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Barry Wellman recently discovered a possible network algorithm in
Google. Under 'More' on the Google search page you can find 'Google
Labs', and under that is 'Google Sets'. Google sets takes the first two
items in a series and grows it into a network of connections. It does
this through Google searches on the items.

For example, Barry input 'Barry Wellman' and 'Beverley Wellman'. Google
responded with the following network:

Barry Wellman
Ronald S Burt
Alain Degenne
John Scott
Nan Lin

Those of us in Barry's Google set had a brief discussion about what the
algorithm might be and whether there were any social network analysis
applications of the search tool. Our best guess was that the algorithm
was a search on the starter items that looked at a frequency count of
words appearing in the searches before choosing the next search item.
Crucial for this particular set seems to be book purchasing choices
through Amazon. Searches on the names come up with Amazon and similar
pages that have lots of built in cross-references such as pages recently
consulted, people who bought X also bought Y, if you liked A, then you
will like B, and so on.

It looks as if you need to have the two starter names connected in some
way that Google will find easily in order to generate a meaningful set.
Inputting two loosely connected names seems to produce a large and
apparently meaningless set. It would be interesting to know the actual
search algorithm to see if it is coming up with n-cliques, clusters, or
whatever,. It might then be a method for generating some sociometric
data. Are there any suggestions out there about what the algorithm is
and how it might be used?

To get you thinking, here are a couple of other Google-generated

Inputting the names of the editors of the ASR and the AJS (Jerry Jacobs
and Andrew Abbott) generated this list:

Jerry Jacobs 
Andrew Abbott 
Wayne C Booth 
Charles Tilly 
Erving Goffman 
Robert R Alford 
Robert K Yin 

What are the links there? And are they sociometrically relevant?

Starting the list with INSNA and the ASA generated a list of drug and
airline names, suggesting that some search items become crucial pivots -
because of their frequency score - in determining the direction of the
network: ASA shifts the network in the direction of drugs, while SAS
shifts it in the direction of airlines. (ASA is, apparently, a generic
brand name for aspirin in some countries). Here is the full set:
acetylsalicylic acid
salicylsalicylic acid
American Eagle
Northwest Airlink

I'd be interested to know what people think is going on in these
networks and what uses (if any) they think Google Sets might have in
social network analysis.

John Scott


Professor John Scott
Department of Sociology,
University of Essex,
Colchester CO4 3SQ
United Kingdom

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