ETech: Catalyzing Collective Action on the Net



The first keynote of the morning was by Marc Smith, a sociologist at Microsoft Research,  Marc had some excellent visualizations for the data collected from Netscan, which scans and archives tons of data and metadata about usenet newsgroups.  As a sociologist, he is quite interested in graphing, visualizing, and interpreting conversations and relationships as they happen across Usenet.

Marc discussed Schelling Points, or obvious places that people go in order to meet certain people.  Schelling Points can be complex and quite interesting when you throw the net into the mix.  Another important concept that he looked at was Yhprum’s law.  Yhprum’s law (Murphy spelled backwards) is that systems that should not work but often do.  This happens quite a bit online.

Usenet is not well, but it’s not dead either.  Last year 240 million messeges were sent by 8.5 unique identities.  Netscan has collected about a billion headers, and Marc showed several ways of visualizing the data.  First up was a tree view of all of usenet, showing growth and decay in certain areas over time.  It was quite interesting, and quite trippy at the same time.

He also visualized the difference between between a tech support style group with say alt.politics.bush.  The number of posters, their frequencies, and the number of threads that they used were strikingly different.

Another interesting visualization was tracking one user over time.  You can generate a sort of histogram with the data and tell quite a bit about a users’ habits at a glance.  One type of user was one that never initiates a thread, but adds to threads all the time.  This is the answer person.  They

Marc also discussed mobile machine readble tags.  It’s quite interesting tech, tho identical to a presentation given at Foo Camp.  More information can be found at the Aura site.