Daniela Stoltenberg / Daniel Maier

Descriptive Methods for Investigating Dynamics in Online Networks

The importance of communication networks and their dynamics has become more obvious with the rise of digital technologies. Still, network analysis methods have only recently become more common in the field of communication research and most of this work treats the networks as static systems. However, static network snapshots permit only limited insights into the dynamics that drive networks. Our essay provides a selective overview of methods that are useful in describing dynamic communication networks. The type of communication network (i.e., instantaneous contact networks vs. more enduring interval networks) and the temporal research focus (i.e., long-term dynamics vs. short-term processes running on the network) influence the choice of network analytical methods. Some methods and measures from the standard network analysis toolkit can (cautiously) be used in combination with time-series analysis for dynamic networks. Others are unique to dynamic network analysis and specifically require a fine-grained time-ordered data structure. A dynamic framework of time-ordered networks allows researchers to correctly portray, e.g., how content travels through a network.

Keywords: social network analysis, dynamic network, network evolution, networked process