For the past year, Matt and I (Nate) have been conducting research into the social capital that can be found online in blog networks. Why should you care? Well, first off, you're reading a blog so you must have some interest in the overall blogging community. But more importantly, blogs are being used to establish the identity of people, places and products. In today's online age, the potential of blogs is tremendous. Here's a quick summary of our research.
What: Analysis has been done on the explicit connections (links, comments, friend lists) between blogs. Little work has been done regarding the implicit connections (interests, hobbies, location) that exist between blog authors. We are conducting research into methods of using both explicit and implicit connections in social network analysis.
How: We have retrieved a large archive of blog content for use in our research. An explicit social network of the content is created from the hyper links found in the blog content. Using topic extraction methods such as Latent Dirichlet Allocation, a network of implicit connections is constructed. Overlaying the implicit network on the explicit network allows for potential and actual connections or social capital to be identified. A example graphical representation of one of these networks, which we created using Cytoscape, is found below.
Why: Information about actual social communities, and the implicit similarities that exist between them, can be used to recommend potentially valuable actions that could be taken. For example, a politician could contact influential blogs and attempt to convince them to lead a grassroots campaign for his candidacy. A doctor could use social network analysis to identify and coordinate with colleagues in order to help patients with rare diseases. Companies could approach blogs that are found in the center of their customer market about participating in usability testing or marketing campaigns. Conducting social network analysis on blogging communities has valuable potential in many domains.
You can learn more of the details about our research here at our lab wiki.