Archive for the 'tech' Category

How to Search

Can you answer this question: “What’s the phone number of the office where this picture was snapped?”

I am, without a doubt, teaching my students these tricks on how to search. You think you know how to search for information? Take it from Daniel Russell, a research scientist at Google. Amazing stuff. Good for students. Good for sociologists too.

To find information on where (as in ‘what office’) this picture was taken, go here.


mapping interactions


Do regional boundaries defined by governments respect the more natural ways that people interact across space? This paper proposes a novel, fine-grained approach to regional delineation, based on analyzing networks of billions of individual human transactions. Given a geographical area and some measure of the strength of links between its inhabitants, we show how to partition the area into smaller, non-overlapping regions while minimizing the disruption to each person’s links. We tested our method on the largest non-Internet human network, inferred from a large telecommunications database in Great Britain. Our partitioning algorithm yields geographically cohesive regions that correspond remarkably well with administrative regions, while unveiling unexpected spatial structures that had previously only been hypothesized in the literature. We also quantify the effects of partitioning, showing for instance that the effects of a possible secession of Wales from Great Britain would be twice as disruptive for the human network than that of Scotland.
Carlo Ratti, Stanislav Sobolevsky, Francesco Calabrese, Clio Andris, Jonathan Reades, Mauro Martino, Rob Claxton, Steven H Strogatz – PLoS ONE, 2010

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We investigate the extent to which social ties between people can be inferred from co-occurrence in time and space: Given that two people have been in approximately the same geographic locale at approximately the same time, on multiple occasions, how likely are they to know each other? Furthermore, how does this likelihood depend on the spatial and temporal proximity of the co-occurrences? Such issues arise in data originating in both online and offline domains as well as settings that capture interfaces between online and offline behavior. Here we develop a framework for quantifying the answers to such questions, and we apply this framework to publicly available data from a social media site, finding that even a very small number of co-occurrences can result in a high empirical likelihood of a social tie. Our analysis uses data in which individuals engage in activities at known places and times. There are many potential sources of such data, including transaction records from cell phones, public transit systems, and credit-card providers. We use a source where analogous activities are recorded publicly and online: a large-scale dataset from the popular photo-sharing site Flickr. Most photos uploaded to Flickr include the time at which the photo was taken, as reported by a clock in the digital camera, and many photos are also geo-tagged with a latitude–longitude coordinate indicating where on Earth the photograph was taken. These geo-tags either are specified by the photographer by clicking on a map in the Flickr web site, or (increasingly) are produced by a global positioning system (GPS) receiver in the camera or cell phone. Flickr also contains a public social network, in which users specify social ties to other users.

antique technologies

gladwell is wrong

"Social media can’t provide what social change has always required"

Pop sociologist Malcolm Gladwell’s recent essay in The New Yorker, “Twitter, Facebook, and Social Activism,” is wrong in the way that a lot of his broad-strokes claims miss the finer points. He teases with toss away lines like: “Are people who log on to their Facebook page really the best hope for us all?” His focus is on social media’s ability to connect to strangers. But what about its ability to connect us to each other? What if it can strengthen communities, not pull them apart? My argument that it does hold this potential also runs counter to Robert Putnam’s claim: “My hunch is that meeting in an electronic forum is not the equivalent of meeting in a bowling alley–or even in a saloon.”

My current research is on how place-based communities (or just ‘communities’ in the traditional sense of the word) use social media to shape media narratives and mobilize resources in moments of crisis. It’s still a few stages from publication, but I’ll be excited to prove Gladwell wrong. The more we know about how social media works well in some communities, and not in others, the better we can address inequalities that spill over from the virtual world to the real one.

Update (1/27/11): Tweeters and commentators are directly calling out Gladwell’s thesis:

@monaeltahawy I wonder how Gladwell will feel after #jan25  #egypt and #tunisia, particularly since these were total grassroots

RT @Firas_Atraqchi da ghabi wala eih? totally disagree with Gladwell – his is an ethnocentric approach, Iran is NOT the whole MENA ..

In #Egypt 4 somethng overinflated, useless  we say “Soak it in water&drink it” = Malcolm Gladwell, social media, #Jan25

Some1 tell Malcolm Gladwell to eat this: #Twitter, #Facebook, and social activism #Jan25 #Egypt

@sandmonkey: This is becoming the region first telecommunication civil war. Our internet & smart phones are weapons they won’t allow us to have. #jan25

(Thanks to PI for the tips.)

‘the web is dead, long live the internet’

The Web Is Dead

You wake up and check your email on your bedside iPad — that’s one app. During breakfast you browse Facebook, Twitter, and The New York Times — three more apps. On the way to the office, you listen to a podcast on your smartphone. Another app. At work, you scroll through RSS feeds in a reader and have Skype and IM conversations. More apps. At the end of the day, you come home, make dinner while listening to Pandora, play some games on Xbox Live, and watch a movie on Netflix’s streaming service. You’ve spent the day on the Internet — but not on the Web. And you are not alone.

when copyright goes bad

david & anne

David in the Mall

Yesterday was the 300 year anniversary of the Statute of Anne, the foundation of copyright. Last week we talked about Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture, and I told my story about how UNLV students believed that the reproduction of David set in the mall of Caesars’ Palace is the real Michelangelo’s David. We talked about Walter Benjamin, and how the mechanical reproduction of the art object destroys its aura and whether the access that is gained through the process also has its shinier aspects (‘Hey, you get to have Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss hanging on your dorm wall.’) But to commemorate the anniversary, Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing has sharp things to say, that reflect on the object example I often use in class:

If there’s one lie more corrosive to creativity above all others, it is the lie of romantic individual originality. Today, ‘copyright curriculum’ warns schoolchildren not to be ‘copycats’ – to come up with their own original notions.

We are that which copies. Three or four billion years ago, by some process that we don’t understand, molecules began to copy themselves. We are the distant descendants of those early copyists – copying is in our genes. We have a word for things that don’t copy: ‘dead’.

Walk the streets of Florence and you’ll find a ‘David’ on every corner: because for half a millennium, Florentine sculptors have learned their trade by copying (but try to take a picture of ‘David’ on his plinth and you’ll be tossed out by a security guard who wants to end this great tradition in order to encourage you to buy a penny postcard).