Who Do You Gossip About?

Monday, October 26th, 2009

I so should be doing other things. Like reviewing CHI papers. But I’m making fun little apps. I’ve always been fascinated with gossip. “Gossip” has a negative connotation, but it’s essential to social life. In a few bored hours last night, I wrote a little gossip app, and you can download it.

Before we go any further, there’s two pretty tight requirements: you need to use Mail.app on a Mac and you need to use IMAP. The app is called “Bit of Gossip.” It crawls through your sent mail looking for people you mention in the message body but don’t include on the recipient list. Don’t worry, we all do it. And don’t worry, the app does everything locally; your mail never leaves your machine.

This isn’t a research project. Just a fun little hack. It’s also pretty bare bones. A little dialog just pops up as it processes, then TextEdit shows you the results. Like I said, not a research project, not a finished project. But I found it pretty fun and enlightening. And, the name extraction stage can take a while. Oh, and it also handles nicknames (e.g., Tom is short for Thomas, etc. … I couldn’t get anything good without it.) The source is in there if you want it. Do with it what you will.

(drag to Applications)

Couldn’t have done it without the distinguished Stanford Named Entity Recognizer and Platypus. And of course Perl. Where would I be without you, darling?

CHI 2009: Predicting Tie Strength">CHI 2009: Predicting Tie Strength

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Social media treats all users the same: trusted friend or total stranger, with little or nothing in between. In reality, relationships fall everywhere along this spectrum, a topic social science has investigated for decades under the theme of tie strength. Our work bridges this gap between theory and practice. In this paper, we present a predictive model that maps social media data to tie strength. The model builds on a dataset of over 2,000 social media ties and performs quite well, distinguishing between strong and weak ties with over 85% accuracy. We complement these quantitative findings with interviews that unpack the relationships we could not predict. The paper concludes by illustrating how modeling tie strength can improve social media design elements, including privacy controls, message routing, friend introductions and information prioritization.

We won best paper!

pdf Predicting Tie Strength With Social Media.
Proc. CHI, 2009.

Blogs Are Echo Chambers

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

I recently finished a paper about blogs as echo chambers. Our project was heavily influenced by various books by Cass Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago: InfoTopia, Republic.com and Why Societies Need Dissent. We were siting around in social seminar, and Karrie said, “it seems like most blogs are just echo chambers—everyone always agrees.” I said, “let’s see if we can prove it.” We hand-coded over 1,000 blog comments and wrote a paper on the project. It’s currently in submission, so I won’t post it; I’ll just include the abstract for now.

In the last decade, blogs have exploded in number, popularity and scope. However, many commentators and researchers speculate that blogs isolate readers in echo chambers, cutting them off from dissenting opinions. Our empirical paper tests this hypothesis. Using a hand-coded sample of over 1,000 comments from 33 of the world’s top blogs, we find that agreement outnumbers disagreement in blog comments by more than 3 to 1. However, this ratio depends heavily on a blog’s genre, varying between 2 to 1 and 9 to 1. Using these hand-coded blog comments as input, we also show that natural language processing techniques can identify the linguistic markers of agreement. We conclude by applying our empirical and algorithmic findings to practical implications for blogs, and discuss the many questions raised by our work.

CHI 2008: The Network in the Garden">CHI 2008: The Network in the Garden

Friday, January 11th, 2008

corn and chicago
image courtesy of the Illinois state highway system

The Network in the Garden:
An Empirical Analysis of Social Media in Rural Life.
Proc. CHI, 2008.

History repeatedly demonstrates that rural communities have unique technological needs. Yet, we know little about how rural communities use modern technologies, so we lack knowledge on how to design for them. To address this gap, our empirical paper investigates behavioral differences between more than 3,000 rural and urban social media users. Using a dataset collected from a broadly popular social network site, we analyze users’ profiles, 340,000 online friendships and 200,000 interpersonal messages. Using social capital theory, we predict differences between rural and urban users and find strong evidence supporting our hypotheses. Namely, rural people articulate far fewer friends online, and those friends live much closer to home. Our results also indicate that the groups have substantially different gender distributions and use privacy features differently. We conclude by discussing design implications drawn from our findings; most importantly, designers should reconsider the binary friend-or-not model to allow for incremental trust-building.

Full paper as PDF

P.S. I am very happy to announce this paper—I’m especially proud of this work. And, yes, I reused the state highway sign from an earlier post. I love it!

Update (Apr 14): I just learned that danah boyd included this paper in her bibliography of research on social network sites. Thanks, danah!