Social science is often concerned with the emergence of collective behavior out of the interactions of large numbers of individuals, but in this regard it has long suffered from a severe measurement problem-namely that interactions between people are hard to observe, especially at scale, over time, and at the same time as observing behavior. In this talk, I will argue that the technological revolution of the Internet is beginning to lift this constraint. To illustrate, I will describe several examples of internet-based research that would have been impractical to perform until recently, and that shed light on some longstanding sociological questions. Although internet-based research still faces serious methodological and procedural obstacles, I propose that the ability to study truly "social" dynamics at individual-level resolution will have dramatic consequences for social science.
Duncan Watts is a principal research scientist at Yahoo! Research, where he directs the Human Social Dynamics group. He is also an adjunct senior research fellow at Columbia University, and an external faculty member of the Santa Fe Institute and Nuffield College, Oxford. His research on social networks and collective dynamics has appeared in a wide range of journals, from Nature, Science, and Physical Review Letters to the American Journal of Sociology. He is also the author of Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age
(W.W. Norton, 2003) and Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness
(Princeton University Press, 1999). He holds a B.Sc. in Physics from the University of New South Wales, and Ph.D. in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from Cornell University.