Wow, what a week for Facebook and me! Nevermind the fact that results from the “So you want to be a scientist” project with Nina Jones went massive on BBC’s website (as the top story two days running with almost a million views). But much hard work and perseverance from colleagues of mine have turned into two fine new books work checking out. And, as you might have suspected, I’m featured in both of them. And so I’m happy to give two utterly biased reviews to two books on social media released this week. “Analyzing Social Media with NodeXL” and “The Facebook Era, 2nd ed.”. Details below.
The first is the new offering from the NodeXL team: “Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL: Insights from a Connected World”. This book is an introduction to social network analysis, particularly through the use of NodeXL, a rapidly evolving free set of social network analysis tools for Microsoft Excel 2007/2010. Sadly, it doesn’t work on a mac, but on windows (and parallels) it works wonders. NodeXL has always considered itself ‘social network analysis for the masses’. That is not to say it is watered down, so much as designed with an exceptional attention to user interface details. You will not find a lot of data manipulation tools or sophisticated regression models in NodeXL, but you will find some of the most straightforward tools for visualizing networks, clustering them, performing interactive filtering, and importing and exporting. But perhaps NodeXL’s marquee feature is its ability to tap into many of today’s prevailing APIs, such as Flickr, Twitter and YouTube. Using these APIs, it is possible to very rapidly download and visualize user and tag networks from these sources.
The NodeXL book is in many ways meant for the network newbie and the business practicioner. As such, you would think the tone would be simple and practical. For better or worse, however, the tone is actually thoughtful and deep in many places. Fortunately, the authors have a strong enough grasp of the material to keep things clear. I am personally impressed by their ability to walk this line. People may not be using NodeXL in its current state five or ten years down the road (or maybe the will), but in either case, this thoughtfulness will give this book a notable longevity.
I’m the author of the chapter on Facebook networks. NodeXL does not natively download Facebook networks, but it is possible to do this through my application, and through another application called NetVizz. I think my application could certainly look a little prettier, but it (usually) gets the job done. (Unless you have over 4000 nodes, then things tend to get a little touch and go). Look for improvements over the coming month.
The second book I received in the mail this week was Clara Shih’s “The Facebook Era”, Second Edition. Clara is a social media networking maven, and is building an impressive resume as the go-to person for building brands and businesses on Facebook. I thought the first edition of the book was a bit too straightforward in its focus on business brand building. It made the book handy for the complete neophyte to Facebook, but not for most others. By contrast, this version of the book is far more sophisticated in my opinion, while still preserving its focus on the target audience and its clear writing. In addition to several expanded sections on social media generally and some quasi-academic musings on social networks, this book includes many sidebars from the who’s who of social media research and practice. Clara has done a fantastic job lining up people to give their two cents on the topic, and the book is better for it. I’m among them giving a little report on the visualization of a Facebook network.
Its not often that I get to say I learned something new from trade business books on social media. I’m happy to report that this book was not simply clear and timely, but thoughtful and interesting.