After showing my graduate students how neat network analysis is – and admitting that the idea to do this analysis is indeed bright – I, like Steve Corman, feel that it is important to keep in mind the way data are generated. While network models try to show that people are not independent (and in that sense, there is a family resemblance to HLM models), in the case that Valdis beautifully shows there IS the problem of artificial generation of "buddies", and therefore the mechanical generation of data-dependence. In essence, buyers' de-facto tastes were generated by the computerized persuasion system, and we cannot assume that these tastes are independent of the machine-generated-buddy-list. Steve is accurate in suggesting that Amazon at least partly manufactures these data, capitalizing on the first purchasers' tastes – so we might be seeing the logic of capitalistic amplifying machineries more than individuals' independent tastes or political views. This again tells us the 'be-cautious' tale that measurement and theory are linked in important ways, and that a theory about social behavior should "talk" with the appropriate theory of data generation.
Despite this minor critic of a beautifully undertaken project of a bright idea – Valdis's project can teach the 'manufacturers of consent' how to tinker with their 'buddying machine' so as to increase sales. After all, network analysis can become a powerful strategic tool in a powerful mode of production.
Either way – this neat study does tell a story of an American Soul…
Bravo for the ingenuity, Valdis!
Department of Sociology & Anthropology
School of Education
Rothberg School of Foreign Students
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
From: Social Networks Discussion Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Steven Corman
Sent: Wednesday, March 05, 2003 4:34 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: A window in the American souls -- politics and book co-purcha sing patterns
Wow, that's pretty interesting. Validis's writeup explains this structure as a reflection of political tendencies in the readers. However, I can think of at least one other generative mechanism. If Amazon's "buddy book" marketing is effective (and I'm pretty sure it is, because it regularly "gets" me), then the system tends to reproduce its own links. If there was any polarization in preferences when the system was launched, then new buyers would have been steered toward these same choices (and given limited budgets, therefore away from others). You could spin this out into friendship networks and back too: Discussing books with like-minded friends leads to recommendations for other books from a similar political perspective, which are then purchased and contribute to Amazon's data. Amazon's buddy book system may actually cause political polarization, and would appear to at least represent a source of intertia in that phenomenon.
Steven R. (Steve) Corman
Professor, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication
Arizona State University
Vice-Chair, Organizational Communication Division
International Communication Association
From: Steve Borgatti [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Tuesday, March 04, 2003 12:53 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: A window in the American souls -- politics and book
This page by Valdis has been making the rounds. It's pretty interesting ...
> <<Political Patterns on the WWW.url>>