Deriving Social Networks from Mobile Phone Data: Benefits and Challenges

By Jaime Settle

I’m going to present two articles at our meeting next week that both generate social network structure and interaction using data collected from mobile phones.

The Onnela et al. 2007 paper uses the call records from over 4,000,000 people to create a network which includes about 20% of a country’s entire population. The authors explore the relationship between local and global network topology and teh spread of information through the network, concluding that:

“Taken together, weak ties appear to be crucial for maintaining the network’s structural integrity, but strong ties play an important role in maintaining local communities. Both weak and strong ties are ineffective, however, when it comes to information transfer, given that most news in the real simulations reaches an individual for the first time through ties of intermediate strength” (p. 7336)

The Eagle, Pentland and Lazer 2009 paper uses proximity data generated from software embedded in cell phones to track the behavior of 94 students and faculty at a research university. They find that the observational data on proximity can better predict job satisfaction and friendship formation than respondent self-report.

Both articles represent major advances in our ability to collect data on social networks, however, they also raise interesting questions about what we are actually measuring as links between the nodes. I hope our discussion of the contributions and drawbacks of these two approaches will help us think through the operationalization of our own network research.

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One response to “Deriving Social Networks from Mobile Phone Data: Benefits and Challenges

  1. Great presentation yesterday! Informative and well presented.

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