KDnuggets : News : 2007 : n23 : item26 < PREVIOUS | NEXT >


Social Networking for Zebras

Scientists are developing a new branch of network theory to understand zebra communities

Julie J. Rehmeyer, ScienceNews.org

Facebook hasn't yet opened up a site for zebras. Even so, social networking is taking off for them, too. By using social network theory to understand how zebras interact, scientists hope to explain why the plains zebra is thriving while the Grevy's zebra is endangered.

But to apply network theory to that problem, researchers need to develop wide-ranging new theoretical tools. The same concepts that can explain the zebra problem are also useful for tackling problems as wide-ranging as tracking terrorists, controlling the spread of diseases, and recommending products to consumers.


First, Berger-Wolf is redefining the most basic concepts of network theory to make them work in a graph that reflects changes over time. Even the definition of a community has to be changed for dynamic networks. To take a very simple example, suppose that two zebras always hang out together, while a third is with them half the time. Is the third zebra a part of the group or not? If the third zebra joins the first two halfway through the study period, and then spends time with them consistently, we'd probably want to say yes. If the third zebra comes and goes, we might say no. She presented her new methods in August at the International Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining in San Jose, Calif.

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KDnuggets : News : 2007 : n23 : item26 < PREVIOUS | NEXT >

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