Sunday, April 24, 2011

Simons Science Series Talk: Jon Kleinberg

Before taxes were due, Jon Kleinberg spoke at the Simons Science Series on Social Networks. Quite simply, Jon is the Carl Sagan of the Computer Science Universe. He switched between
  • science (Quoted Pauli that one could not even think of a wrong model; Martian's question, Is there life on Earth?),
  • technologies (karate clubs, wiki, epinions, flickr, emails, and of course facebook and gmail),
  • theories (structural social theories of balance, peer factors in social evaluations: people have negative opinion of peoplewhose level of achievement is similar to theirs),
  • theoretical CS (random graph modeling of dynamics, convergence analysis of local phenomena, rank 1 matrix encoded in data, random walk that returns to origin),
  • some truly fun experiments with data ( use flicker photo locations and abstract out a world map of population centers -- you can find the line outside a sushi restaurant if you used facebook data!; what is the prob that you answer a mail within X min?), and
  • great oneliners (on social networks, everyone gets a line; incredible richness of graphs; in 2000 at IBM we wondered if only we had a website where people will register and tell us where they live, and how long will it take for that to happen; we prefer facebook to enemybook; software knows you better than you do; we live in networks)
to enthrall the entire audience, and inspire them to step out of the talk, and start asking questions about the native social world online and around them, and use whatever tools --- percolation, statistics, graphs --- they have handy and start digging.

Some morsels from the feast: gmail could tell you when you are tired and not being productive; same place and same time flicker upload is sufficient correlation to associate the different uploaders tightly -- like they are a family or belong to the same conference; is there a balance theory like enemy-of-a-friend-is an-enemy for asymmetric networks?; how long will controversial topics exposed via say twitter hashtags survive?; etc.

Also, he made wiki -- at least the wiki administration that "grants tenure" to those with > = 10k edits after a vote on their portfolio -- sound cool. Finally, it is also cool to see Jon interact with many communities smoothly, go from talking about ergodicity to "like spin systems but spins here are on edges; gauge theory in physics, problem of removing frustrations".



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