In Mining the Social Web Matthew A Russell offers to instruct in identifying social connections, trends in discussion and locations by tapping into social media data. He succeeds in spades. This fast-paced and rich handbook jumps right into the fray and provides an immediate and useful exercise in accessing the Twitter API using python and doing a very quick visualisation of trending subjects. I was hooked and greedily and immediately consumed a few more of his lessons. His approach is to go direct to real world applications of why you’d want to mine data from social media such as Twitter, Buzz, Facebook and utilise other freely available tools such as Google Maps to look for patterns and present solid research findings.
As he asserts, all the user needs is some programming background and a willingness to learn basic Python tools. Fair requirements. I am no python wizard, but I found clear instructions and come away feel far more comfortable with python and available frameworks after proceeding through exercises in the book. Russell takes you through exercises step by step and provides all the instruction necessary to guide you along. The book is hands-on heavy and you do have to be willing to play along with goodly chunks of code. This is not a light browsable book. Although it does allow for some skipping about, it is the sort of volume that engages with the reader/practitioner and naturally leads you along. The exercises do assume some degree of background with data analysis. Although expressed in as simple a language as possible, certainly when getting into natural language processing for example, some background in general terms, processes and methodologies in NLP are expected. However, this should not put anyone off and I was impressed that this formed a quick and useful introduction to the craft because Russell does such a superb job of rooting the theory in everyday language and practice.
I was similarly impressed with the authors inclusion of exercises in mining your own mailbox for useful analysis and how to conduct natural language processing on blog feeds, not just sticking with the sexier and trendier flashy social media tools today. This is a very comprehensive and thoughtful approach to the avalanche of explorable data available from our social existence and Russell provides an extremely approachable and superbly crafted volume. For anyone interested in stepping beyond simple participation and taking a thoughtful view of how social media is changing our lives, this is the book of reference. What’s more I really just simply enjoyed this book. Highly recommended!