Social network of email between countries shows homophily between culturally similar nations

A new study of email traffic between countries finds some patterns:

The Internet was supposed to let us bridge continents and cultures like never before. But after analyzing more than 10 million e-mails from Yahoo! mail, a team of computer researchers noticed an interesting phenomenon: E-mails tend to flow much more frequently between countries with certain economic and cultural similarities.

Among the factors that matter are GDP, trade, language, non-Commonwealth colonial relations, and a couple of academic-sounding cultural metrics, like power-distance, individualism, masculinity and uncertainty…

To this point, of course, the study amounts to little more than very interesting trivia. The real conclusion comes toward the end, when the researchers posit it as possible evidence for Samuel Huntington’s controversial “Clash of Civilizations” theory. From the paper:

In this respect we cautiously assign a level of validity to Huntington’s contentions, with a few caveats. The ?rst issue was already mentioned – overlap between civilizations and other factors contributing to countries’ level of association. Huntington’s thesis is clearly re?ected in the graph presented in Figure 3, but some of these civilizational clusters are found to be explained by other factors in Table 5. The second limitation concerns the fact that we investigated a communication network. There is no necessary “clash” between countries that do not communicate, and Huntington’s thesis was concerned primarily with ethnic con?ict.

Interesting what can be done with data from more than 10 million emails.

I wonder if it is even worth doing this analysis at the country level. Isn’t this too broad? Aren’t there likely to be important patterns within and across countries that are obscured by this broader lens?

Another possible issue: is Yahoo mail a representative sample of emails or does it provide a particular slice of of email traffic? I would assume it involves more personal email as opposed to business activity.

Users spend more time on Facebook than Google’s sites

According to figures from August, web users in the United States now spend more time per day on Facebook than Google’s sites (which includes YouTube). This can’t be good news for Google – but it shows the power of Facebook:

In August, people spent a total of 41.1 million minutes on Facebook, comScore said Thursday, about 9.9% of their Web-surfing minutes for the month. That just barely surpassed the 39.8 million minutes, or 9.6%, people spent on all of Google Inc.’s sites combined, including YouTube, the free Gmail e-mail program, Google news and other content sites.

U.S. Web users spent 37.7 million minutes on Yahoo Inc. sites, or 9.1% of their time, putting Yahoo third in terms of time spent browsing. In July, Facebook crept past Yahoo for the first time, according to comScore.

Facebook appears to be growing more and more popular. Google can’t figure out a way to introduce social connectivity throughout their sites – whatever happened to Google Wave?

Emerging businesses looking for social scientists who can data mine and use statistics

The Economic Times of India contains an interview with Prabhakar Raghavan, chief scientist for Yahoo! and head of their labs. Raghavan talks about their studies of social networking and social influence. Then Raghavan was asked about the people undertaking these studies:

What is the percentage of social scientists in Yahoo! Labs who anchor such work ?

They constitute around 10% of our people. We are interested in social scientists who can work on data mining. But in most colleges, the sociology department doesn’t teach data mining and the statistics department does not offer sociology. That’s why emerging businesses face a serious dearth of such social scientists.

A reminder that all sorts of businesses are looking for sociology students who are well-versed in statistics (and data mining). Since many students don’t think sociology and statistics naturally go together, it is up to colleges (and sociology statistics instructors) to help them put it together. Sociology may often be billed as a discipline that will help students understand, analyze, and change the world but one often needs to be able to work with and analyze data in these efforts.

This interview is also a reminder that social scientist degree holders are not just relegated to a career in academia.