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Tactical Information Systems Blog

Social Networks and Flocks of Birds

We use several different visualization tools to comprehend large networks and their relationships.  When I stumbled upon this video, it immediately reminded me of our visualizations of Facebook data.

This video is of starlings in flight, called a murmuration (such a cool word).  There is no leader, there is no coordinator, there is no central control. Each bird is following its own set of rules in its tiny brain, but together the swarm exhibits what appears to be controlled behavior. We like to think of ourselves as really advanced compared to birds, but sociology tells us that in large groups we aren't all that different from any other animal herd.

I think that if you could look at trends in real-time across Facebook, they would look something like this. Some trend garners the attention of a small group on Facebook, and that ripples throughtout the localized network for a while, showing a brief concentration. Then, just as quickly it disperses and the collective decides to focus on other things.  

I don't know what data mining tools Facebook has, but I like the think they could see their network this way. If I worked there, I would probably never leave the office.

It is a fascinating time to be a data scientist. Before the Internet and large social networks, there was no way to measure the collective behavior of large groups of people.