We’re already deep into February 2017, but I thought I’d finally put together an overview of what I’ve been up to during the past year, at least as far as research outputs are concerned. It’s been a busy year by any measure, with a number of key projects coming to completion; research publications from some of these are still in production, but here’s what’s already come out.
The closing (!) keynote of Web Science 2016 is presented by Helen Margetts from the Oxford Internet Institute. Her focus is on the use of social media for collective political action – that is, for activities undertaken by citizens with the aim of contributing to the public good. There is a strong feeling that such action is happening, but as yet not enough empirical evidence about how and why it is happening.
Even those who refuse to participate online are somehow caught up in the changes that the Internet has contributed to: our lives are intertwined with its technologies, platforms, and content. And these technosocial spaces also generate a substantial amount of transactional data about user participation that goes well beyond the sort of data – for instance about political attitudes and engagement – that were available in pre-Internet days.
The final speaker in this Web Science 2016 session is Amaç Herdagdelen, whose interest is in the experience of immigrants using social networks. On Facebook, for instance, information about one's migrant status can be included in one's profile information; by identifying users with a difference between their stated home country and country of residence, the present study identified some 93 home countries with more than 10,000 immigrants on Facebook, for migrants in the U.S.
The next speaker at Web Science 2016 is Ilya Musabirov, whose focus is on place-based communities online. The focus here is especially on VKontakte, the most popular social media platform in Russia, and on how residents in apartment buildings in St. Petersburg are using this platform. The main tool here are restricted-access groups, which require formal vetting by the group owner before access is granted (and during that process aspects like the applicant's apartment number may be checked).
Next in this Web Science 2016 session is Yelena Mejova, whose work examines how privacy is being discussed on social media in Qatar. Privacy has a number of definitions: the right to be left alone, right to intimacy, etc. But privacy is also defined differently in different regions of the world; the dominant western definitions of privacy may not align with definitions that are prevalent elsewhere, such as for example in the Gulf region.
The next session at Web Science 2016 begins with Niko Tsakalakis, whose focus is on electronic identity. eIDs are a set of identifiers that set us apart from other people, and these can take a number of forms from software to hardware identifiers and biometric data. Such eIDs are now enshrined in a number of regulations at national levels, and also enable cross-border transactions across Europe.
Post-lunch, the final day of Web Science 2016 continues with a keynote by Andrew Tomkins, whose focus is on the dynamics of choice in online environments. He begins by highlighting R. Duncan Luce's work, including his Axiom of Choice, but also points out the subsequent work that has further extended the methods for analysing discrete choice. Today, the most powerful models are mathematically complex and computationally intractable, as well as requiring sophisticated external representations of dependence.
From this work it has become clear that the Axiom of Choice holds only under relatively select conditions. Contextual data is of great importance here, and additional approaches to modelling general behaviour of discrete choice are required. The Randomised Utility Model, for instance, assigns a random utility value to each available choice, and in an ideal world users would then select the item with maximum utility; but because of existing preferences real-world users will deviate from such choices.
The final speaker in this Web Science 2016 session is Clare Hooper, whose interest is in 'social machines' as defined by Tim Berners-Lee: systems were people do the creative work, and machines take care of the administration. Social machines will exist in the context of problems to be solved; they may be created by single stakeholders (as in the case of Galaxy Zoo), while others arise in a more emergent fashion (from online communities).
Next up at Web Science 2016 is Paul Seitlinger, whose interest is in social tagging practices. These provide a valuable insight into human cognition and offer an opportunity to validate lab-based models 'in the wild'. One key question in this is how semantic stabilisation, or consensual use of tags, comes into being. This is influenced by the interplay of both human and non-human actors.
The next Web Science 2016 presenter is Jack Webster, who focusses on music recommender systems. Such recommender systems could generate filter bubbles, but that threat is nothing new; the cultural intermediaries described by Pierre Bourdieu fulfilled very similar roles and could have engendered very similar patterns.