Monday, June 25, 2012

WebSci 2012 wrap-up

I returned home late last night from the ACM WebSci 2012 conference at Northwestern University (just north of Chicago). This was the fourth time this conference has convened but only my first time to attend.

The Teaching the Web with Web Science workshop met prior to the opening of the conference, and I was given the chance to present the curriculum used in my Intro to Web Science course that I taught at Harding in the Spring 2011 semester. I really enjoyed meeting other faculty, students, and practitioners who were interested in Web Science education. Thank you to St├ęphane, Su, and Hugh for organizing the workshop.

There was an impressive lineup of keynote speakers at the conference. I especially enjoyed hearing from:

  • Jon Kleinberg, who gave a very technical overview of how status can be observed in on-line social networks,
  • Sinan Aral, who discussed his recently published paper on social influence which shows that married people are the least susceptible to influence on Facebook, but those with the relationship status "It's complicated" are the most susceptible to influence.
  • Luis von Ahn, who really got the crowd excited about his attempt to translate the web into every written language using Duolingo. His next idea of eliminating crime using the Web received widespread if skeptical interest from the audience.

There were also a number of very high-quality papers. I'll just mention a few presentations that stood out:

  • Daniele Quercia's Loosing "Friends" on Facebook which found that "a relationship [on Facebook] is more likely to break if it is not embedded in the same social circle, if it is between two people whose ages differ, and if one of the two is neurotic or introvert." (You're going to unfriend me because I'm introverted? Ouch!)
  • Sebastiano Vigna who found Four Degrees of Separation in the Facebook graph, an update to the six degrees finding by Stanley Milgram that has been used historically.
    "...people are in fact only four worlds apart, and not six: when considering another person in the world, a friend of your friend knows a friend of their friend, on average."
  • St├ęphane Bazan's "Infowar in Syria: The Web between Liberation and Repression" (find it in the proceedings) discusses some of the novel tactics used by the Syrian government to discover rebels and their friends using social media.

The campus of Northwestern is beautiful. It is located just north of Chicago. Both photos below were taken while I was standing next to Lake Michigan on a running trail that goes through their campus. The first photo shows the back side of the campus, and the second shows downtown Chicago in the distance.

One of the best things about the conference was meeting up with my sister who I hadn't seen in a few months. Neither of us knew the other was going to be in Chicago (my sis lives in Philadelphia), so it was a great surprise to discover the morning I arrived that my sister was already in town! It's hard to believe God didn't have a role in arranging that meeting. smile