Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Exploiting the Social Graph

July 3, 2012

The Web is now a subject of academic study outside the confines of computer science. It is informing, and being informed by, a range of different disciplines as diverse as law, economics and media studies. However, because of the huge data sets about individuals and their social ties that are being collected, the potential for social science and computing is especially strong.

As Cameron Marlow, in-house sociologist at Facebook, recently told MIT Review:

“The biggest challenges Facebook has to solve are the same challenges that social science has…”

Up until fairly recently, social science was essentially restricted by the difficulty of obtaining data from large numbers of people, such as accurate details of their friendship links. Web 2.0 services can now provide that data easily as millions of us have happily uploaded and shared details of our private lives, creating what are known as social graphs, studied formally by graph theory.

Back in September 2010 when I was writing my book I came across the philosopher Pierre Lévy speaking to the Royal Society to the effect that: “Graph theory will be one of the main bases of the future of the human sciences”. At the time I thought Lévy was taking things too far, but it is now clear that social media, the exploration of complex networks and the scale of data being collected have opened new and fruitful horizons for the humanities. Added to the drive and ambition of the companies involved, he might not be far wrong.


Web 2.0 keeps you busy

March 6, 2008

I said at the beginning of the year that social networks and other Web 2.0 activities might start to tail off, partly because of the considerable amount of time involved in keeping everything up-to-date and tracking all of your friends’ content. Well, it looks like I’ve been backed up by Liberal Democrat MP, Steve Webb, who told the Empowering Citizens symposium the other day:

“Anyone who thinks they can do Web 2.0 in their spare time can forget it. If you go down this avenue be prepared to spend some time on it, or pay someone to spend time on it.”

Sadly, not all of us can get our hands on public funds in order to keep our Facebook accounts spick and span.

Social networking eats time and bandwidth (allegedly)

January 23, 2008

Last week I predicted that social networking would narrow, but deepen, as the faddish nature of it started to wear off. There may be another reason why the vast numbers of people involved may start to drop: employers are waking up to the productivity implications of the use of social networking tools in the workplace.

A poll of office workers conducted by Global Secure Systems (GSS) (in association with the organisers of the Infosecurity Europe 2008 conference) seems to indicate that large amounts of company time and network bandwidth are taken up by staff’s social networking activities.
According to the results, 41% of the sample admitted to visiting these kinds of sites at work and the pollsters calculated that they were spending “at least 30 minutes a day” on this activity. Two respondents even admitted to spending three hours a day on these services. Global Secure Systems then carried out a kind of ‘back of a fag packet’ calculation to arrive at the conclusion that social networking was “costing UK corporations close to £6.5 billion annually in lost productivity”. The calculation involved multiplying the average time spent on social sites by the number of office workers who have Internet access at work and their average salary. All this was duly picked up by the Times Online with the lurid headline: “Facebook and MySpace a threat to Britain’s competitiveness?”
There is an important message here, but I reckon such figures need to be taken with some degree of caution. Firstly, the poll information contained in the actual GSS press release doesn’t provide any detail of how the sample (of only 776 people – a little on the low side) was obtained (for example, what types of employees were polled and when and where). Secondly, the assumption is that all social networking is non-work related, but these technologies are in part altering the way people work. A journalist or a sales manager, for example, might quite legitimately be spending part of their working day on Facebook as this is where people with a particular interest can be found. 

Nor did the final calculation of the billions being wasted take account of the fact that not all employers actually allow the company Internet access to be used for non-business related activity. I know from conversations I have had with friends and acquaintances that many corporate companies severely restrict Internet access to a number of industry-related websites or, even more punitively, only allow access to the corporate intranet. 

Whether the calculation and its attendant headlines are strictly accurate or not, it is clear that there is the perception of a growing problem. GSS go on to point out that in a recent round table meeting of 20 chief information officers held by Infosecurity Europe 2008, one of the biggest concerns was how to manage social networking at work. There were estimates, for example, that as much as 30% of company network bandwidth was being taken up with Facebook.

So maybe the whole thing will just be turned off by large FTSE 500 companies who want some ‘real’ work to be done in company time. Ironically, this might happen just as some useful work-related ways of using the tools are being discovered.

Facebook’s Beacon ate my lunch

December 21, 2007

I don’t know if any of you have come across – it’s a website for the more ‘adventurous’ foodie. But if you’re in the habit of rummaging through their recipe collection or perusing their videos and you also have a Facebook account, you may want to think twice about what you choose to download.

Facebook’s recently unveiled Beacon system sucks in data about your online purchases and visits to various websites, chews it over, and then spits some of it back out as a news item, which it publishes to your Facebook page. This means some of your online purchasing habits are published as ‘content’, and your friends will be alerted to your activity and invited to come and have a look at what you’ve been up to.

This isn’t particularly new news, and Facebook has been taking a lot of flak about this feature for the last month or so. However, news of the addition of Epicurious to the list of sites included in Beacon has me worried. Personally, I think this is bad news for those of us who would perhaps like to keep our visits to the site to view videos like ‘Frolicking with Chocolate’ and ‘Brett & Dan’s Party tricks’ strictly private.

James Grimmelmann, an American lawyer, reckons that the Beacon process may well be illegal under US law. This is due to the highly obscure Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) of 1988, which, for US citizens, protects the privacy of the videos that you rent.

So all may not be lost for us Epicurians. Who’s up for a Lunch Privacy Protection Act?

Merry Christmas!

My online identity mash-up

November 14, 2007

There seems to be a steady trickle of whizzy little apps that manage one’s public persona in Web 2.0 applications. I recently noted the MoodBlast tool, but the latest, Second Friends, allows you to import your Second Life avatar details into your Facebook profile and comes courtesy of EduServe’s Andy Powell (via his Second Life alter ego Art Fossett).

By creating an open Applications Programming Interface (API), Facebook is encouraging this kind of innovation on top of its core product. Andy Powell’s widget could be the first stage of a larger development where you can control your avatar in Second Life, from within Facebook.

This got me thinking. Increasingly a real person is represented online by a variety of virtual personae, aspects of which are filtered through different applications.

Somebody, somewhere, probably in a back bedroom, is building some kind of amalgamating, persona application that allows easy control of all these aspects from one handy desktop widget. This would be a true identity mash-up.