Archive for November, 2008

Media Slant

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Say that you have to answer this research question “Does the market discourage biased reporting (media slant)? Or does the market encourage it? Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro, two economists at the University of Chicago’s business school, set out to test this proposition, and The Economist reported on their research in just two pages. Gentzkow’s and Shapiro’s methodology is smart and imaginative! Here you go:


Question/Answers @ RecSys Doctoral Symposium 2008

Friday, November 28th, 2008

I came across an interesting blog post by @HDrachsler, who I started following on twitter after this year’s RecSys conference. The post contains a recording of the question/answer time at the RecSys doctoral symposium (which I unfortunately did not attend). The clearest voice in the recording is Prof. Joseph Konstan, who (obviously, I know) has some very interesting things to say about collaborative filtering, recommender system research, and the state of the field. Here are some notes that I jotted down while I was listening: (more…)

A Pitch on Future Recommender Systems

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

Yesterday I attended a workshop that was aimed at fostering research collaboration between our department and BSkyB. After a short introduction by the head of the department, a number of members of staff gave short (10 minute) pitches about their past and current research, and areas they are interested in for potential collaboration. The range of work being done in the department is huge- perhaps this deserves a post of its own.


Free event: Us Now film. December 10th.

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Us Now is a ground-breaking documentary project about the power of mass collaboration and the internet – and its potential impact on society. Directed by Ivo Gormley, the film explores how the web is changing the ways we organise ourselves.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 from 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM (GMT)

Prince Charles Cinema – 7 Leicester Place – London, WC2H 7BY

Free Registration

Do online reviews *really* matter?

Friday, November 21st, 2008

It is some time since I started being interesting in evaluating and in improving the “quality” of information that review and rating sites make available to their users. The word “quality” may be an indefinite buzz word, but behind it I imagine some less abstract concept like “usefulness” and “persuasiveness”, and some preliminary research questions as: “how much impact has that information on users when they take a decision?” or “how can I help the user in exploiting at the best the online reviews data?”. Thousands of reviews (despite ordered by some importance criterion) still force the user to a peer reading, and it may not be uncommon that users read what they already expect to read.

A part from my thoughts, I have recently stepped into a paper that brings light to the topic. “Do online reviews matter? An empirical investigation of panel data” by W. Duan, B. Gu and A. B. Whinston.

It is an interesting study that examines the persuasive effect and the awareness effect of online reviews on movie’s box office revenues. Persuasiveness is the quality of making someone believes to do something (by giving him good reasons to do it), in this case, in buying a movie ticket. Awareness is the quality of being informed of something, in this case, of the existence of a movie. The study’s outcome is, in the very synthesis, surprising. On line reviews have no effect on box office revenues; their pervasive efficacy is almost zero. On the contrary the volume of online posting, which makes more users be aware of the existence of a movie, clearly has an impact on box office revenues. This result has also another interesting consequence; the word-of-mouth (which understands the production of online reviews) seems to have more importance than the quality of the reviews themselves in moving users’ decision to purchase a ticket.

It is difficult, for me, to understand whether the efficacy of the word-of-mouth versus the quality of the information is something inherent to the human way of coping with information or it is not. But and limited to the movie context, the paper shows that the information brought by online reviews is currently not useful as we would like. I see here very promising opportunities for future work, and we researcher should try to investigate further into this direction.

Gabriele Lenzini

User-Controlled Metadata for Portable Content

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

This paper proposes that digital content’s metadata should not be retained by a specific company but should be part of the content itself- for example, tags on a picture should not only be stored by Flickr but should be attached to the picture itself. The result is that the picture is portable onto websites other than Flickr. Two additional points:


Potential for Internet Video Monetization

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

In this position paper, Shashi Seth of Youtube suggested that his company can and should make money from ads – “The potential for Video monetization is clearly there – just a matter of when”. He makes two interesting points:

  • U.S. online video consumers are more likely to view video on weekdays than on the weekend (peak viewing 5:00-8:00 P.M. on weekdays). This opens up some amazing doors when you consider that this slot is adjacent to Television primetime. Wouldn’t advertisers want a multi-channel campaign approach and supplement their TV campaigns with campaign on Internet Video?
  • 80 percent of online video users accepted the presence of advertising as a trade-off for providing free online video content.

Proximity Marketing & Proximity Networks

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

I’ve just finished to put some old material together for a position paper titled “Tapping the Mobile Digital Tapestry: Can mobile 2.0 companies make money without being greedy for personal data? ” Of course, my answer is yes: “if companies were to give up control over user data, how they would make money? One promising way seems to be proximity marketing campaigns: distributing electronic ads among co-located mobile users. Companies like HyperTag and BlueMedia are currently working out how to best do so.”

However, to figure that out, those companies need to be supported by research, which necessarily needs real data. That is why it will be very important to collect data of who is collocated with whom and of what co-located people like. Only in that way will it be possible to preliminarily test the effectiveness of proximity marketing campaigns. Hopefully, that will open up a new research area: proximity & affinity networks!

Automated Website Tagging

Monday, November 17th, 2008

is an API that generates automated tags for website content categorised in groups such as people, locations, topic, etc.

e.g. take the BBC news on credit crisis:

and use like:

It would be interesting to find out how these tags are generated, for example, if they use dictionaries etc and compare the performance with other techniques.

paths of least surveillance, broadcasting of text messages, and eternity flyers

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Today, I was reading Art Review and came across The Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA), which is  an organization dedicated to the cause of individual and collective self-determination. Members of this organization are developing robots for supporting culturally resistant forces. For example: Pamphleteer, aka “Little Brother,” is a propaganda robot which distributes subersive literature; and StreetWriter/SWX is a vehicle that prints text messages onto the pavement in a manner much like a dot-matrix printer. They are also attempting to undermine or reverse the authoritative power associated with surveillance. Two projects in that direction: iSee is a web-based application charting the locations of closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance cameras in urban environments – users can find routes that avoid these cameras (“paths of least surveillance“) allowing them to walk around their cities without fear of being “caught on tape” by unregulated security monitor; and TXTmob is a free service that lets you quickly and easily broadcast txt messages to friends, comrades, and total strangers. See a cool video (mov) about how TXTmob was used by protesters in NYC – with TXTmob, protesters were able to disperse themselves before police reinforcements arrived only to reconvene around a new target moments later (this technique is called swarming and is considered by security experts the most effective tool at modern activists’ disposal)

I hope that, with my research, I would be able one day to realize my dream of  Eternity Flyers:

People who live outside an office of Scientology can make their WiFi hotspots available to store electronic flyers about Scientology. People who come along can then receive those flyers and further disseminate them using their Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones. Being better-informed, people can then decide whether to stop by and join a cult whose members “want the global obliteration of psychiatrists, who they say were to blame for the rise of Nazi Germany”. One may rightly argue that this news can be published on the Internet. A good point, surely, expect that people who did so on their homepages have taken it down after threats of lawsuits by Scientology’s lawyers (known to be deep-pocketed vigorous litigants). By contrast, if dozens of WiFi hotspots were to store this news, it would surely keep popping up, and it would do so just where needed – around the Scientology office.

mobile 2.0 and profits: proximity marketing to the rescue

Friday, November 14th, 2008

A while back we wrote an article (pdf) in which we pointed out that, by retaining user data on their Internet servers, mobile web 2.0 companies are not making any profit. In the excerpt below “Unlocking the Tapestry“, we were purposely controversial – enjoy it ;-).  Still, the question of how mobile web 2.0 companies will make money is  open to debate. The conventional answer is that those companies may capitalize on electronic ads. How to spread ads in a distributed way? Companies such as HyperTag and BlueMedia are already offering proximity marketing solutions (delicious). Another good reason to decentralize web 2.0 services!

2.2 Unlocking the Tapestry … (from pdf)


2 ubi apps: chat hotsposts and affective diary

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

A couple of cool applications from the Mobile Life Centre in Kista, Sweden

1. Ubiquitous chat hotspots
“Nicolas Belloni of Mobile Life shows an interesting app that uses your phone’s GPS system to create chat hotspots anywhere in the world. When you log in, the system knows where you are and, presumably, you can discuss local topics with friends and relations in that chat room. It’s still in beta, but it’s quite interesting, especially for tourists and international stalkers.” (pdf of Ubicomp workshop)

2. Affective Diary: Your computer knows you’re blue
A little project involving a PC-based application and a body sensor that tests galvanic skin response. When you’re excited, a little blob on the screen turns red and upright and when you’re relaxed the blob is blue and sleepy. The system allows you to watch a timeline of your blobs allowing you to see when and where you were most excited or agitated and even provides biofeedback. One tester found that she was most agitated when her son was leaving to go back to Paris. By noting this, she learned she could tell her son she missed him and feel much better after he left instead of holding it in and getting herself upset. It’s a very humanist – and friendly – approach to technology.

Check also this paper by Lars Erik Holmquist «Automated Journeys – Automated Connections?» (pdf)

Social Computing @ UCL-CS

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008
Today was the long-awaited follow up to the first introductory mobisys seminar. The theme today was on the social computing research going on in the group, or, more specifically, the overlap between social and pervasive research. Only a handful of speakers gave their pitch, since we have heard from Daniele (slides), Sonia, and myself in the last few weeks. The slides from the session are below:
Social Computing Research
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: researchsocial computingucllondonucl)

We followed up the pitches with a brainstorming session on the future of mobisys seminars and collaborative work. Lots of great ideas emerged: we are looking forward to incorporating them into our seminar series in the near future!