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Social Web: The Great Tipping Point Test

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Social connections

A data revolution that can help us understand social connections

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Every move you make, every twitter feed you update, somebody is watching you. You may not think twice about it, but if you use a social networking site, a cellphone or the internet regularly, you are leaving behind a clear digital trail that describes your behaviour, travel patterns, likes and dislikes, divulges who your friends are and reveals your mood and your opinions. In short, it tells the world an awful lot about you.

Now, as any researcher will tell you, good data is gold dust. Its absence leaves theories in the realm of speculation, and worse, poor data can lead you down blind alleys. Physics was the first science to be transformed by accurate information, first with telescopes that revealed the heavens and culminating in massive modern-day experiments like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland. Biology was next, with genome sequencing throwing up so much of the stuff that genetics has turned partly into an information science.

Now the study of human behaviour is heading the same way. Social scientists have long had to rely on crude questionnaires or interviews to gather data to test their theories; methods marred by reporting bias and small survey sizes. For decades, the field has been looked down upon by some as a poor cousin to the hard sciences. The digital age is changing all that—practically overnight, the study of human behaviour and social interactions has switched, from having virtually no hard data to drowning in the stuff...

From New Scientist
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