Monday, August 03, 2009

The Canvass of Complex Relationships; Facebook, Twitter and More!

One of the most amazing, but complex aspects of our lives is the fact that we invariably indulge in constantly evolving relationships with others. We mature, we develop new ones, sever some of the old ones, while move on from certain others. In other words, relationships mean to us a lot more than a binary outcome of "presence" or "absence". Sometimes some relationships to us just pause, they are neither continued nor broken.

There has been a lot of hue and cry over the Web in the recent past over Twitter and Facebook. And how they are getting more and more intertwined with our lives today. And also how they could possibly take over our entire notion of social presence. And also sometimes how maintaining profile and activity on each of them can be monotonous, tedious and time-consuming. However, I think that these online social networks have a long way to go to actually reflect our social lives transparently. Or at least computational social science, as a research field, is yet to acknowledge several of the complex manner in which networks evolve in practice, and in particular characterizing the complex social relationships embedded in our daily lives.

Come to think about the point I raised earlier in this blog - that social relationships evolve thereby impacting the way networks as a whole evolve. Unfortunately, computational social science so far, looks at network evolution merely at the level of a binary variable - relationships emerge and relationships die. However, in my view, a much more comprehensive understanding of the relationships needs to be accounted for in these social networks / media like Facebook and Twitter. I am sure each one of us would agree that several of the relationships with people on our Facebook profiles have changed from the time we made them "friends". Unfortunately, there is no way to account for these changes on the social network itself.

A possible way to understand evolving relationships could be to look at the explicit mentions of changes - e.g. two people mentioning each other in the "In a Relationship" field on Facebook. Or sometimes even implicitly - e.g. communication patterns. But still, there could be several unforeseen instances which might account for the evolution of a relationship.

My hypothetical solution would be to consider the dynamics of communication and other user activities across different social media. As we all would agree, our presence on different social network serve different purposes, so does our social roles change across each of them. Hence a change likely to trigger the evolution of a relationship might get reflected on one social network, while might remain rather passive on the other. A comprehensive modeling of our multi-modal actions and multi-modal communication, I believe, can explain greatly the complexity of evolution of relationships in reality.

Hopefully this would be a segment of my research this year! Look forward to it. As always, driven by life experiences, and motivated by the plethora of bliss showered on us by the Web in particular, and Computer Science in general! Cheers to "computational social science" :)


Aravind Krishna K said...

Good post. This point is very thought-provoking -- how to characterize the complex social relationships embedded in our daily lives, from the activities acorss online SNs!

And, I do agree and believe in this idea -- "A comprehensive modeling of our multi-modal actions and multi-modal communication, I believe, can explain greatly the complexity of evolution of relationships in reality. " ... can't wait for your take on the multi-modal stuff soon :D

Ravi Gummadi said...

Good post....

But personally I think that the social lives and online social activity are not always related to each other.

Look at this hypothetical situation:
A guy who has a lot of friends in his "real" social life might have less time to spend on online SNs and develop new relations online - compared to - a loner who spends all his life in front of the computer trying to make up for his lack of social activity by trying to develop new relationships with the strangers.

An important aspect with the online activity is that - even an introvert can act like an extrovert since his is not communicating "directly" with the other party.