Computational Social Science, Big Data, and its Commercial Applications

There is a new scientific discpline emerging out of the rich data produced by social media applications. It goes by the name of computational social science and is nicely described in this article written by Jim Giles, published in the journal Nature (full reference below). Here is a short quote from the article:

“It’s been really transformative,” says Michael Macy, a social scientist at Cornell and one of 15 co-authors of a 2009 manifesto seeking to raise the profile of the new discipline. “We were limited before to surveys, which are retrospective, and lab experiments, which are almost always done on small numbers of college sophomores.” Now, he says, the digital data-streams promise a portrait of individual and group behaviour at unprecedented scales and levels of detail.

This new scientific discipline has significant business implications as well. You can now find hundreds of commercial products on the market trying to leverage so called Big Data (here is a recent blog post by the Harvard Business Review on mining big customer data). One niche in this market is the measurement of online influence, which has been summarized in an article by the New York Times as follows:

Companies with names like Klout, PeerIndex and Twitter Grader are in the process of scoring millions, eventually billions, of people on their level of influence — or in the lingo, rating “influencers.” Yet the companies are not simply looking at the number of followers or friends you’ve amassed. Rather, they are beginning to measure influence in more nuanced ways, and posting their judgments — in the form of a score — online.

Klout seems to be the market leader in this niche. Here is some press coverage on how Klout works from the wired magazine and The Economist. Very recently, William Ward, Social Media Professor of Syracruse University, pointed my to an interesting video interview by Brian Solis with Klout’s CEO, Joe Fernandez. I have embedded the interview below.



Giles, J. (2012). Computational Social Science: Making the Links. Nature, 488(7412), 448–450. doi:10.1038/488448a

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David Wagner

Post Doc/Assistant Professor, Digital Strategy & Innovation, German Graduate School of Management and Law (GGS)

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