 3 degrees of separation, with first and second degree nodes labelled with names (and links, natch.) It’s not enough to know who has lots of connections; I want to know with whom I have a high number of shared connections, i.e. who is a hub in my personal network. I also want to see the clusters that form in my own network. Some of these may be surprising, especially if 3rd degree links are included.

The real questions are: 1) is this something anyone else really cares about, and 2) is this something that LinkedIn would be loathe to provide—just as Google gives up zero information about link topology with its search results, presumably quite on purpose?

I could no doubt construct such a visualization myself, but given the way LinkedIn is set up it would have to involve a lot of yucky screen-scraping. Do any other “social networking” sites do a better job of coughing up real data on the structure of your personal network? If not, are they doing anything useful with this information themselves? I suspect not, which is just such a waste.

4 thoughts on “The Structure of Your Social Network”

  1. The question about network visualization is a really good one, but I bet there are any number of ways to show the interrelationships, and LinkedIn just hasn’t figured out the best way to do that yet.

    The most obvious way would be with the subscriber in the center, with the first rank of neighbours surrounding them on the points of a circle, and the second rank of neighbours going radially out from there. However, it might also be interesting to have people in different fields on different levels, so that you could mask out or mask in just those levels. It might also be interesting to see who’s close to you geographically.

    I’m also wondering of there’s going to be some sort of Meetup/LinkedIn mashup where LinkedIn sub-nets get together for a beer somewhere — at least everyone there would have someone in common, if not a topic of conversation.


  2. Hi Alex! Nice to hear from you after so long.

    You make many good points. There are indeed a ton of interesting ways to view social network data. I guess seeing the basic structure of my own network is just a reasonable place to start.

    In a perfect world, the data would be openly available and we could do the analysis and visualization any way which suited us (mashup possibilities for everyone!) But I can’t see that ever happening :-( Perhaps completely anonymized data might be released but that would have limited value. (Actually, I can almost think of a way you could release the entire data set to everyone and yet allow each person to view only the details of their own first and second degree contacts… can’t say as I’d hold my breath waiting for someone at LinkedIn to be bothered with such crypto trickery, though!)

    Thanks for stopping by. Hmm… now I have to go look for you on LinkedIn. Don’t think you’re in my network yet :)

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