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Exercise: who is the most powerful person in a social network?

Watch Dr David Millard introduce the idea of network analytics through a task which calculates the most powerful individual in a small social network.
Hello, again. In this activity, we’re going to try and apply some of what we learned about network properties and shapes in order to analyse a social network. And the question we’re going to try to answer is, which node in the network represents the most powerful person? So, I want you to imagine a simple office social network, looks a lot like Twitter– it’s very much a toy network. Workers can post updates, that’s small messages like Facebook updates, and they get sent to all of their followers. And they can also share links via the network. They can pass on messages that they receive to their followers by using a retweet mechanism.
That’s just putting a little RT in the text, just to show it’s a retweet of somebody else’s message. And they can reply to another directly by putting a username, beginning with an @, at the beginning of the message. So if we had this office network, how might we analyse it to find out who is the most powerful person? It’s worth pausing for a moment just to think what we mean by power. So in political philosophy, power is the production of intended effects. But this is really hard to measure in a social network, and that’s because very often the effects we want to look at are actually in the real world and not visible to our analytical tools.
So researchers looking at power and influence in a social network often use the idea of power finding communication theory. And that’s that power is one person’s ability to influence another person. Now that’s an action of sorts, but it’s quite a limited one. So in our example, we’re actually going to ask, who is the most influential person in the office network? So you’ve been given a document that describes this small office network in terms of people and their connections, and the tweets that they’ve sent. So download the first of the three help sheets and follow the instructions, in order to analyse the network and consider who is the most powerful and influential person.
And once you’ve done that, choose either one of the remaining help sheets and work through that too. And when you’re finished, watch Part 2 of this video. Good luck.

Watch this short video that introduces the idea of network analytics, and contains an activity to calculate the most powerful individual in a small social network using one of a number of different methods.

In the first part of this week we looked at the different shapes and properties that networks have. Now we have an ability to represent and describe them in this abstract way we can start to analyse them to answer questions about the things that they represent.

In this video we present an exercise to analyse the activity of a small office network, can we use the connections and messages to calculate who is the most influential person?

Exercise instructions

  1. Attached to this article you will find a PDF file that describes the activity in a small office-based social network. The social network works in a similar way to Twitter, in that users can follow one another, and post update messages. There are also a number of interesting features:

    • Updates can contain URLs (web links to interesting material).

    • Users can pass on messages using ‘Retweets’. This is normally done by acknowledging the original person (so for example ‘RT @Alice’ would be a retweet of a message originally send by Alice).

    • Users can message each other directly. This is done by starting a message with the name of the person the message is directed to (so for example ‘@Bob I agree’ is a message meant for Bob).

  2. Download the PDF of the example office network. It contains a description of the users and followers, and a description of a morning’s conversation.

  3. Once you have familiarised yourself with the network download the first help sheet. Read the sheet, and follow the instructions to analyse the network. The help sheet should help you identify an individual who is the most powerful.

  4. Once you have done this download one of the other two help sheets (you can pick at random, or simply choose the one that corresponds to the month in which you were born). Follow this second sheet to see how an alternative analysis might work.

  5. OPTIONAL – if you have time you may then download the final sheet and work through that as well.

Once you are finished you should watch the second part of the video in the next Step.

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The Power of Social Media

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