Jen Golbeck's textbook is an integrated introduction to the research side of social networking. It combines two perspectives. The first is the technical world of mathematics and computer science; it focuses on the structural properties of networks. Readers learn formal definitions of nodes, edges, and network components; methods for summarizing network structure and relationships between nodes; and how to use software to visualize and explore networks.
The second perspective comes from the social world of anthropology, psychology, and business. Readers learn about different types of interpersonal relationships, the importance of trust and privacy, how information (and disease) spreads through networks, and how information can be summarized across connections to produce recommendations. There are several chapters on how different kinds of organizations use social media and that illustrate practical applications of the ideas introduced in the book. And there is a final summary chapter about the role social networking might play in a zombie apocalypse. Yeah. The author says she is surprised the publisher let her keep it in. But it works.
This is a well-written introductory text. It presents and elaborates key concepts without overwhelming the reader with too much technical detail. It provides references and links to more advanced material. It makes good use of the open-source Gephi network analysis tool, show readers how to analyze their own Facebook and email connections. The author makes this easy by providing a lot of material on the book's web site--including a set of brief, focused video tutorials on the use of Gephi.
For anyone interested in social network analysis, this is a great place to start. Like the best college professors, the book teaches you what you need to know, helps you master and begin to apply it, and then points you onward to more advanced study. Nicely done. Readers might follow this book with Mining the Social Web, which takes a more technical approach, or with Network Graph Analysis and Visualization with Gephi which focuses on the software.