Thursday, July 31, 2008

Self-regulating social networks

The basic idea behind social networks such as LinkedIn or MySpace is that you have a set of registered users you are connected to, but the influence this has on the kind of resources you get recommended is almost non-existent. The most I could think of right know is that your connections to other members are exploited for collaborative filtering. What is missing is some kind of social network model which is able to express the kind of connection that you have to someone else - let's say, someone that is working on exactly the same problem as you are, another person that you usually go jogging with, maybe a third person that you share your love for music with, and the like. It would not be much effort to specify the kind of connection to a person when you ask them to be added to your list, but the requirement I would have is that this relation will adapt itself in conformance to the interactions with the system where you have your social network. In that case, I imagine it would be really fun discovering new people that otherwise you would never have met, or get recommended really useful resources to look at.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Two dot oh

I am getting a bit tired of reading all this stuff about Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 and the like. Seems as if you could take any term, add some versioning number greater than two and then you have a new buzzword that you can explain anyway you like.

But this blog is not here to just rant along, so I try to be a bit more precise. The versioning number 2.0 seems to indicate some level of user participation so operators of backend systems (such as a CRM module) get regular feedback from end users as a by-product from user interaction. If you find 3.0 as a suffix, this seems to indicate that the collected data from user interactions are not only grouped and associated to specific instances (such as database objects and processes), but that the relation between the user interactions is also exploited semantically to deduce semantics, meaning and, in the long run, user intentions.

When you read the press, all kinds of neat scenarios are described, but we almost never read how much modelling effort is needed. On the other hand, while being placed on hold after having specified what type of service I could possibly want via an automated agent, I ask myself if I would not prefer to talk to a human instead of a machine. Why do I need to tell the agent that my phone connection is broken if it is possible to check that automatically? Why do I need to spend a minute or more interacting with a machine if waiting intervals are not reduced?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Open Access

It's nothing new: subscriptions to journals are getting increasingly expensive, while in theory anyone can publish anything online. Some publications like the Journal of Universal Computer Science have been forerunners, making available all research papers for free, at least regarding the online version. The more research results are visible to a greater public free of charge the better the advancement in science, at least in theory. This is also good for private research institutions and companies who are interested in cooperating with universities and turning research results into products. As the initiators of the open access initiative say:

The main advantages of open access are the increased visibility and thus the increased impact of scientific articles.

It is not clear what the added value of publishing houses is anyway, as neither authors nor reviewers are getting paid for their job. Publishing online does not really generate high costs beyond setting up a web server with a database and someone that implements user interface and server functions - at least it is a task that only needs to be done once in a while and could be added to subscription costs for bound volumes.

While the costs for subscriptions have doubled between 1986 and 2000, the accumulated inflation rate would be around 40 percent - and it is well known that the budget that is available to universities is constrained. We're talking about yearly costs of between 900 and 3.400 $, as a recent periodicals price survey reveals. When looking at the 10 most expensive journals from Elsevier, who has a share of 13.6%, all of them have a price tag of more than 10.000 $. Who is able to pay that?

The argument goes that publishing will produce one-time costs that may be covered by the authors themselves or their sponsors, but once these costs are covered, the availability should be free of charge.

At the moment, only about 10 to 15 percent are available without constraints - and wouldn't it be nice to see this percentage increase to something like 50 percent? The other question probably is: who will read all these publications, and how will it possible to find more easily what is really relevant for me? This also would require some rating and annotation mechanism in order to make published results more useful to their readers, such as with services like Connotea or Faculty of 1000 for biologists.

Social network aggregation

It would be really cool if there were only one social network to belong to, with the possiblity to tag the kind of relationship to the contacts one has. This is why we now have social network aggregators, which is a good idea to begin with. However, if we think about the content our contacts produce, of which not all would be relevant, given a specific context, I start to think that some intelligent filtering on top of contact aggregation would be helpful. This might also help discovering new, potentially interesting, contacts relative to what my current concerns are.

Tagging is the first idea that comes to mind, however, as any string of characters can be a tag, I feel that some semantic support is necessary. What I am thinking of is some controlled hierarchy with additional cross-links between terms, so any given term would have potentially several paths to some root node. Nothing new here.

When it comes to some well-defined contribution (e. g. a video about a place, a review of some restaurant), this may be not too difficult to integrate, but how about short utterances, e. g. via twitter? If this utterance contains a link, it might be not too difficult if it is possible to extract the kind of relationship by looking at the destination. But how about if the utterance is just some kind of statement like "I just can't stand the weather", or if one utterance is a follow-up of another?

I would be interested in any kind of thoughts regarding the semantic integration of micro-blogging - feel free to comment or to directly get in touch with me! Thanks in advance.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Virtual worlds - do they help in collaboration?

Today I found an announcement in my mailbox that Google has released Lively where you can create a virtual alter ego (also called avatar) together with all sorts of apparel and virtual spaces. Well, after having played around with it a bit (it's free of charge, being paid by advertisements), I can say that, while it is easy to use, it needs a bit of time to get ready to go, without me really being able to see what the benefit is. Maybe one thing that is missing is a number of templates, involving rooms, avatars, furniture, clothing and the like which would get you started really quickly. But on the other hand, I may be one of these persons that is getting too old in order to really grasp the benefits and perhaps the fun that may be involved in using this kind of virtual space.

But the question was whether virtual worlds may help in collaboration, that is, in a professional context. If I do not see the person I am working with (for example in international project work), I personally do not mind, as I am likely to either know who that person is, or, if not, I am able to at least see a picture via their web page or get some other information via their blog etc. What counts for me is to have an impression how well I can work with that person, and on what basis. In other words, I need to know what language (technical, marketing, research, adminstration) my partner is used to, added by how well I can get along with that person (although personal sympathy should probably not have too much of an influence). So, why do I need the support of virtual gadgets? After all, I am not earning my money fooling around with cool stuff, but working on my projects and getting my tasks done.