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13 Things We Learned at SoDAPop’s First Meetup

Friday, November 8th, 2013
SoDaPop had its first formal meetup on Nov 7. More than 60 people attended to talk about social data and action. People from academia, industry, startups, news media, and government showed up. There were also 8 ignite presentations, wine, cheese, and a lot of fun. The organizers, who came from FUSE Labs and UW, included: Shelly FarnhamRobert MasonDavid McDonaldJoshua Blumenstock, and Andres Monroy-HernandezHere are 13 things we learned from this lively and multidisciplinary gathering. 

The 6 things you missed if you didn’t attend the ICWSM Town Hall meeting

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013


This post was written live and collaboratively during the town hall meeting using Newspad.

1. Growth in submissions, flat attendance, slightly cheaper

  • 349 papers, up from 232 last year.
  • Total attendance is flat.
  • Increased number of lightning papers.
  • No more “short paper” option (partly because lack of time for authors to turn around).
  • 3 papers were in the “without publication” option (out of 10 submissions).
  • Lowering price strategies: MIT dorms, no lunches, cheaper for students.

2. Where are the social scientists?

Mor Naaman (Rutgers) raised the issue that more social scientists are needed. He commended the conference for having social scientists in the program committee. He wondered if we need to convince people to attend ICWSM instead of ICA (International Communication Association). Someone else mentioned that maybe ICWSM could piggy back on a conference like ICA. Nicole Ellison (UM) thought that might be a great idea. Brian Keegan (Northeastern) raised the issue that ICA does not represent all of social science, and mentioned that other social science conference ask for more than an abstract in response to people wondering whether ICWSM should consider shorter papers. Topically, someone mentioned Sunbelt as yet another social science conference with overlapping topics. Ian Soboroff wondered if we spend too much time thinking how to make icwsm similar to other conferences. He says he attends ICWSM because it’s different. Lastly, David McDonald and Brian Keegan raised the issue of quality assessment as a mechanism to attract social scientists. David challenged the idea that rejection rates are a good proxy for quality, and asked what can, for example, tenure committees use for assessing quality. Brian asked if we could do bibliographic analysis of impact factors (e.g., if you publish at ICWSM you get more citations than other venues).

3. Submissions: Length and Additional Material

Merrie Morris pointed out that this year there was an option to allow 10 page papers instead of 8 (though 8 was still encouraged), and she wondered about the outcome of this. Emre mentioned that we do not yet have data  available  on how many people took advantage of the length increase but his guess was that most people used the 10 page option. One person mentioned that some conferences have no length limit. Winter Mason mentioned that social scientists might prefer to just submit a 2 page abstract instead of a whole paper. Bernie Hogan (Oxford) raised the issue of sharing data, and, perhaps more importantly, sharing algorithms and techniques. The use of open repositories for sharing our work was raised, Winter mentioned using Open Science Framework.

4. Format of the Conference

Brian Keegan asked for more opportunities to hack together to spark collaborations. Birds of a Feather was a good first step. Melroy De Souza (Bing), also advocated for having more opportunities for networking, and asked whether we could have virtual conferences. Emre replied that we do have an archive of all the videos of the presentations. Melroy also asked if we could have other presentations formats, such as panels with experts and practitioners. Michael Muller (IBM) commented that it was hard to share spotlight posters because the space was crowded. David McDonald (UW) commented that perhaps more than one track is necessary.

5. Future ICWSM’s

Planning to create a more formal steering committee, consisting of past papers and general chairs (though who is currently going to be on that committee not announced). Plan to begin planning conference two years out, though no announcement about who will organize 2014 or 2015 conference (they are soliciting nominees for who might do this). Informal plan to rotate more regularly between Europe and North America was mentioned, though no details on what that rotation will be like (every year? every N years?) or on locations for the upcoming conferences.

6. Thematic Suggestions

  • Focus on methods, and tools.
  • More applicable findings for real world (Melroy).
  • Surveillance is a topic where this community could make an important contribution (Roja from UCLA)

Mentoring Crowd Workers

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Traditional workplaces spend a fair amount of effort mentoring and training their workforce as a way to increase the quality of their work and their job satisfaction. Does mentoring crowd workers also increase the quality of their work? How can one mentor the crowd workforce? These were the questions we tried to tackle this weekend at the Crowd Camp Workshop at CHI.

First we approached these questions by setting up a task that we thought people could improve through mentoring: slide design. We asked Mechnical Turkers to help us improve the design of a set of three slides (which we purposely created to look really ugly). We provided Turkers with a set of guidelines for well-designed slides that included tips on color, graphics, text, etc. We then gave each Turker a slide to improve.

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Cross-cultural Differences in Twitter Syntax

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

I have been reading a lot of Tweets in Spanish lately. One thing that I find particularly interesting is how a lot of people use a different retweeting syntax is. For example, a lot of retweets look like this:

"@JohnSmith: original message" // commentary

I wonder if this is linked to the type of client early adopters used. I also see this among Mexican celebrities, so maybe this is something that they started and it spread from there. I wonder how many different ways of using Twitter or other social technologies there are that we are not even aware of.

Trip report – March 2012

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

I’ve been to a couple of conferences and presentations lately so I wanted to write a trip report, but then I thought it would be more useful to summarize it in terms of the most popular topics I noticed.

1. Big data. People are trying to figure out how to make sense of so much information and, more importantly, what to do with it. So far most of the work has focused on trying to understand costumers for marketing purposes, which I find pretty uninspiring. However, as part of this theme, I’ve seen a number of sub-themes that are more interesting. Here is one: The “quantified self” movement. As exemplified by Steve Wolfram’s analysis, he did of his own personal big data , the movement is getting more attention.

In general, it seems like Big Data is need for some innovative tools that can help lay people understand it and manipulate it for practical purposes.

2. Techno Politics. From SOPA, to the Arab Spring, to Wikileaks. An interesting question people are asking is on what should be the role technology tech companies. Some companies are gaining cultural capital by demonstrating how their services are being used for noble causes (like Twitter) while others are using their visibility to push publicly for their agenda (like Google supporting SOPA). Regardless, it seems like having a voice in this space will be even more important for tech services to demonstrate relevance.

3. Online learning. Seems like everyone is doing online learning these days, from the Khan Academy, to Udacity, to MITX, and others. It’s becoming a very rich space that is getting a lot of attention, but most efforts are focused on information delivery, which is only a small part of learning. Ironically the social aspects of learning, which some would argue are the most important, are being ignored.

4. Open vs Fauxpen. Now that “open” has become some sort of a brand, people are starting to realize that there’s a lot of fake openness. It seems like we are going to start seeing a bigger push for truly open systems (i.e. Creative Commons licenses, data portability, etc). Like “organic” food, I suspect web services are going to have to show how open they are. For example, Google’s data portability efforts and YouTube’s ability to upload content under Creative Commons licenses are these type of signals of openness. The reality is that many consumers didn’t used to care about this, but an increasing number do, especially those that are loud and influential.

5. Crowdsourcing. I saw three interesting platforms that go beyond Amazon MTurk. Crowdflower which is more reliable than MTurk, captures its audience from people playing social games (e.g. Farmville), and has a very high female base. Kaggle, which attracts top talent to compete in data analysis contests. Taskrabbit, which allows you to crowdsource things in the physical world (e.g. hire people to run errands). In general, it seems like crowdsourcing has shiften from buzzword to an actual usable tool for doing all sorts of things. I think there are opportunities to either leverage some of these platforms or build new ones that tap into a wider range of people.

Responsible Drama

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

I would  like to argue that drama, used responsibly, can be a positive factor for building online communities.

In this paper boyd and colleagues describe it as the “skirmishes and their digital traces” that teens have online  While typically undesirable, I would argue that a little bit of drama goes a long way and it’s even necessary for building community.

Designers of online communities, especially those focused on young people, tend to avoid drama like the plague. For example, Club Penguin has an option called “Ultimate Safe Chat” where users are not allowed to freely type their messages to other users (which is the whole point of the site). Instead users are allowed to communicate only from “a set menu of greetings, questions and statements.”

While the fear of drama is probably rooted in the fear of bullying, I don’t think we see this aversion to drama only in online communities for kids. We also see it in social technologies “for business,” which often strive to keep things as “clean” and “professional” as possible.

The cost of these anti-drama efforts, I think, is that they reduce the conversations to emotionless and sterile interactions. Any successful and worthwhile social system with more than one person, at some point will experience conflict, tension, and yes, drama. Removing it completely, however, can reduce the motivation for participation (people often go back to follow up on the heated discussion they had) and, given the right moderation strategies, a community can come out stronger and more united after a drama episode.

Of course, without the appropriate moderation, drama can take over the discussions and create a hostile environment that can also kill a community, but like, everything, drama with moderation can be used for good.

QR codes: technology as fashion

Monday, January 16th, 2012

In a recent trip to New York I saw a huge QR code on the side of a building. The QR code was a pointer to an ad for apartments. I wondered how often people take out their phones and use those QR codes. I doubt it it is common but it would be great to do an experiment. The idea would be to create an appealing ad with a QR code and place it around places where there are a lot of people with smartphones, then record the number of hits that QR code received. For now, I think most QR codes are merely a status signal that do not serve a very functional purpose. But as they become more prevalent, I wonder if they will turn into a functional technology.

HOWTO for Social Movements

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

I recently read chapter five of Castell’s Communication Power. Here is an overly simplified, half-joking summary of it in the form of a half-joking Linux HOWTO.

HOWTO create a successful social movement in the network age:

  1. Emotions. Appeal to strong emotions such as anger and fear. “Fear and other strong emotions motivate people to search for information but also determine news choices.”
  2.  Science. Get science behind. Using the global warming example, Castells argues that after a “shift from lack of evidence to a certain level of scientific consensus, the media covered the report, and public alarm began to mount.”
  3. Celebrities. Get celebrities in your cause. “While celebrities have historically supported political and ethical campaigns, today’s celebrity activists have more incentive to adopt global causes and are more likely to be successful in pushing the agenda (Drezner, 2007). This has less to do with the celebrities’ fame and more to do with how people consume information.”
  4. Mobile. Make the message short and spreadable over SMS and other short, person to person communication forms. This is something that Castells took from the Spaniard movement after the Madrid bombings.  “[T]he network of diffusion was increasing at an exponential rate but without losing the proximity of the source.”
  5. Remixable. Create generative messages and let go. In the case of the Obama campaing, supporters were empowered (or at least not discouraged) to run with Obama’s content, even to the point of making some of the strategists a bit nervous. “Obama was able to unite counter-cultural trends at the source of creativity in the entertainment industry.”

Góogle is not Google

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Back in July, I learned about IDN homograph attacks. I decided to check if two of the most visited websites in the world, Google and Facebook, were available in slightly different spellings (gó and fá To my surprise, both domains were available. So I purchased them, and set them to redirect to my Google+ and Facebook profile.

Almost six months later, I got an email from the Google Trademark Team asking to transfer gó to Google (they also offered to   refund the cost of the domain up to $100, which seemed totally reasonable). I told them I was happy to give it back to them, but I also explained that the goal of the website was educational. I even changed the redirect I had to a page stating the goal more explicitly along with the Wikipedia definition for homograph attack.

Their response was surprisingly nice. They let me keep the domain as long as I continue to use it for educational purposes. So kudos to the Google Trademark Team!

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Obscurity, Miscellaneous and the Internet’s Testosterone

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Recently, the influential, yet obscure,‘s forums were a bit on the spotlight after some of its members discovered a security hole in Facebook.

Influence through Obscurity.

I find it interesting that, despite their influential role, a number of online communities, such as 4chan and the bodybuilding forums, remain somewhat obscure. I believe 4chan did not gain a lot of mainstream media attention until the whole Anonymous-Wikileaks scandal, and even then, the number of even tech-savvy people who confuse 4chan with FORTRAN is not negligible. Perhaps, as someone during ROFLCON mentioned, these communities are insular and newbie-adverse on purpose as  a way to maintain their underground status.  They rely heavily on in-jokes and secret handshakes that take a lot of lurking to decode.

All  Forums Tend to Miscellaneous 

The bodybuilding forums, like 4chan and others, grew a large and active sub-community out of their “Miscellaneous” section. Even on the Scratch Online Community, a wholesome website primarily for kids to share their own video games and animations, the  “Miscellaneous” discussion’s forum has been the most active and rowdy social space of the website. But has also served as some sort  of public square for the community that I think is something that most online communities need to maintain authenticity at the expense of rowdiness.

Internet’s Testosterone

Some people have noted the similarities between 4chan and the bodybuilding forums. In particular, between /b/ and the bodybuilding’s Misc forum. The platforms are significantly different, uses pseudonyms and has archives while 4chan  is completely anonymous and ephemeral. Despite those differences, different events have shed light at the possibility that both communities have a  decent amount of overlap.

I think part of it is the population they attract. The population of a website focused on bodybuilding is somewhat easy to stereotype: young males with a lot of testosterone. /b/ is a bit harder, but based on the content, it seems like testosterone is a common denominator as well. It is interesting, and perhaps obvious, that when you bring a bunch of young males together, similar kind of content tends to emerge.


Despite the wide adoption of  the Internet by a large percentage population, it seems like gender-based clustering continues to exist. I wonder then, what would be the opposite of 4chan and the bodybuilding forums? Is Internet culture disproportionately influenced by male-centric online spaces?  What female online spaces have the most influence? Is the Internet always going to be about Justin Bieber vs “bros“?