Andris 2016 – Social networks in GIS

As outlined in the CyberGIS articles, rapidly increasing quantities of geo-/ socially-referenced information is being generated. Andris (2016) argues that the existing theoretical and technical infrastructures of Social Networks (SN) and GISystems are insufficiently integrated for efficient geosocial analysis.

The author proposes a stronger embedding of SN systems in geographic space. In their framework, a node (geospatial agent) in a SN has its geolocation information formalised in the concept of an ‘anthropospace’. Unlike previous descriptions of human movement (e.g. life paths, anchor points), the anthropospace is a fluid concept which can refer to points, lines, areas, probability clouds associated with a social agent’s ‘activities’. I think this terminology is compelling in its universality, but may (as emphasised by the author) present challenges in a GIS setting. For instance, how should GIS deal with nodes that have different types/ scales of anthropospace?

The idea of non-Euclidean geometries and network analyses are not new in Geography. For instance, the time it takes for a human agent to traverse geographic space forms a highly variable non-Euclidean metric space over the Earth, which might be constrained by a transport network or the individual’s characteristics. The additional difficulty with SNs is dealing with the transient/ ambiguously defined geolocations of nodes. To address this, the concept of ’social flows’ are introduced to signify social connections in geographic space. The calculation of a ‘socially-bounded’ Scotland was a particularly amusing (/troubling) example. Of course, social flow can only be derived from proxies for social connection (like phone calls).

I’m not convinced Andris’s system represents a definitive framework for resolving SN and GIS, but it does offer significant insights and examples. Further work would be necessary to persuade readers that the suggested typologies are exhaustive, non-arbitrary, and widely useful. Would a technical fix (making GIS software more SN compatible) solve this problem? I agree with the author that a conceptual understanding also needs to be advanced.

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