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The Internet

The Social Web 38

person writes: "The Stanford Social Web calculates social interactions of members of the Stanford University network, using links and text from home pages, as well as information about mailing list subscriptions. Though the site's analysis of user relationships and similarities is limited to those with Stanford accounts, it is of interest to those studying the formation of social networks. The java applet is especially nifty." Don't even try the java applet if you don't have a fast machine, PIII or higher.
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The Social Web

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  • What is flawed about "normal socialisation" is the fact that in large areas of the world, social outlets don't exist. and where these outlets do exists, they are presided over by loud-mouthed high-school jocks who run rampshod over everybody else. so, this results in a huge screaming need in modern society for safe pockets where people can congregate w/out psycho's going postal on them. And by and large, the internet is it. but not for that much longer; the jock-to-end-all-jocks .. AOL/m$ is coming to town; grab your ankles folks; it's going to be a slow ride, and you won't be albe to take it easy..
  • by Anonymous Coward
    There's not too many, but some of the smaller message encourage well thought out writing and exchange of ideas/experience - they're out there if you want to find them.
  • Where are all the /. invasion of privacy peoples? Here we have an entity collecting personal information about people without their consent, collecting, analysing and even publishing that data.

    So where's the outrage?
  • It's public information. Just like it's ok for a search engine to go through other people's websites...
  • by crisco ( 4669 ) on Sunday June 03, 2001 @09:35AM (#180357) Homepage
    That java visualization thingie is neat, but at first glance it tells me exactly what I already kinda know, that there is a core group of people that are social, that generally know each other and have lots more 'connections'. Then there are those on the fringes, that have less connections, that only have relationships with a few others.

    Sounds just like real life, right? One thing about measuring this via weblinks and such is that you are going to get different results than real life social connections. We all know that some of us are great socializers online but not so good at it in person, we all know of some people that might be great in real life but haven't a clue how they would manifest that online. I think the intersting paper is where these two 'sets' overlap and don't overlap. Considering the study is on individuals at a college campus with geographic proximity, the results would differ from people in general.

    I only skimmed the paper and didn't see too much, however, an interesting chart was the difference between Stanford and MIT, MIT had twice the percentage of people that linked to someone else at school and nearly three times the percentage of both 'who are linked to by at least one other person' and 'with links in both directions'. So MIT has more online culture? Again, I'd like to see the overlap with real life social interaction.

    One last thought, isn't this a social engineer's dream? Use this data to exploit connections between people? Impersonate a friend of a friend? It could backfire, what if a friend of a friend measured via links and mailing list participation are actually close friends in real life...

    Chris Cothrun
    Curator of Chaos

  • How did they get credit for someone else's work ??? I've seen this demo before...
  • I've seen a graph depicting nodal relationships prior to this. I did not follow to see if there was a paper behind this so I will go check before I get any deeper :)
  • It would be much more informative to follow the social network by checking which users correspond by email, but the privacy concerns are obvious, even if nobody looks at the actual contents.

    There must be a lot of research about social networks through email done at the NSA. I bet Carnivore, for example, is very interested in who is emailing who, possibly more than the actual contents for most of the time.

  • We tried doing the same sort of survey last year at Dartmouth. The plan was to graph all on-campus email over a period of time (a week?) and determine the average diameter of the graph, distance between faculty and students, strength of graph, cliques, etc. Standard "Small Worlds" problem.<br><br>
    Problem is, someone in the computing services department thought there might be some kind of user-security problem with us (research being coordinated by a faculty member) having access to email header data. We agreed, and offered to replace all names (which are unique in Dartmouth's DND directory system) with unique numbers and designators (e.g., a binary designator for "faculty member") or even provide to computing services a script which they could run to do this for themselves. <br><br>
    Of course, nothing like this had ever been done before. Nobody was sure who had the authority to release this sort of data; nobody wanted to be named as the one authorizing this sort of thing. So far as I can tell, our requests got forwarded to the bureaucratic equivalent of /dev/null. <br><br>
    So, I developed a client that, authorized by a user, would scan that user's inbox and pull out all of the header information. Unfortunately, most users here empty their inboxes quite regularly (we use a proprietary email system, blitzmail, that, in operation, is similar to IMAP; mail is stored on-server) and the majority of those empty their trash just as regularly. So, basically, we were unable to get any meaningful data. End of research.<br><br>
    Too bad, really, because Dartmouth is the ideal setting for this type of work--everybody uses email, average user sends/receives probably over 100 emails a day. It is really the only viable form of communication on campus.<br><br>And this was at a college. Imagine how difficult it would be to gather this sort of data in some other institutional setting.

    --Andrew Grossman
  • > I'm not advocating being a luddite or anything,
    > but more and more often these days we see
    > online social interaction not adding to but
    > replacing more traditional forms of human
    > contact.

    Funny, I know exactly what you mean. I remember when the written word used to be one of the traditional and main forms of social contact.

    Heck, it used to be an art form. Then came along that newfangled, dehumanizing telephone. All asudden everybody could just ring someone up and start yakking away. It took all the thoughtfulness out of communicating, being able to just bug someone, none of the richness of a good thought out letter. It didn't even come close to the well-developed speeches one could work out on the walk to the town.

    I wonder if written communication will ever come back into popularity:}
  • well, the applet is another incarnation of a demo applet provided on Suns's Java pages.

  • What about IM use? How did they or could they measure any use of instant messages between users on the network, would they measure the frequency of contact between different locations? it would be interesting to a see a map of all IM connections over a period of a week or longer, showing how they go to multiple connections.. a time lapse map would be perfect.... just a thought

  • Privacy statement: All data presented was gathered from publicly accessible sources. If you would like to have yourself excluded from our study, please email us.

    Loneliness statement: Those who feel they have been unfairly excluded from the social web, electronic, flesh, or otherwise, can request to have their status artificially boosted temporarily and, of course, secretly. We cannot guarantee that such a brief increase in your SocialKarma will actually improve things for you, but it has been known to work for others, including, but not limited to, books on the best-seller list. We cannot be responsible for any negative consequences of falsely-acquired sudden fame. We reserve the right to track the impact of your KarmaBooster(sm), 'cause hey, if it works for you, it might just work for us! If you would like us to review your KarmaBooster(sm) application, please submit it to [mailto]. Good luck!

    // ///#\)

  • How did they get credit for someone else's work ??? I've seen this demo before...

    Are you serious? I'd almost guess I'm being trolled (in the classic Kibological sense, not in the flamebait sense...) but I'm worried that you might be serious, so...

    You've seen the java graph applet before; that's been around forever. They're just using that applet to show some of the results from their research. The research is what they're getting credit for.

    Gum "IHBT. IHL. HAND." bo

  • On the other hand, the ease with which people can find and communicate with people like them could be viewed as a bad thing for society; people are not forced to mix with those that are different to them and some valuable "cross-pollenation" of ideas may be lost

    I'm going to have to disagree with this idea...just look at slashdot and the amount of bickering that goes you REALLY think that ANYONE is as similar as you try to make them sound? Everyone has different ideas, if anything the cross polination of ideas (information/memes) is MUCH greater in an environment where geography is unimportant, and certainly will be even MORE widespread in the event that language loses its barrieristic capabilities...Not that the diffusion of information on a large scale is always a good thing, but it is definitely not restricted because of people being the same. As you said at the end, 'just your ideas' which means that any of the huge number of /.ers could jump on here and modify, ridicule, compare, and judge them...and even assimilate them into their own beliefs...The less restrictions placed on information the more "freedom and responsibility" it holds...

  • by rockrat ( 104803 ) on Sunday June 03, 2001 @10:33AM (#180368)
    Being a Stanford student, I was currious how well it did on me and my friends. The output is pretty much dead on. It picks out my roomate as my as the person closest to me, and most of my friends as well. Not particularly suprising, given that we are all on similar listserv lists (and all residence in each dorm are on a dorm list). Nevertheless, pretty striking. I'd be currious how it did in a less highly connected (in terms of listserv and homepage connectivity) community.
  • it is probably just a matter of time before this idea is applied to different niches of the internet--or to the 'net at large. Those high school alumni sites have merely begun to tap into social networks.
  • Can anyone think of an imaginative way to break this part of the program license?

    * This software is not designed or intended for use in on-line control of
    * aircraft, air traffic, aircraft navigation or aircraft communications; or in
    * the design, construction, operation or maintenance of any nuclear
    * facility. Licensee represents and warrants that it will not use or
    * redistribute the Software for such purposes.
  • There have been studies of telephone calls within companies, and it turns out to be possible to derive the organization chart from call data. (A key criterion: how fast does someone get called back?)
  • by YIAAL ( 129110 )
    Using email, phone records, etc., they create "friendship trees," which are very useful in many ways. Not only for the obvious, but for patterns that don't seem to make sense in context.
  • As far as my online social group goes, the one thing that has kept me in contact with those who would not have been a part of my social group in real life is the use of email. Obviously, e-mail seems to be the online culture'se equivelant of written communication, just as instant messaging and chat is the equivelant of conversation. However, one conclusion that I am able to ascertain is how instead of asking for a person's mailing address, i would prefer their email address due to convenience and economics. But it alway surprises me when I get an actual letter. But then I email them back.
  • Graphviz makes reasonably well sorted directed graphs. [] for dev versions. [] for release versions.

    Optimal layouts with mimimum crossing edges for arbitrary directed graphs is a Very Hard Problem Indeed, so don't expect miracles.
  • Has anyone had any experience in collecting data like this? What did or didn't work for you? Anyone actually convince the Sys Admins to let you snoop mail headers? I'd love to hear what sucesses or failures you've had.

    This fall, I will be attempting to conduct a similar study on group connectivity at WPI (Worcester Polytechnical Institute []). Although mostly un-planned at the moment, my goal is to map the inter-relationships of students and faculty to each other. As a small (~3000 student) technical school, the marketing department loves to claim how close a community WPI is. I plan to see whether their claims are true, or if they're just more marketing BS.

    In any case, let me know if you've ever collected data for connectivity research before. I'm open to all ideas.

    To e-mail me, wave a wand, and make spam be gone be gone.

  • by Trevor Goodchild ( 187368 ) on Sunday June 03, 2001 @07:22AM (#180376)

    I often wonder about the long-term effects of putting so much effort into creating - and now analysing - digital "culture". I'm not advocating being a luddite or anything, but more and more often these days we see online social interaction not adding to but replacing more traditional forms of human contact.

    Usually you replace something that is broken or flawed. So what's so flawed about normal socializing that we feel this need to supplant it with something that is in reality more isolating?

    Just some idle thought on my part. Feedback?

  • Once you start making one of these, it never ends until it includes almost every living person in the entire world.

    I once set out to create a chart in Visio of all the people from several local BBS circles who had slept with each other, just to see how 'inbred' we really were. It was really funny and really sad at the same time, and I also realized that I could just keep going and going and going, and it would never stop. I had to set limits like only including people who had slept with more than one person that we all knew, so they wouldn't be a dead end branch, everyone would connect back to each other like a spider web.

    My current problem is that the Visio chart isn't auto-arranging. I need some software that will just let me type in all the names and then figure out the best arrangement for me so I don't have to keep dragging the people around to clean up the chart and make more room. Suggestions?


    Mike Massee

  • No offense's a sad sad world. :)

    Mike Massee

  • "My current problem is that the Visio chart isn't auto-arranging...."

    Err, no offense, dude, but that doesn't sound like it's your main problem. ;-)

  • I'm currently using LEDA C++ package which provides many functions to do computation on graphs. It has a feature-rich interface to display and manipulate graphs. You can change the layout (spring, random, etc.) on the fly within that interface. If you are programming in C++ then you'll find LEDA is a great help. LEDA is platform-independent (I've used Win32 and Linux version), but obviously you cannot display your result within browsers.

    The address: []
    Unfortunately, LEDA has just gone commercial:(

    LEDA uses GML format to for graph representation. See the link below: []
  • by swagr ( 244747 ) on Sunday June 03, 2001 @06:49AM (#180381) Homepage
    An applet? Not Flash? Am I on the right web?
  • I'm not advocating being a luddite or anything, but more and more often these days we see online social interaction not adding to but replacing more traditional forms of human contact.

    To a great extent, it isn't: a lot of the work on interaction via electronic media suggests that people in fact tend to use electronic communications to maintain ties formed through conventional means. This may seem counterintuitive, but then the correlations between self-report and actual behavior for both net use and interaction are pretty poor in the studies I've seen; people may think that their ties are formed differently now, but when you look at actual logs the data tells a different story.

    Of course, things are still in flux, and these earlier findings could get washed away with time. We'll see....


  • This is an interesting piece, although it seems to exhibit at least two major flaws upon first reading. Based on my admittedly quick reading of the piece (caveat emptor), these would be two obvious criticisms which I would make of the paper (were I reviewing it):

    First, the authors are not studying friendship networks as the term is usually deployed in the network literature. They are studying citations on homepages, which is not the same thing. While they may be justified in arguing that these citations are in some way a proxy for the actual friendship network, the paper does not present any data to support this claim (or, more importantly, to assess the degree of measurement error inherent in the use of citations as proxy data). In showing, therefore, that there are associations between web page content or mutual citations and direct citations, the authors are merely using web pages to predict web pages. This would be expected to inflate the strength of the observed relationship (since there may be mechanisms encouraging (for instance) transitivity of web page citations which are not present between web page citations and friendship), and would lead me to question the validity of the research findings. At the very least, I find the title and abstract misleading and believe that the authors should be much more upfront about what it is that they are actually studying.

    As a second concern, I was a bit irked by the fact that the authors continued to perpetuate the myth that degree (number of ties) for actors in most social networks is power law distributed. While it is true that some social networks exhibit this property, it is most emphatically not the case that all do. For instance, degree distributions resulting from the GSS network module are not even vaguely power-law distributed, and neither are most of the standard data sets distributed with UCINET (the bulk of them seem to be approximately normal based on my tests, which is exactly what you'd expect from a sum of random variables). The fact that web pages seem to exhibit power-law distributions in degree suggests that their networks are actually quite different from face to face networks, a finding which really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Alas, since citations are being used here as a proxy for friendship relations, this does not exactly inspire confidence in the data.

    All in all, this is an interesting paper; unfortunately, I think it suffers greatly from the "siren song of the web." As the authors note, it is very easy to collect large quantities of data from web pages...alas, methinks it might be a bit too easy. I am aware of no extant data to support the proposition that hypertext citation networks taken from the W3 can be used as a reasonable proxy for more general interpersonal relations, but I fear that the lure of trivial data collection may seduce many researchers to look the other way when opportunities like this arise. Maybe it will turn out that web-based citation networks can be used in this way, but I'm not holding my breath. In the meantime, I'll stick to my fogeyesque position that real progress vis a vis the study of interpersonal relations depends on more traditional observation and elicitation schemes.


  • While the main page loaded, I can't actually get through to any of the 1,200 individual webpages which are part of the Social Web.
  • Yes indeed that java applet is nifty.. It wouldn't run in Netscape on MacOS X Classic, but it ran nicely in Omniweb and performed quite well.
  • Everyone has different ideas, if anything the cross polination of ideas (information/memes) is MUCH greater in an environment where geography is unimportant, and certainly will be even MORE widespread in the event that language loses its barrieristic capabilities...

    I see your point but I disagree with the idea that sites like Slashdot cause their users to mix with a wide variety of people. The success of sites like Slashdot is based in part on the fact that they appeal to a particular sub-set of society. Yes, every Slashdot reader is different but the Slashdot readership really represents quite a thin slice of society. Of course, there are exceptions but the vast majority of Slashdot readers have many things in common.

    The tagline says it all - "News For Nerds..." Slashdot appeals to a particular type of person. By coming to Slashdot, those people are able to socialise electronically with people that are interested in the same things.

    My original point was that because people can mix more easily with others that share the same interests, they will often choose to do so rather than mixing with those that are more different to them. This could lead to increasing separation of the various groups

    I would say that electronic commication has the potential to spread ideas more widely that traditional means but that the temptation to only mix with those who share the same area of interest (if not views) could limit cross-pollenation. By cross pollenation, I do not mean a different view on the same issue but rather an idea from outside the context of an issue that gives perspective or insight. (Like if you are talking to someone while waiting for a bus and you find out something really interesting that you never would have found out by choice)

  • by actiondan ( 445169 ) on Sunday June 03, 2001 @07:42AM (#180387)

    I often wonder about the long-term effects of putting so much effort into creating - and now analysing - digital "culture". I'm not advocating being a luddite or anything, but more and more often these days we see online social interaction not adding to but replacing more traditional forms of human contact.

    One thing that is different about electronic communication as opposed to older methods is that relationships can be formed based on interests rather than geographical location.

    This could be viewed as an advantage - those with similar interests can get together regardless of where they are in the world.

    On the other hand, the ease with which people can find and communicate with people like them could be viewed as a bad thing for society; people are not forced to mix with those that are different to them and some valuable "cross-pollenation" of ideas may be lost

    The thing to remember is that social systems are not neccessarily replaced because they do not work. Often, a new system will be more attractive to a particular group at a particular time so they adopt it. There is no ruling council of humanity that decides which things are good for us and can dictate which we should adopt (unless you are really paranoid). Even if there were, it is likely that sub-cultures would adopt their own systems regardless.

    In many ways, the success of electronic socializing has been due to the fact that it makes things easier for individuals rather than for society. Online, you can present yourself as you want to be seen. You do not have extra stress involved in a face to face meeting where you have to be aware of body langauge, facial expresssions and perhaps even the possibility of physical contact (welcome or unwelcome). By taking away all these considerations, electronic socializing makes it easier to think about what is being said. (of course, it is also easier to lie online...)

    Just my ideas...

  • by MarkusQ ( 450076 ) on Sunday June 03, 2001 @07:10AM (#180388) Journal
    Yes, but can you sort the links by Erdos number?


  • No joke.
  • Michael Dertouzos from the Lab for Computer Science [] wrote a book last year called The Unfinished Revolution [] that discussed this same sort of thing. However, this concept is trivial compared to the other concepts he presents. Good read--pick it up.

    Groovy applet, though.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle