Distinguished Lecture

Pictures of Traces of Places, People, and Groups

Wednesday, October 11, 2006
4:00 pm to 5:30 pm
Marc A. Smith, Microsoft Research

The Microsoft Research Community Technologies group focuses on the study and enhancement of computer mediated collective action systems. In this talk I will present recent developments in projects that highlight and attempt to enhance computer mediated collective action: Netscan, SNARF and AURA.

Netscan is a set of tools and services for online communities. Netscan manufactures “social accounting metadata” about Usenet newsgroups and web boards, providing reports about discussion spaces and individuals that highlight patterns of activity and contribution in tabular and graphical forms. We have recently developed faster data update models, new Web service interfaces, a custom community portal page, and a new information visualization application (“Usenet Views”) that makes it simple to map and chart newsgroup communities. New sources of community content, from web boards, forums, discussion boards, email lists, and related repositories of threaded conversation are being analyzed by the Netscan system.

SNARF applies the concepts explored in the Netscan project to personal collections of email. SNARF provides tools to implement “social sorting” — reordering email collections based on the strength of different dimensions of the relationship between sender and receiver. For example, using SNARF, unread email from people can be ranked higher if they are often replied to by the user. A by-product of this tool is the generation of a high-dimensional dataset describing the structure and temporal patterns created through the exchange of email overtime. This dataset offers useful insights into the nature of email-based communications. Results from initial deployments of SNARF will be presented along with recent images generated by the SNARF Views extension to SNARF.

The AURA: Advanced User Resource Annotation system is a platform for Pocket PCs, Smartphones and mobile PCs that have various kinds of sensors such as barcode readers, digital cameras, WiFi signal strength detection, radio frequency identification (RFID) tag readers, and GPS. Using AURA today, users can scan the barcodes on everyday objects in the home, office, or store and gain access to related information and services such as competitive pricing and product reviews. Other kinds of tags, such as tags placed on art or equipment asset tags, can be easily linked to related data through Web sites or Web service interfaces. This talk covers several developments in the mobile annotation space and describes future directions for AURA and related services.

Marc Smith is a senior research sociologist at Microsoft Research specializing in the social organization of online communities and computer mediated interaction. He leads the Community Technologies Group at MSR.

He is the co-editor of Communities in Cyberspace (Routledge), a collection of essays exploring the ways identity, interaction and social order develop in online groups.

Smith's research focuses on computer-mediated collective action: the ways group dynamics change when they take place in and through social cyberspaces. Many “groups” in cyberspace produce public goods and organize themselves in the form of a commons (for related papers see: http://www.research.microsoft.com/~masmith). Smith's goal is to visualize these social cyberspaces, mapping and measuring their structure, dynamics and life cycles. He has developed a web interface (http://netscan.research.microsoft.com) to the "Netscan" engine that allows researchers studying Usenet newsgroups to get reports on the rates of posting, posters, crossposting, thread length and frequency distributions of activity.

This research offers a means to gather historical data on the development of social cyberspaces and can be used to highlight the ways these groups differ from, or are similar to, face-to-face groups. Smith is applying this work to the development of a generalized community platform for Microsoft, providing a web based system for groups of all sizes to discuss and publish their material to the web.

Smith received a B.S. in international area studies from Drexel University in Philadelphia in 1988, an M.Phil. in social theory from Cambridge University in 1990, and a Ph.D. in sociology from UCLA in 2001.

Last updated:

August 23, 2016