NodeXL and SNA with Marc A. Smith at Purdue

Yesterday, Xin Chen and I attended a talk put on by the Brian Lamb Communications Department at Purdue about Social Network Analysis. The speaker was Marc A. Smith, a UCLA PhD in Sociology.


He worked with Microsoft for a long time, and now works with the Social Media Research Foundation, a non-profit organization with the following mission:

The Social Media Research Foundation is a group of researchers and practitioners working to create open tools, generate and host open data, and support open scholarship related to social media.

This organization is also seeks to make new tools for data collection on social networks. The Social Media Research Foundation also seeks to build these tools for social scientists so they can analyze this data without knowing any programming. These tools will be highly useful for all social sciences, including political science.

As someone who shares this interest, I was very excited about the prospects of the topics Dr. Smith discussed! He discussed how social network analysis (SNA) is becoming popular again, and very useful. These studies have been conducted in different capacities, including sociological studies by J. L. Moreno in New York City in the 1930s. Interest in these studies have seen a renaissance at the rise of Social Media, and Social Network Analysis.

Even though use-net networks still exist (and are growing at 11% per year), the behavior moved to other places, but is still growing. Smith cited that the mainstream of SM/SNS is on Twitter (200 million users), Facebook (750 million users), LinkedIn (100 million users). Even 1.5 billion people use email, meaning around 1 in 3 people on the planet are using some form of social media!

Dr. Smith concluded that there is a necessity for new tools so there is data available that is open to researchers. Much of the research that is done with Facebook is very closed, and they won’t let you analyze the data outside of their own facilities. This poses a problem for the academic world. Hopefully Dr. Smith and the Social Media Research Foundation can

I also made sure to ask about a problem that generally comes up with I talk to my peers in my own field: how do I combat the nay-sayers that say that social media is a fad? Dr. Smith had a great answer, if there’s two places people deliberate about politics today, it’s at the water-cooler or on the Internet (subsequently Social Media sites). We would be remiss to skip out on the research of these social networks. Even if Facebook or Twitter were to shut down tomorrow, the research value of the social networks pose great potential for advances in social network theories. These research tools can collect copious amounts of data that previously was very expensive and tedious to gather. It has its flaws, but it’s the best we can do at the moment. This is needed in the social sciences, and I think Dr. Smith addressed how I likely will as well.


I really liked the demo for the tool NodeXL which I would love to use more, but unfortunately I have two problems: (1) it seems incompatible with Mac OS how I have it set up, and (2) my Windows Computer uses Libre Office instead of the Microsoft Office Suite. So I really have no real way to test this software. I’m really impressed with the potential capabilities that it has, and hopefully I’ll get a few minutes to test it out in the future and write a full post.

NodeXL users can and are encouraged upload diagrams like this one that maps users Tweeting the phrase “GOP”


Also during this event, I live Twittered the event. It was an interesting experience, that I would do again. It is difficult, but possible. As most would fear, I feel like I am not giving the speaker my full attention. However, the speaker should be happy about this behavior, because their message is now reaching more people. This is really where the off-line social behavior collides with the online social behavior. It was a blast, but I definitely see this as skill that needs to be honed.

Overall, this was an excellent talk, and I’m very excited about the future of social network analysis and the research that can come from using these tools.


About Mike Brownstein

I'm a Political Science MA student, and taking Tech 621 at Purdue University
This entry was posted in Commentary, Links, Personal Reflections, Social Media Tools, Social Sciences, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to NodeXL and SNA with Marc A. Smith at Purdue

  1. Pingback: Internet Culture Live! | The Internet Industrial Complex

  2. It is indeed a concern that oftentimes researchers do not have access to the tremendous amount of data users created on the internet. However, in terms of studying Internet culture, the situation is already much better than having to go live with a group of people and collect the data via observation (ethnography). I know researchers still need to do ethnography, but I think we are luckier for getting large amount relatively unbiased data in a short time.
    In terms of the “Fad” issue, things on the internet do change fast. What value always is the culture, the behavior, the pattern behind it, and the thoughts big thinkers and researchers put into it.

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