Putting the Sex in SNA: Hook up Networks

Imagine you are a network scientist meeting new people in a bar. At one point, there is always the question: “So what is your research topic?”. Shocked and horrified, you are looking for an answer that does not scare away your new acquaintance. “algorithmic graph theory”? Sounds to nerdy. “social network analysis” ? Sounds better but you are tired of explaining that this is not the same as browsing facebook all day. Maybe an example from your work! “Protein Interaction Networks”? Oh god i had too many beers to explain that.

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Friends and Hypergraphs: The One With All The Networks

Undoubtedly, Friends is one of my favorite tv series. I guess i am not the only one there, since the hosting of all episodes on netflix created quite a stir in the online community. The story of the show is quite easy to follow: Ross loves Rachel, Ross dates Rachel, Rachel breaks up with Ross, Rachel loves Ross, Ross marries Rachel, Ross divorces Rachel, Ross loves Rachel, Ross and Rachel have a happy end. Oh yeah between all the Rachel Ross dilemmas, Monica marries Chandler, Phoebe sings smelly cat and Joey does all kinds of shenanigans. So the question is, is the “Ross and Rachel” story the most central element of the show?
To answer this question, I am gonna look at a dataset of shared plotlines throughout the whole show. That is, which subset of the six characters appeared  together in in a plot during an episode. These plots can range from simply hanging out together in Central Perk to some hanky-panky in the bedroom. We can see a shared plotline as some form of interaction and therefore analyse the show from a network perspective. Great! That is my area of expertise! However, what renders the analysis a bit more complicated is the fact, that plotlines can consist of more than two characters, creating a link with more than two endpoints. So we are not just dealing with a regular network, but with a hypergraph.

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