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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Role of Geography in Social Networks: CouchSurfing as a Case Study

  • Author(s): Pultar, Edward
  • et al.

Social networks are ubiquitous in the mobile information society of the present day. Here the focus is on social networks that depend on the physical and virtual locations of their users in order to provide various services. In these contemporary social networks both virtual and physical presence is a requirement. This research examines travel behavior using an Internet-based website, CouchSurfing, which provides free lodging with local residents. Increases in computing power and accessibility have led to novel e-travel techniques and the users of such systems utilize an amalgamation of social networks, transportation networks, and data communication networks. Thus the focus is on how the geographical spread of people in a modern, digital social network influences the travel choices of each individual in the network. In this dissertation a general model is presented that describes traveler behavior using a cost-free lodging network. Also presented for this type of travel behavior is an information representation and visualization methodology utilizing time-geographic dimensions. Two surveys with human participants were completed as part of this research. One survey concerns the factors that affect the number of times an individual participates in an activity in the network: being a host or guest. The other data set collected for this work examines social capital and how it is influenced by geography and the distinct roles a person can play within the social network. The chapters are tied together in their focus on travel using Internet-based social networking and lead to new conclusions about the power and potential for contemporary social networks. These conclusions include a conceptual model of travel using a hybrid social network, the value of playing different roles in a social network, and the importance of geography in a social network.

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