Who are the three people you talk to the most? I asked this question of everyone on my First Year Hall and was surprised to see how people fit together. There was no real use for this small data set of mine, but the visual representation of social networks that comes with large data sets can be incredibly useful.
Nicholas Christakis is a doctor and sociologist who uses social network analysis to predict the spread of epidemics. By understanding who is interacting, we can more easily predict how disease will spread and, consequently, prevent the spread of disease. Here is a TedTalk by Christakis where he discussed this interdisciplinary work:
A completely different, but equally as interesting use for social network analysis is counterterrorism work. Social network analysis was a key part of capturing Osama Bin Laden. By tracking the people in Bin Laden’s network, and using other information, his hiding location was discovered. While social network analysis cannot stand alone as the only useful tool for counterinsurgency, the principals behind it can prove very useful.