NETWORKS, CROWDS, AND MARKETS: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World

Cosma Shalizi reviews the new book at American Scientist:

ScreenHunter_11 Jul. 24 17.21 David Easley and Jon Kleinberg’s Networks, Crowds, and Markets is one of the first textbooks on what could reasonably be called network science—the study of networks of semiautonomous but interdependent units and of the way those networks shape both the behavior of individuals and the large-scale patterns that emerge from small-scale interactions. This is, of course, a very broad description, and it’s not at all obvious that a single book should try to explain, within a common framework, information search on the Web, the spread of epidemic diseases, patterns of scientific collaboration, and much else besides. That these topics are grouped together not by rambling paranoiacs (who find connections everywhere), but by sober, mathematically minded scientists, employing a common and coherent set of concepts, testifies to a remarkable change in perception over the past few decades among scientists and the general educated public: We now see networks everywhere.

Studies dealing with what we now recognize to be social networks go back to the years around 1900, when political economists, social reformers and muckraking journalists began looking at interlocking directorates of corporate boards and other institutions through which the ruling classes (as they were then called) coordinated their actions without actually having an executive committee. People spoke of “social circles.” By the 1950s, sociologists had a notion of social networks, a concept that had a small band of enthusiastic devotees but was an esoteric idea even within mathematical social science. Even 25 years ago, the idea of networks as a form of social organization was reasonably avant-garde. (One can trace some of this evolution in Linton C. Freeman’s 2004 book, The Development of Social Network Analysis, but a proper history of the “network” concept has not yet been written.)

Nowadays, companies whose sole and explicit purpose is the formalization of social networks have hundreds of millions of active customers. (Although they are not often seen this way, these firms are massive exercises in centrally planned social engineering, inspired by sociological theories.)

More here.