Dean's Lecture

Social Substrates: People and the data they make

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
4:10 pm to 5:30 pm
David Ayman Shamma, Yahoo! Research

Everything we do online leaves traces: our tweets, Facebook likes, and YouTube views. Currently, Big Data is all about sifting through cloud stores of these traces with little question as to why those traces exist. Big Data analyses are based on data that are already collected; they are not about asking what should be collected to answer important social and motivational questions. I ask: What motivates people to do what they do? And how can we build predictive models of what people do based on their contextualized and emerging interests, and not just their numerical data. Finding the reasons why people do what they do, and why they create the data trails in the first place, invites a new set of questions and demands a new set of methods.

I present investigations into uncovering and understanding these motivations through three areas of inquiry: genre classification, topic prediction, and event detection. I propose changes for how we measure engagement, how we design system instrumentation, and how we design for data collection, aggregation and summarization. These changes have immediate implications on how we understand human behavior online and build new experiences, and they bring ramifications for the next generation of large data solutions.

David Ayman Shamma is a research scientist in the Internet Experiences group at Yahoo! Research. He researches synchronous environments and connected experiences both online and in-the-world. Focusing on creative expression and sharing frameworks, he designs and prototypes systems for multimedia-mediated communication, as well as, develops targeted methods and metrics for understanding how people communicate online in small environments and at web scale. Shamma is the creator and lead investigator on the Yahoo! Zync project.

Using models of creativity and sharing from his research, Shamma creates media art installations that have been reviewed by The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, and Chicago Magazine and exhibited internationally, including Second City Chicago, the Berkeley Art Museum, SIGGRAPH ETECH, Chicago Improv Festival, and Wired NextFest/NextMusic.

Shamma holds a B.S./M.S. from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition at The University of West Florida and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the Intelligent Information Laboratory at Northwestern University. Before Yahoo!, he was an instructor at the Medill School of Journalism; he has also taught courses in Computer Science and Studio Art departments. Prior to receiving his Ph.D., he was a visiting research scientist for the Center for Mars Exploration at NASA Ames Research Center.

Last updated:

August 23, 2016