Debunking myths on genetics and DNA

Friday, January 27, 2012

Have you been blogging lately?

I have to admit I'm obsessed with social networking. I have a love-hate relationship with the whole thing. Until last year I would've sworn I'd never jump the "networking" fence. My thoughts: "There's enough background noise already on the Internet." And: "I've got nothing interesting today."

Whether my posts are background noise or not, I'll leave it to you guys to decide, but I'm myself appalled by the fact that I've been blogging since last July and recently surpassed the threshold of 100 posts. That's not bad for somebody who thought they had nothing to say!

I can't help but wonder, though: what makes social networking so appealing? And how do people behave on the Internet? I've myself been on a couple of boards and found quite different behaviors, ranging from extremely aggressive to extremely supportive (yes, I love my G+ friends, absolutely love you guys!) From what I read about these things, the trend seems to be towards supportive. In fact, websites like Wikipedia and Foldit count on collaborative learning and crowdsourcing through networks based on the assumption that shared knowledge can rise over the background noise and provide meaningful advancements. A new research field has risen in order to analyze the huge amounts of data now available through the Internet.

It's mind boggling, isn't it?

All this to say that, much like I did in this post, I continue to avidly browse the literature looking for more info on social networks. Back when I wrote that post I hypothesized that "likes" on Facebook spread like viruses. My own experiment tells me that's not the case, but guess what? I did find something in the literature that mentions networks and viruses! Check it out:
"The user-generated content showed interesting viral-spreading patterns within blogs. Topical content such as news and political commentary spreads quickly by the hour and then quickly disappears, while non-topical content such as music and entertainment propagates slowly over a much long period of time [1]."
Ha! I knew I was right! Okay, I had the wrong "target." What's viral here is not the "likes" on Facebook, but blog content: for this particular study Cha et al. [1] analyzed 8.7 million posts from 1.1 million blogs -- wow, that's a lot!

Now, while I'm morbidly curious about these things, people smarter than me keep an eye on these data because of their economic value:
"Sentiments embedded in short text updates in social media have been shown to effectively predict and even precede the daily stock price variation (Bollen et al. 2011). Likewise, the blogosphere has been shown effective in capturing up-to-date news (Leskovec et al. 2009). In fact, a non-negligible fraction of news items shared in these social media are known faster than the traditional, authoritative news sources."
The paper lists several findings. First, when hey looked at the network structure of blogs, they saw a heavy-tailed distribution. Apparently, this is common to most network data: when you graph users vs. the amount of use/contribution to the network, you see few individuals contributing a lot (a spike in the graph), then a steep decline and a long tail indicating that the vast majority of the users contributes occasionally. Same with tweets, wikipedia edits, etc. However, unlike most other networks, blogs show much less reciprocity. That's understandable, as blogs are more intended as a means to publish content rather than exchange, giving rise to much less bidirectional nodes when you look at the blog graphs compared to posts on Facebook or Twitter.

The researchers also found that
"media content spreads according to two broad patterns: flash floods and ripples. The first group includes topical content such as news, political commentary, and opinion. Like flash floods, these types of content spread quickly by the hour and then quickly disappear. This demonstrates the role of blogs as a social medium that helps and influences how opinions form and spread on current issues. The second group includes non-topical content such as music and entertainment. Like ripples, old content (produced more than a year ago) can get rediscovered and again start gaining the attention of bloggers, albeit at a slow rate."

[1] Cha, M., PĂ©rez, J., & Haddadi, H. (2011). The spread of media content through blogs Social Network Analysis and Mining DOI: 10.1007/s13278-011-0040-x


  1. super interesting, thanks. I also thought I had no use for social networking until I discovered the joy of reading and posting "non-topical" content. It's great because in the huge blogosphere there are so many more folks that share interests! Now "social-networking" would be very hard to give up.

    1. Thanks so much for this, Hollis! And yes, I completely agree: I'm totally addicted! :)

      BTW, your blog is of course among the ones I really appreciate out there in the blogosphere!


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