I attended the SNA session at the CETIS conference hosted by Lorna, Sheila, Tony and Martin. Before the session I had blogged about some of the questions I had on SNA and although I think I have more new questions than answers I feel like things are much clearer now. My mind is still going over the conversations that were had at the session but these are the main themes and some early thoughts that I came away with.

What are the quick wins?
At the start of the session Sheila asked the question ‘What are the quick wins?’.   While Tony and Martins presentations were excellent I think it is hard for people who don’t have their head regularly in this space to replicate the techniques quickly. Lorna said that although she understood what was happening in the SNA examples there was some ‘secret magic that she couldn’t replicate when doing it for herself, Tony agreed that when you work in this area for a while you start to develop a workflow and understand some of the quirks of the software. I could relate to Lorna’s dilema as it took me a few hours of using Gephi just to know exactly when I needed to force quit the program and start all over again.

So for people who want to find out useful information about social networks but don’t have the time to get into the secret magic of SNA can we develop quick and simple tools that answer quick and simple questions?

The crossover between data driven visualisations and SNA
The session helped me make a clear distinction between Data Driven Journalism and SNA . While there is a crossover between the two the reasons for doing them are quite different. SNA is a way to study social networks and data driven visualisations are a way to convey a story to an audience. Although the two do cross over I found that making distinctions between them both helped me get to grips with the ‘why is it worth doing this’ question.

Data Validation
Martin made the point that when he was playing with PROD data to create visualisations he found that it was a great way of validating the data itself as he managed to spot errors and feed that back to Wilbert and myself.

Lies, Damned Lies and Pretty Pictures
Amber Thomas did a fantastic presentation, if you missed the session it is available here. I felt Amber had really thought about the ‘How is this useful?’ question and I felt lots of pieces of the puzzle click into place during the presentation. I really recommend spending the time to go through the slides.

Thanks to Sheila, Lorna, Amber, Tony and Martin for an interesting session.


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