Scathing critique of "social" sites: "The Social Graph is Neither"


17 Responses to “Scathing critique of "social" sites: "The Social Graph is Neither"”

  1. Nadreck says:

    Nice use of “Poindexter”.  A sadly neglected “Felix The Cat” character: so much so that some earlier versions of the OED, before the intervention of the “Friends Of Felix”, incorrectly attributed this meme to a much later media occurrence.  

  2. Sirkowski says:

    “Do I really want to find out that my pastor and I share the same dominatrix?”


    • atimoshenko says:

      I always go to my pastor when I need help finding a good dominatrix… and if he cannot help, to my kids kindergarten teacher.

  3. SedanChair says:

    D…don’t friend your dominatrix?

  4. GertaLives says:

    Honestly, I find this sort of argument against mathematical modeling to be dismissive and lazy. No, we can’t provide all the details of most complex systems by models alone. But does it matter? Even if it’s possible to capture all the details of a system with a complex model, that’s not the point of most models anyway. Many modeling approaches, especially those with a solid analytical basis, are about distilling complex interactions into something more tractable where we can learn about fundamental behaviors or drivers of the system that might not be apparent otherwise. Focusing on particular aspects of a system isn’t “creepy,” it’s potentially illuminating, and it’s the basis for most scientific endeavor.

    I’m dismayed to hear my colleagues (microbiologists) often dismissing mathematical models as being too “simple,” or complaining that they strip the “beauty” away from the real world. Models don’t aim to be complete representations (why should they be when we can look at the actual, complete system when that happens to be our focus?), and they can provide perspective on the true beauty in the world by helping us to wrap our minds around it.

    • Jonathan Badger says:

      Or as the statistician George Box wrote: “Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.” (sometimes simplified to “all models are wrong but some are useful”)

    • Balaji Sriram says:

      I am in almost complete agreement with the above comment. I would like to add this: If you feel that  these models trivialize social interactions, please provide an alternative. Something objective. Something that makes predictions. Something that at least has the virtue of being wrong. 

  5. Jonathan Badger says:

    I’ve never bought the OMG! Social networks can expose your vices (use of dominatrix, drinking, whatever) hysteria. People should decide what sort of entertainments they like and if these go against whatever prudish moral code they claim to uphold, that is a really good sign that they they ought to decide which is more important to them — the entertainments or the code, and adjust one to meet the requirements of the other.

  6. robdobbs says:

    “…simplifying the relationships they model to the point of triviality.”Isn’t this a fairly accurate definition of what a model is?

    “…the Uncanny Valley, that weird phenomenon from computer graphics…”
    I believe this term/concept predates CGI by quite a bit. Wikipedia has this to say: “The term was coined by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori as Bukimi no Tani Genshō (不気味の谷現象) in 1970″

    Would it be wrong to say this author blablabla to the point of triviality?

  7. Alexander Loewi says:

    Can your computer do EVERYTHING?
    No. Do you complain about that?
    Can social networks do EVERYTHING?
    Of course not, you fool.
    But can they be used, by trained social scientists, to perform rigorous analyses, taking directly into account every one and more of the obvious shortcomings you pretend nobody else has thought of, of behavioral phenomena that, in conjunction with the computational power available today, shed significant light on processes of information availability, job procurement, educational attainment, physical health, political beliefs, and I can’t read everything from the last 60 years to make this list exhaustive?
    Uh, yes. Yes, they can.

    I’m sorry—social graphs come from sociology. The substance of this ten-page strawman can be compressed to—People who aren’t trained as sociologists aren’t as good at sociology, and modeling things is too tempting to avoid, despite being hard. Which are valid points. But also, dare I say it, “trivial”?

    (I don’t restrict the response to online networks because this is an indictment of network methodology in general, just fueled by examples of bad science from online. But the notions that networks have to be studied online, or that there can’t be digitized IRL networks, are both absurd. In particular, because they’ve both already happened—one about 6 years ago, the other about 60.)

  8. rationall says:

    Having mostly read commentary today on the death of Flash which as you can imagine was largely religious-war drivel, its truly refreshing to see that there is in fact a place where thoughtful, interesting comments can be found…

  9. AbleBakerCharlie says:

    I’m getting the sense thus far that the complete text is not getting read… He has been actively involved in the guts of social media and acknowledges that there is utility to the likes of sociologists and the like in representing social relationships as graphs. He’s not dim. What he’s primarily noting is that what the likes of Facebook do is the reverse- trying to cram real-life social relations back into the little toy model creates something wholly unlike, and sometimes downright hostile to, real world relationships, but really friendly to people trying to sell you shit, and that’s an observation I think anyone whose has gotten over the new platform honeymoon period has concluded and they’ve seen all the envy-inducing vacation photos and got their first friend request from their weird office mate.  The only social relationship we feel the need to publicly establish past the age of three are marriages, and yet we have this goofy framework for taking every human interaction, stripping them of distinction (is there a dropdown for selecting “long standing unrequited crush you having a good working relationship with but would rather not have your cousin know you still talk to?”,) and then making them public, which is itself a social action, and the resulting weirdness of goldplating and mummifying often tenuous relationships, and serve up the resulting flood of personal intelligence to advertisers, who have…unfortunate tendencies.  It’s just odd. It’s what happens when you sit down with the kids in the dorm who were trying to work out dating prospects with a spreadsheet and proceed to be baffled why they don’t get dates.

  10. professor says:

    On the plus side, it does create a rather splendid design model for a Worksafe-compliant sea urchin!

  11. Guest says:

    Huh. These would be the same social networks that we’ve employed the near-mythically rare foreign language analysts to monitor?


  12. Richard Hundt says:

    The only rational way to look at social networking platforms is in the same as any other software: tools which serve a purpose.

    Some people use LinkedIn as an address book, some to find jobs, some to do research, find business opportunities, etc. Facebook is a source of engagement and entertainment for many people. Very many people. Obviously. So it’s a pretty useful tool which serves its purpose well.

    I seriously doubt that Facebook (for instance) make any pretenses at accurately reflecting something as complex as human relationships. What they *do* have is a useful abstraction thereof, which fits a fairly narrow slice of the full spectrum of use cases. Other social networking sites focus on a different part of the spectrum. There are dating sites, Twitter, Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business, Social CRM tools, the list goes on.

    Social networking platforms implement abstractions which are only true insofar as they are useful. Period. The same can be said for any model.

    The argument in the article is built taking the word “social” out of its context. The “social” in “social graph” is understood to mean “a digital representation of a person and their relationships”. Nobody pretends that the node *is* the person. Just a representation. Why should anyone pretend that the edges connecting any such representations are anything more than representations themselves?

    So, given that it’s software; given that it’s an abstraction, and given the context; social graphs are certainly both.

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