Posts Tagged ‘social media’

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.

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Chinese Social Media

May 24, 2012

QZone is one of China's biggest online social networks

One of the interesting aspects of research for the book was finding out more about how social media is used outside the West. In particular, there is a huge, and mainly homegrown, Web 2.0 environment in China. Services such as QZone, RenRen and CyWorld dominate their home market and have hundreds of millions of users.

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago whilst reading about the Facebook IPO. The Guardian published an analysis by technology editor, Charles Arthur, which included the following quote from Ed Barton, a digital media specialist:

“Facebook depends on advertising, and I would highlight that the fastest-growing internet media markets are China and the Far East, India and Brazil. Facebook’s potential is nowhere near as strong in those as it has been in the US. And in those markets there are often a number of locally oriented social networks already in place.”

With billions in the bank from its IPO, the normal route to expansion for Facebook might be a major purchase in one of these emerging markets. But things are never that simple in one-party-state China. The IPO may have run into local difficulties in the last few days, but the battle for Chinese users is a longer term strategic challenge for the company.

Web 2.0 and Beyond is published

May 18, 2012

A couple of years ago I was approached by an American publisher about the possibility of writing a general reference/textbook that covered Web 2.0 and Social Media. It followed on from the success of a report I wrote for JISC in 2007, which was written for both technical and non-technical readers, and the publishers wanted something similar, but more of it.

Well yesterday a friend rang to ask if I knew that the ‘buy’ link had been activated on Amazon, so I guess I can say that my book, Web 2.0 and Beyond (published by Chapman & Hall/CRC, a computer science imprint of Taylor & Francis), is well and truly published.

The remit was challenging – CRC were developing a new series, aimed at reinventing the textbook format. Their point was that, increasingly, it is students from business studies, economics, law, media studies, psychology etc. who want to understand what CompSci is up to but who don’t necessarily have the deep technical knowledge to really understand how the technology came to be or what the implications of it are. However, as CRC is primarily a computer science imprint they also didn’t want to compromise on the requirements of their primary audience.

I was particularly interested in this idea because studying social media is increasingly becoming an interdisciplinary melting pot. Also, having taught computer science I was keen for students to have a well-rounded sense of the discipline – that they should have a sense of context rather than just learn how to write code. I could also see parallels with Web Science, the study of the Web as the world’s largest and most complex engineered environment (which at the time was only just starting to emerge), and I thought that if ever there was going to be a moment when it was possible to bring all this together in one book, it would be now.

The tricky thing, of course, was getting it all to come together. With the help of some extremely skilful editing I think what we’ve done is to obey three golden rules: only tell readers what they need to know at that point in time; use narrative techniques that engage the reader and allow them to read through the filter of their own discipline; and to keep highly specialised information (hard-core technical information, overviews of research etc.) in separate sections and chapters.

The framework for all of this is the ‘iceberg model’, which tackles Web 2.0 using a layered approach. The premise of the book is that if you understand the iceberg model you will be better equipped to understand how the Web is likely to evolve in the future. There are, of course, a few pointers as to what that might look like.

In the spirit of Web 2.0 there are also various information sources associated with the book. There’s a YouTube channel where I post information about relevant videos, and you can find out about these if you subscribe to the book’s Twitter feed (@web2andbeyond) where I also post other snippets of relevant information that help to keep the book fresh. More detailed information is on the book’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/web2andbeyond), which also includes notes and excerpts to give a taste of the narrative style of writing I mentioned earlier.

It has been a while in the making and part of me still can’t believe that it’s actually here, but it is, so now all I need is for people to buy it. Hint hint.

From bowling alone to tweeting together

May 13, 2010

Last week’s General Election in the UK was supposed to have been the first where the Web, and in particular social media tools such as Twitter, took over from television as the primary vehicle for communication and debate. It didn’t quite turn out that way as the TV leader debates dominated the campaign. Despite this perhaps temporary set-back, a new journal paper by the veteran human-computer interface expert Ben Shneiderman and a colleague, Harry Hochheiser, argues that social media could reverse the forty-year decline in civic, political and community-group participation which was articulated in Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling alone”.

In order to do so social media designers, civic leaders, and community managers will need to:

“deploy the right social media interfaces to restore participation in social, civic, political, and economic institutions” (my italics).

By this they mean interfaces that are, of course, so easy to use and intuitive that just about anyone can engage with them. But also they argue we need to develop ethical systems that help foster participation and trust between individuals online and deal with issues such as privacy, accuracy and destructive behaviour. For example, social media allows anonymity in things like blog postings, by letting people ‘hide’ behind funny pseudonyms. Does this practice act as a barrier to trust and accuracy? They argue that these and many other questions form a major new research agenda for the computing and social sciences and note the launch last year, in the US, of the National Initiative on Social Participation (NISP).

Naturally, they have also launched a Facebook page to take their ideas further.