A Post by Michael B. Spring

(A list of all posts by M.B. Spring)

Assessing the Social Web (Novermber 1, 2007)

I am just finishing up a doctoral seminar on aggregating annotation information. The premise for the seminar, which was examining various forms of social networking, was to look at how the information that was being aggregated by these sites might be aggregated and used. The motivation for the site was some work being done on a dissertation by one of my students that suggests the bookmarks being aggregated by delicious might serve as a better indicator of resource importance than Larry Page's PageRank. I suggested to the twelve PhD students who took the seminar that we begin with the assumption that everything from a link to a bookmark to a note to tags are forms of annotation. The question then is what benefits or insights can be achieved by aggregating annotations.

The fall out from the course is still occuring, and we have some interesting new projects emerging. One will seek to use tag clouds to develop a new form of topic map of a resource space. The initial ideas are as intriguing as the delicious search ranking project and involve very simple aggregation methods that we are hoping will out perform self organizing maps!

In the seminar, we returned time and again to the question "what exactly are we talking about" as a means of trying to make sense out of the many different things that are going on. For example, we tried to impose an old model I have used for many years on the systems. That model suggests that document or resource systems focus on one of four main categories of activity -- creation, storage, retrieval, and use. Further these processes tend to be different for differnet classes of documents/resources. We have personal, group, organizational, enterprize, and societal resources. When we look at facebook, what are we looking at, or is it not captured in this space.

Last week, we fell into a discussion of various systems and were talking about google versus facebook versus delicous versus flickr. At one point we began to discuss the economics of the new web and discussed the impacts of advertizing and clickthrough. As a part of that discussion, we began to see at least three clearly different kinds of spaces. For lack of better terms, we classed flickr as a destination. We classed google as a waypoint, and we classed facebook as a portal. Without asking whether the examplars were correct, we postulated that a waypoint was a starting point for a search that would take us to a dstination. In contrast, a portal was a specialized waypoint that also served as a destination. Some interesting questions can be asked if we do thsi kind of segmentation. If people use wayspoints as the beginning of a purchase process and destinations as places where they can congregate, what is the value of an ad in each space? There were a number of interesting arguments here which I will return to at some later time.