Background: Digital networks, mobile devices, and the possibility of mining the ever-increasing amount of digital traces that we leave behind in our daily activities are changing the way we can approach the study of human and social interactions. Large-scale datasets, however, are mostly available for collective and statistical behaviors, at coarse granularities, while high-resolution data on person-to-person interactions are generally limited to relatively small groups of individuals. Here we present a scalable experimental framework for gathering real-time data resolving face-to-face social interactions with tunable spatial and temporal granularities.
Methods and findings: We use active Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) devices that assess mutual proximity in a distributed fashion by exchanging low-power radio packets. We analyze the dynamics of person-to-person interaction networks obtained in three high-resolution experiments carried out at different orders of magnitude in community size. The data sets exhibit common statistical properties and lack of a characteristic time scale from 20 seconds to several hours. The association between the number of connections and their duration shows an interesting super-linear behavior, which indicates the possibility of defining super-connectors both in the number and intensity of connections.
Conclusions: Taking advantage of scalability and resolution, this experimental framework allows the monitoring of social interactions, uncovering similarities in the way individuals interact in different contexts, and identifying patterns of super-connector behavior in the community. These results could impact our understanding of all phenomena driven by face-to-face interactions, such as the spreading of transmissible infectious diseases and information.