Some articles found in the press related to social media, and the use of social data in applications

Features April 14, 2011, 5:00PM EST text size: TT

This Tech Bubble Is Different

Tech bubbles happen, but we usually gain from the innovation left behind. This one—driven by social networking—could leave us empty-handed

By Ashlee Vance

In an Emergency, Word Spreads Fast and Far
Northeastern University News (04/04/11) Jason Kornwitz

New research from Northeastern University could transform the way in which real-time communications tools are used in potential tragedies. Northeastern network scientists studied the anonymous billing records of 10 million mobile phone subscribers in a western European country from 2007 to 2009, comparing call activity in the immediate aftermath of emergencies with scheduled activities such as rock concerts and sporting events. The study found that the greatest spike and quickest decline in call volume occurred after threatening disasters such as bombings and plane crashes, but call activity rose and fell more steadily after concerts and sporting events. In the most dangerous events, news spread quickly and efficiently from an eyewitness to individuals four links removed from the immediate social contacts, while news of less threatening events such as blackouts and minor earthquakes did not travel far beyond the immediate social links. "Information spreading is actually very rare," says study co-author James Bagrow. "This means that a population's innate reticence to communicate may naturally suppress false information and may explain why the disaster myth (the belief that panic is a common, widespread reaction to an emergency) continues to hold, even with today's constant communication."

Facebook Opens Up Its Hardware Secrets
Technology Review (04/08/11) Tom Simonite

Prior to launching its new super-efficient data center, Facebook plans to make the designs and specifications open to the public. The company wants to encourage software-style openness for hardware, and release enough information about the data center and servers that others could build them, says Facebook's David Recordon. The new data center will increase Facebook's total computing capacity by about 50 percent. The open hardware includes information about the building's electrical and cooling systems as well as the servers. The electrical design reduces the number of times that the electricity from the grid is run through a transformer to reduce its voltage on its way to the servers. A team led by Facebook's Jay Park also devised a new design for backup batteries that keeps servers running even during the brief power outage before the backup generators turn on. Instead of building one large battery store in a single room, the team used several cabinet-sized battery packs spread out among the servers. Park says a perfect data center would have a power usage efficiency (PUE) score of 1, and Facebook's new data center has a PUE of 1.07. "Facebook is successful because of the great social product, not [because] we can build low-cost infrastructure," says Facebook's Frank Frankovsky. "There's no reason we shouldn't help others out with this."

Police Lesson: Social Network Tools Have Two Edges
Published: April 6, 2011
Officer Trey Economidy of the Albuquerque police now realizes that he should have thought harder before listing his occupation on his Facebook profile as “human waste disposal.”...

Social Search, Without a Social Network
Technology Review (04/01/11) Tom Simonite

Google recently added a new social feature that enables users' friends to help determine what ranks high in search results. Google's +1 button, which enables users to indicate search results they like, will eventually appear on other Google services such as Maps and YouTube. The +1 button is very similar to Facebook's Like button, which is used in conjunction with Microsoft's Bing search engine. Although Google is trying to give users what they need, "it is at a disadvantage because it doesn't have a social graph in the same way Facebook does," says University of California, Berkeley visiting scholar Vivek Wadwha. Facebook's Like button adds items to the Facebook profile, while Google's +1 adds links to the Google profile, an often ignored feature. As Google tries to expand the role of its profile pages, its new social features will come under attack from spammers seeking to manipulate +1 data, says Blekko co-founder Rich Skrenta. However, he says that if Google can make +1 work and opens it up, the feature could provide valuable data to researchers. "If they can boot up the system and keep the spam out, it could be another interesting source of social ranking data," Skrenta says.

Behind the Information Overload Hype
Wall Street Journal (02/19/11) Carl Bialik

Despite findings from a study published in Science that the world's information storage, communication, and computation abilities have increased by at least 23 percent annually since 1986, the accompanying information glut is not as immense as those statistics imply. A great deal of the expansion mirrors the growth in high-resolution video and photos, while each piece of new information is being consumed by far fewer people than before, on average. Almost 50 percent of the general growth stems from rapid upgrades in hard drive technology, making possible the storage of high-resolution videos, photos, video games, and digital music. The Science study determined that in 2007 the human race was able to store 295 exabytes of information, equivalent to about 500 million times an average desktop computer's capacity. The preliminary results of a study to measure information in terms of how much time is devoted to its consumption found that in 2005 people spent approximately one minute consuming media for every 1,000 minutes available, and this ratio has grown by about a factor of 10 since 1960. University of Michigan professor W. Russell Neuman, who is leading the study, says our capacity to use or filter information also can grow rapidly along with the volume of information. Neuman says that by quantifying the world's information in terms of bytes, researchers commit the error of "focusing simply on capacities of machines, and not on how people are responding to the capacities of machines."

Build Your Online Networks Using Social Annotations
EurekAlert (02/16/11) Shigeaki Sakurai

Toshiba researchers are studying ways to unite groups of online users using social annotations, including the tags, keywords, comments, and feedback that content creators and consumers submit to online networks. The researchers say the three-step approach could be used to get more reliable search engine results and to develop more effective targeted marketing strategies. Photo-sharing Web sites and social-bookmarking sites use social annotations to differentiate between digital objects. Toshiba researchers Shigeaki Sakurai and Hideki Tsutsui say the social annotations also can be used to develop networks. The researchers divide online users into groups according to their interests, with each group receiving a different annotation. First, the system identifies the subject of interest, followed by calculating the similarities between target objects discussed in blog posts based on social annotations. Finally, the system calculates how the target objects are related based on impression words in the blog posts.

Technology: Game for change

Sara de Freitas applauds a bold argument that online gaming can save the planet.

Download file "470330a.pdf"
Download file "470330a.pdf"

Epidemiology: Every bite you take

If a camera snaps everything you eat, you can't lie about it later. That's why scientists are building high-tech gadgets to measure the human 'exposome'.

Download file "470320a.pdf"
Download file "470320a.pdf"

University Professor Creates Facebook-Like Traffic Site
Computerworld Canada (02/10/11) Selena Mann

The On-Line Network-Enabled Intelligent Transportation Systems (ONE-ITS), a new social media platform for sharing information about traffic problems in a city, is open to anyone who wants to join. The universities of Toronto and Regina, and the Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry, and Education collaborated on the development of ONE-ITS. A Facebook-like platform, ONE-ITS enables users to share their expertise and data on transportation and research, with an eye toward fixing traffic problems. "If there's a problem on the freeway, people can know about it," says University of Toronto professor Baher Abdulhai. Users will be able to communicate with each other, perform research, and devise solutions for traffic issues. "The whole motivation is to reverse this fragmentation of ideas and promote the integration of ideas and views of experts," Abdulhai says. ONE-ITS will be provided to 15 universities across Canada and the United States.

Exabytes: Documenting the 'Digital Age' and Huge Growth in Computing Capacity
Washington Post (02/10/11) Brian Vastag

The global capacity to store digital information totaled 276 exabytes in 2007, according to a University of Southern California (USC) study. However, that data is not distributed equally, with a distinct line dividing rich and poor countries in the digital world, says USC's Martin Hilbert. In 2007, people in developed countries had access to about 16 times greater bandwidth than those in poor countries. "If we want to understand the vast social changes underway in the world, we have to understand how much information people are handling," Hilbert says. The study found that 2002 marked the first year that worldwide digital storage capacity was greater than total analog capacity. "You could say the digital age started in 2002," Hilbert says. "It continued tremendously from there." Digital media accounted for 25 percent of all information stored in the world in 2000, but just seven years later 94 percent of all the information storage capacity on Earth was digital, with the remaining six percent comprised of books, magazines, video tapes, and other non-digital media forms. The study found that digital storage capacity grew 23 percent a year from 1986 to 2007, while computing power increased 58 percent a year during the same period. Hilbert notes that people generate 276 exabytes of digital data every eight weeks, but much of that information is not stored long term.

The Virtual Twitterverse That Can Forecast the Real Thing
Technology Review (02/07/11)

The widespread use of Twitter has attracted many researchers, but the data is difficult to collect due to the sheer volume of it and because of legal and privacy rules that prevent the distribution of certain types of information. However, Telefonica Research's Vijay Erramilli and his team have created a virtual Twitterverse, called Social Network Write Generator (SONG), which has all the defining features of the real Twitter without any of the tweeters. The researchers want to use SONG to develop datasets that scientists can use to study how different scenarios will play out in the real world. The researchers built their model by studying a huge dataset of tweeting activity gathered between Nov. 25 and Dec. 4, 2008, and creating a social graph with more than 2 million nodes and more than 38 million edges. Although the researchers have yet to determine if SONG can accurately recreate all aspects of the real Twitter network, they say it appears capable of recreating parts of it, which could be helpful to potential users.

Informatics Students Discover, Alert Facebook to Threat Allowing Access to Private Data, Bogus Messaging
Indiana University (02/03/11) Steve Chaplin

Facebook has repaired a security vulnerability discovered by Indiana University doctoral students Rui Wang and Zhou Li, which allowed malicious Web sites to find a visitor's real name, access their private data, and post misinformation. The vulnerability took place when a user gave Facebook permission to share information with other Web sites. Whenever a site makes such a request to Facebook via the user's browser, Facebook passes a random string called an authentication token back to the requester for identification. Facebook recognizes the holder of that token as a legitimate Web site and provides unblocked access to the shared data. "Basically, any user with a valid Facebook session loses anonymity and privacy to any Web site, even one with embarrassing or sensitive content," Wang says. Li says that "our attack utilized a feature of Adobe Flash called unpredictable communication, and an important distinction between an unpredictable communication and a normal communication is that the former is done through a connection where the name starts with an underscore symbol."

MobiSocial Taps Smart Phone Technology
Stanford Daily (02/04/11) Nardos Girma

Researchers at Stanford University's Mobile and Social (MobiSocial) Computing Research Group are developing ways to use near-field communications (NFC) technology to enable wireless devices to interact in new ways. "What really excites us is that you get two objects really close together, and that in itself is enough to make them interact," says Stanford's Ben Dodson. "You don't have to press buttons. You don't have to launch an app even. You just get them close together and something happens." NFC research is part of a much larger MobiSocial project, which recently received $10 million in U.S. National Science Foundation funding. The project involves a collaboration between MobiSocial researchers and private companies to more efficiently incorporate NFC technology into products. "A lot of companies are focusing on proprietary software. They like to lock people in on their own proprietary systems," says Stanford professor Monica Lam, a faculty director for the project. "And that's the reason why our project is focused on breaking down the barriers to openness."

Social science lines up its biggest challenges

Download file "470018a.pdf"
Download file "470018a.pdf"

'Top ten' crucial questions set research priorities for the field.
Jim Giles
Understanding why loneliness can spread through society like a disease is a key question for social scientists.
Understanding why loneliness can spread through society like a disease is a key question for social scientists.
Understanding why loneliness can spread through society like a disease is a key question for social scientists.E. MARCH/CORBIS
How can we persuade people to look after their health? Why do moods spread like a contagion? How can humanity increase its collective wisdom?
These are some of the most pressing questions that social scientists should tackle, according to a group of leading scholars in the field who hope that their 'top ten' list will help shape the thinking of researchers and funding bodies for decades to come.

U of M Computer Science Researchers Provide Insight Into the Future of How We Understand Social Networking
University of Minnesota News (01/28/11) Pamela Vold; Rhonda Zurn; Preston Smith

University of Minnesota researchers have found that analyzing social networks can lead to breakthroughs in different aspects of social interactions, including the emergence or decline of leadership, changes in trust over time, and mobility within certain online communities. It might be easier to understand why, when, and how users are friends with each other, if new factors such as changes across time and space can be considered, say Minnesota professor Shashi Shekhar and research assistant Dev Oliver in their paper, "Computational Modeling of Spatio-temporal Social Networks: A Time-Aggregated Graph Approach." They say their research could be useful to business and software developers using career networking sites such as LinkedIn. Human resource professionals could use the data to cross-reference an individual's contacts to determine if a certain contact was established during a specific time frame. These new developments highlight the need for "a central role for computation and computational models, not only to scale up to the large and growing data volumes, but also to address new spatio-temporal social questions related to change, trends, duration, mobility, and travel," according to Shekhar and Oliver.

The Science of Bike-Sharing
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (01/31/11)

Tel Aviv University researchers are developing a mathematical model to help new urban bike-sharing systems operate more efficiently. Bike-sharing systems have gained popularity in European cities and are being studied for potential future use in U.S. cities, but they can generate user frustration when certain stations run out of bikes. "There is no system for more scientifically managing the availability of bikes, creating dissatisfaction among users in popular parts of the city," says Tel Aviv University's Tal Raviv, who is designing the model with professor Michal Tzur. The model predicts which bike stations need to be refilled or emptied, and when that action needs to take place. "Our research involves devising methods and algorithms to solve the routing and scheduling problems of the trucks that move fleets, as well as other operational and design challenges within this system," says Raviv, who is part of a group of researchers to try to solve bike-sharing management problems using mathematical models and algorithmic solutions.

European Project Keeps Personal Details Private
eWeek Europe (United Kingdom) (01/31/11) Eric Doyle

The European Union recently launched the four-year ABC4Trust project, which will use encryption technology developed by IBM Research, academic institutions, Microsoft, and others to increase online privacy by requiring that users submit only essential data. The project will be piloted by a secondary school in Soderhamn, Sweden, and at the Research Academic Computer Technology Institute in Patras, Greece, where students will use the Internet without unintentionally revealing personal information. The ABC4Trust program uses cryptographic algorithms, such as IBM's Identity Mixer and Microsoft's U-Prove, to protect a user's identity, including personal traits and behavior profiles. "With technologies like Identity Mixer, we provide the technical capabilities to bring not only strong security to Internet services, but--at the same time--also better privacy," says IBM Research, Zurich's Jan Camanisch. "Making use of more than 10 years of research and development, we are now going to deploy these solutions in practice and address usability and interoperability."

Tool Developed to Help With Information Overload
The Tartan (01/24/11) Daniel Tkacik

Carnegie Mellon University researchers are developing a tool to help users understand complex and seemingly unrelated issues by making connections between various news stories to reveal the overarching meaning. "The goal here is to mathematically construct an issue map for any story," says Carnegie Mellon researcher Carlos Guestrin, who developed the tool with Dafna Shahaf. The visual map can optimize the information from multiple stories and help users identify the most useful information. The tool works by finding connections between two originally submitted news articles, and these connections are then found in other news articles. Users also can make changes to what the connections focus on to revise the issue map. The researchers also found that users of the model had a better understanding of big-picture issues after studying the chain of articles. The users graded the different chains, regarding those
that improved their understanding of issues as the most effective. The researchers say the technique also can be used to help people make better choices in everyday life.

Breaking bottlenecks

A new algorithm enables much faster dissemination of information through self-organizing networks with a few scattered choke points.
Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office

Smart Use of Mobile Phone Power,122534,en.html
University of Portsmouth (01/18/11)

University of Portsmouth senior lecturer Mohamed Gaber is researching how smartphones could be combined to quickly collect and process information without using centralized computers. Gaber says the combined processing power of smartphones could revolutionize healthcare monitoring, crime fighting, and live business intelligence. "This is the first time a method has been found to stream information collected from smartphones working together," he says. The data-streaming method does not interfere with the phones' normal use. Tests have shown that as few as eight mobile devices can each handle up to 40 percent of all possible measurements in a network setting, according to Gaber. "It is the combination of the power and the acquired data on each device that would make the difference," he says. The new method would allow for data analysis to be more localized, and the processing speed would be much faster and cheaper than sending the data to a central hub.

Published online 15 December 2010 | Nature 468, 880-881 (2010) | doi:10.1038/468880a

The rise of the genome bloggers

Hobbyists add depth to ancestry trawls.
  • “They are not amateurs. They are far from being amateurs.”
Ewen Callaway
Hours after Joseph Pickrell put his genome on the internet, an anonymous blogger took the data and concluded that he came from Ashkenazi Jewish stock. Pickrell, a genetics graduate student at the University of Chicago, Illinois, was sceptical about the claim. But after talking to relatives, he discovered that he had a Jewish great-grandfather who had moved to the United States from Poland at the turn of the nineteenth century. "It was a part of my ancestry I was totally unaware of," he says. The blogger, ...

New Report Calls for Online Privacy Bill of Rights
Associated Press (12/16/10) Joelle Tessler

The U.S. Commerce Department has released a report calling for the development of a privacy bill of rights for Internet users that would set guidelines for companies that collect online consumer information. The proposal aims to help lawmakers and industry officials study the issues concerning Internet privacy and comes after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommended the creation of a Do Not Track tool to enable consumers to prevent advertisers from collecting users' online personal information. The Commerce report builds on the FTC suggestion in creating a blueprint for industry behavior that forces companies to give consumers direct notice about what kinds of data they are collecting and how it is being used. The proposal requires companies to give consumers the chance to opt out of certain aspects of data collection, set limits on what information is collected, and to fix errors in the information. The bill of rights would be jointly developed by government officials, consumer groups, privacy watchdogs, and industry players. Other Commerce recommendations include establishing national standards on data breaches that would force companies to notify consumers and reviewing the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which extended wiretapping laws to email messages and other data files, but is considered outdated.

Computers Help Social Animals to See Beyond Their Tribes
New York Times (12/19/10) Noam Cohen

IBM's Center for Social Software is employing increasingly sophisticated computers to function as information advisers for users of social media. "I do think of computers as augmenting people, not replacing them," says center director Irene Greif. "We need help with the limits of the brain." The lab's scientists produce programs that spot patterns in the information flood, making it easier to choose which data or people are worth a user's full attention. For example, the researchers created the Many Bills Web site, which summarizes and displays congressional bills as they go through the legislative process via textual analysis, highlighting certain material of interest. Another tool designed for IBM employees, SaNDVis, can help search for expertise by displaying a web of relationships surrounding a search term to show who within IBM is an expert on a certain subject, mapping these links using writings, meetings attended, personal profile information, and previous work experience. IBM also performs data mining on its own workforce, with access to the full spectrum of internal social networking tools connected to an employee ID number. For business purposes, IBM is trying to escape the standard mode of social network use for navigating the data flood, which is interaction with like-minded friends that reinforces bias.

Social Media for Social Change: Stanford Professor Uses Facebook, Twitter and Personal Stories to Promote Bone Marrow Donations
Stanford Report (CA) (12/16/10) Adam Gorlick

Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker is leading One Hundred Thousand Cheeks, a campaign to encourage a sweeping search for bone marrow donors through social media. The campaign correlates with Aaker's belief that social media can be used as a vehicle for augmenting altruism and facilitating positive social change. The goal is to use social media to concentrate attention on a cause, such as finding potential marrow donors for leukemia patients, and spurring large numbers of people to participate. "When you learn about something from your friends or people you trust through email or Facebook, it's much more persuasive than a message coming from a corporation or someone you don't know," Aaker says. "When a request comes from an area of deep personal meaning by someone you trust, you are more likely to take action." One Thousand Cheeks' aim is to get 100,000 people signed up with a national bone marrow registry through cheek swab drives. "Our hope is to harness research on social persuasion, happiness, and emotional contagion to create infectious action," Aaker says.

What Social Networks Reveal About Interaction
Irish Times (Ireland) (12/10/10) Karlin Lillington
Social network systems can reveal insights into how groups of people can efficiently analyze, filter, and use information to harness the wisdom of the crowd, according to researchers at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). A team led by PARC principal scientist Ed Chi is studying how people work together to produce Wikipedia entries in an attempt to understand how social computing systems can enhance the ability of a group of people to remember, think, and reason. Wikipedia's informative entries are assumed to be the result of benevolent cooperation, but the team has found that conflict actually drives the productivity. Meanwhile, Wikipedia's growth model has shown that the encyclopedia is moving in a more linear manner, influenced more by members who readily adapt and gain the most expertise, after its initial rapid expansion. Issues of growth mode and maintenance mode, which is similar to the stabilization of a biological system, have serious business implications, Chi says. PARC researchers also want to understand what motivates people to contribute to social network systems such as Twitter, and how information gets delivered to groups of people, which could help businesses better filter their information overload. Chi says the research could become useful for businesses because "the optimal distribution of knowledge across an organization is how an organization operates at ultimate efficiency."

- Interesting project on mobile and decentralized social networking applications:
- Project from Stanford on Web 2.0 website to recommend courses to students

- meet-the-twenty-something-ex-bear-stearns-vp-turning-foursquare-into-a-yelp-killer
I recommend to look at the comments as well :)
- I know what you will do next summer
Balachander Krishnamurthy

This is a brief journey across the Internet privacy landscape. After trying to convince you about the importance of the problem I will try to present questions of interest and how you might be able to apply your expertise to them.

- On building special-purpose social networks for emergency communication
Mark Allman

In this paper we propose a system that will allow people to communicate their status with friends and family when they find themselves caught up in a large disaster (e.g., sending "I'm fine" in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake). Since communication between a disaster zone and the non-affected world is often highly constrained we design the system around lightweight triggers such that people can communicate status with only crude infrastructure (or even sneaker-nets).

- Paper by Leskovec on infering the graph of a social network from multiple epidemy
Leskovec. On the Convexity of Latent Social Network Inference. NIPS (2010)

Download file "MyersOn the Con2010.pdf"
Download file "MyersOn the Con2010.pdf"

related to paper by Shah on origin of epidemy
Shah and Zaman. Detecting sources of computer viruses in networks: theory and experiment. SIGMETRICS '10: Proceedings of the ACM SIGMETRICS international conference on Measurement and modeling of computer systems (2010)

Berners-Lee: Social Networks Are a 'Threat to the Web'
PC Advisor (11/22/10) Carrie-Ann Skinner
View Full Article

Social networks pose a threat to the Web because they capture and reuse users' information rather than share it with other sites, says Sir Tim Berners-Lee. He says large social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Friendster are silos of closed content that control user information. "The more this kind of architecture gains widespread use, the more the Web becomes fragmented--and the less we enjoy a single, universal information space," Berners-Lee says. He notes that Apple has similarly centralized and walled-off iTunes, which requires people to access the site through a patented link and traps them in a single store. Berners-Lee also believes that net neutrality regulations should cover both fixed Internet lines and mobile broadband. "It is ... bizarre to imagine that my fundamental right to access the information source of my choice should apply when I am on my Wi-Fi-connected computer at home but not when I use my mobile phone," he says.

How Wise Are Crowds?
MIT News (11/16/10) Larry Hardesty

A new paper from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) demonstrates that as networks of people grow larger they tend to converge on an accurate understanding of information distributed amongst them. "What this paper does is add the important component that this process is typically happening in a social network where you can't observe what everyone has done, nor can you randomly sample the population to find out what a random sample has done, but rather you see what your particular friends in the network have done," says Cornell University professor Jon Kleinberg. The MIT paper also suggests that the danger of information cascades is not as dire as previous studies indicated. The researchers developed a mathematical model that describes attempts by social network members to make binary decisions on the basis of decisions made by their neighbors. The model assumes that there is a single right decision for all members of the network, but that some members have bad information. The researchers found that if there is no cap on certainty, an expanding social network will eventually converge on the right decision. "What we're doing is looking at it in a much more game-theoretic manner, where individuals are realizing where the information comes from," says MIT's Daron Acemoglu.

Download file "How wise are crowds.pdf"
Download file "How wise are crowds.pdf"

Download file "socialnetworks_revised.pdf"
Download file "socialnetworks_revised.pdf"

Social Networking Extends Mobile Battery Life
AlphaGalileo (11/17/10)

Researchers at the University of Zagreb, Crotia, are developing a new approach to social networking for mobile devices that is based on the context and preferences of users. The approach would provide a richer and faster experience for users, boost mobile battery life by up to 70 percent, and reduce the bandwidth burden of telecommunications providers. The researchers have developed middleware to sit between telecommunications providers and users. The system works through serendipitous cooperation, via more energy-efficient Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, between users close to each other in an urban environment. The MAgNet middleware enables telecommunication companies to create an overlay network, or social network, on top of the network of users physically situated in a mobile network environment and using mobile devices. "The system identifies mobile users near each other who are interested in the same multimedia content," says Zagreb Podobnik. "Each mobile user would download only a part of the requested content from the mobile network and then share it with other users in their locale via an ad hoc Bluetooth or Wi-Fi network." The researchers say that three proof-of-concept services prove that software agents would provide an adequate solution for implementing the middleware.

Download file "Social networking extends mobile battery life.pdf"
Download file "Social networking extends mobile battery life.pdf"