The popularity of social networking has dramatically increased in recent years and today there are more than 1.11 billion Facebook users and 500 million Twitter accounts.  This growing popularity has led to a rise in the amount of data created daily, with Facebook reporting 665 million active users each day.

With the growing prevalence of users to post an abundance of information about their everyday lives, it provides an opportunity to monitor the data and identify patterns of behavior in individual users.  However, due to the vast amount of data produced by social networks on a daily basis, the analysis of this information cannot be performed with a mere software algorithm; rather it must be done using Big Data analysis.

What is Big Data?

Big Data is a collection of both structured and unstructured data sets that are so immense, ranging from a few dozen terabytes to several petabytes, the data is beyond the ability of regular software tools to capture, curate, manage, and process it within a reasonable period of time.  Unstructured data, which constitutes around 90 percent of Big Data, is made up of emails, social media posts, videos, mobile phone calls, and website clicks. Structured data makes up the remainder of Big Data and is information contained in databases.

Benefits of Analyzing Social Networks

The information contained in this data can unlock such things as market trends and consumer sentiment to assist in decision making.  However, an even greater benefit is the ability to recognize unusual or suspect behavior by users.  Further, since the main function of social networking is to connect with others, the same analysis can be performed on individuals in the user’s network.  In fact, the U.S. Government has already begun to invest in this tool, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded a $5.6 million grant in April 2013 to help fund research.

The National Security Agency also uses social network analysis in mapping radical cells by obtaining phone records from telecommunications providers in order to monitor suspicious activity.  Previously, authorities would simply monitor targeted individuals for contact with other individuals that might eventually lead to the head of the organization.  With the ability to now analyze the entire social network of an individual, authorities are able to connect all other users associated with the targeted individual and identify the group leader in a much shorter period of time.

To learn more about Big Data, read our recent post “The Hidden Value in Big Data.”

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