buddies and business

L'├ępicerie in Lyon

The more I get into relation detection via communication data, the more services come to my mind. But of course, I don’t invent this wheel for the first time (Pete Warden’s blog brought a lot of evidence to me): In an article two years from now (already!) ZDnet UK has a nice portrait about the emerging business of email analysis. A positive focus is put on Clearwell Systems because of their special (unique?) ranking algorithm (oha! — I bet Google pays very close attention). Its software

weighs the background data and content of each email for several factors, including the name of the sender, names of recipients, how many replies the message generated, who replied, how quickly replies came, how many times it was forwarded, attachments and, of course, keywords.

Well, so do I… But in the light of a fully grown business, ranking emails gets away from a personal (autonomous) assistant that is just nice to have, handy and good for reflection. With the huge amounts of email produced every day and about every topic relevant to any business process, corporate email archives contain pretty any information a manager, and — more delicately — a prosecutor can desire:

Email has come to be viewed as a source of truth. If you want to know what really happened, you look at the email.

As it became clear to me, too, during my research, collecting and archiving (intercepting?) all electronic conversations improves the the basis for statistical analysis and heuristics and hence the quality of the ranking a lot. A lot of entities (Google, security authorities) are after our data, consequentially.

Pete Warden has to receive an honrable mention once more because his position of “trying to generate a useful index with no human intervention” resonates with my basic motivation, too. I find his blog to be imensly interesting and very relevant for my thesis: Like expoiting the time information inherent to email that I thought of using in some kind of “contact profiling”, all the privacy issues entangled, especially in business context, and drawing profit from the knowledge that accumulates often unnoticed in a company (or workgroup). And he complains about the missing Gmail Api, too. All written in a very comprehensive manner.


Steven’s Social Fabric

My Social Fabric as conceptual screenshotimg

The mobile phone as a truely social device makes an ideal plattform for social network visualisations. This gets demonstrated in a very inspiring way by Steven Blyth in his master thesis project at the now discontinued IVREA. As I found out he researched a question in the immediate neighbourhood of mine:

How can the softness and ambiguity of our social worlds be visualized within the computational and binary context of a mobile device?

The Social Fabric is a representation of your social world, displayed as a single visual array [of avatars] on your mobile phone. It does not replace your address book or calendar but keeps you subtly informed [via the body posture or the avatars!] about which relationships are prospering, which you have neglected, and the overall state of your social fabric.

social fabric - posturesimg

In lots of his ideas and writings I found good arguments for what I want to further investigate. A very good point is that ambiguous metaphors can avoid the impression that a computer system could be truely accurate about something that is vague by its nature: social networks. As I am following a rather number based approach at the moment, this is something I will consider (with this Paper by Thomas Erickson from IBM).

He also revived another fascination (deep inside of me and, actually, my thesis proposal) for agents and avatars. In his opinion they are not discarded by history, as one can hear often, but depend on the proper design and sometimes sophisticated technology. The more the latter flourish the more the first can emerge as useful companions.

In contrast to his work, visualisation is supposed to be only one facett of my thesis with further applications building on insights gained by them.
Something left unclear to a certain extent in his text is his profiling method, what I used to call the “long term relation records”. Especially when considering “old friends” and “family members” a good balancing between current communication behaviour and long time habbits can offer new possibilities to deal with the less active parts of our “circles of friends”.

Thanks to one of his co-students at IVREA, Myriel, for poking my nose into this work! It found some good resonance over different media: WMMNA (relates it to GORI), Wired, LIFT 07


Computer Science Helsinki: The Context Project

Why use mobile phones as technology platform?

Smartphones are the first real pervasive platform. They are always with you and have the processing power and network connectivity of a 1995 PC. A service or application that works on a Smartphone has the unique capability of being available throughout your everyday life.

This is the statement that can be found on the homepage of the Context Project, the documentation of a large research done on the communicative (and consequentially social) behaviour of people by the
Department of Computer Science,
Helsinki Institute for Information Technology Basic, and
Advanced Research Unit

They developed a very sophisticated software application to keep track of all the people you meet and conversate with during the day, called the ContextPhone. Unfortunately it is designed for SymbianOS and therefore restricted to Series60 Nokia mobile phones.

Moreover, they mention the potential of the communication logs as private diary, several privacy issues and the possible influence on our behaviour (rituals), because we could start manipulating our context in order to make use of the collected/transmitted information as a message on its own (ideas which came to my mind as well).

I found another reason via Wade Roush on Technology Review

The smart phone is “an ideal system for pervasive, supportive social computing,” writes Russell Beale, director of the Advanced Interaction Group in the computer science department at the University of Birmingham, England. It’s “a two-way device, creating and consuming information, is highly personal, and is almost always available… .”


MS Research: Socio-Digital Systems

Another Group of Microsoft Research shows some interesting developments and is still active: Socio-Digital Systems


MS Research: Social Computing Group

While digging into the field of Social Computing I found some very interesting projects from the Microsoft Research Social Computing Group.
It seems to be abandonned, with the last update from 2003.


Identity 2.0

Identity in digital media, as discussed by Dick Hardt and Kim Cameron.

Dick Hardt proposes in his OSCON 2005 Keynote an identification system for the virtual world modelled after reality: Some authorities issue ID-certificates to the user and she can use these IDs independently for a variety (best: all) of services (e.g. shopping). The service doesn’t have to ensure the integrity of the user by contacting some 3rd party authentification authority with every login (as it is now) and the user has one ID for everything (simple). That’s (very roughly) what he tries to sell with sxip.