Applications of Social Network Analysis: ASNA 2010

By some strange coincidence, I managed to visit Switzerland again this year – even two times in the same month!;-) I visited Zurich between 15.-17. September, where ASNA 2010 conference took place. This year’s topic was dynamics of social networks, which pretty much resonates with our current work on mutual effects of bibliographic communities, so I presented a full paper about it there (see below the slides).

[slideshare id=5354058&doc=asna2010-belak-101004110925-phpapp02]

The majority of talks was given by social scientists – namely sociologists and political scientists. There were couple of computer scientists as well. Particularly Tanya Berger-Wolf‘s talk arrested my attention, as she presented their work on social network analysis of zebras. One particular feature of zebra communities is that individual members visit for some period of time another communities. Therefore, they developed a community detection algorithm to detect communities stable in time, which also allows to treat an individual to be a part of its “base” community while it may be occasionally visiting another community. They introduced economically motivated notion of community affiliation, which seemed to me very interesting, as it brings to community detection methodology well argued notion of what does it mean to be a part of the community and what community itself is.

Another interesting talk I enjoyed was by Thomas Valente. He has done a lot of work on social network intervention programs, e.g. who to influence and how in order to prevent drug abuse among adolescents. I was quite surprised, that methods he presented were quite simple. It’s not a rocket science! For example, one may specify, that the desired goal is to rise cohesiveness of the network, so then s/he may try to add various links between nodes and identify the marginal growth of objectivity function, e.g. cohesiveness. I was immediately thinking of that in our work on co-citation networks, we may look at the similar process. That is to say, to inspect which scientists should be connected together in order to maximize their impact on the network, growth of their community, etc. I assume that a necessary step allowing this would be to calibrate a multi-agent model describing the behaviour of the scientific communities we have analyzed. Probably a catch is how to construct such a model: what should be the parameters? How should new link be added among the scientists? And should the existing links decay? What influence the formation of a citation link between scientists? Certainly it is a topical similarity. But what else? Spatial similarity? Position in the existing network? Anything else? I think the recent work of Leskovec and Myunghwan may be a good starting point for such a model.

One of the take away messages I brought from ASNA is that social and computer scientists have very different notion of scale. When they talk about “large-scale”, they usually mean hundred and more. When we talk about big networks, we usually mean tens of thousands or even millions. One of the reason I guess is the methodology of obtaining the studied networks. Whereas we usually scrape, mine, and integrate data in order to obtain those networks, they interview people, which is of course much more time-consuming.

The conference itself was organized by the University of Zurich and was held at their campus, which is nearby the city centre. The whole city is beautiful, clean, well-organized and pleasant to stay. The architecture and overall look is quite different to Geneva or Lausanne, though. In general, those French-speaking parts differs to German-speaking ones. This is quite surprising, I would say, as Switzerland is really a small country. As the conference ended on Friday evening, I booked my flight on Saturday afternoon. Since I had to check out at my hotel in the morning, I had some time to look around and to do some quick sightseeing. But being astonished by the beauty of the city’s architecture, I suddenly realized that I really do not have time left and that I have to run to the railway station. Without all this famous Swiss punctuality, I would have been pretty doomed, because I caught the last train to the airport and checked-in at the time, when the desk was about to close. Good luck:-).

Second International Conference on eParticipation: ePart 2010

Between 29. August and 2. September 2010, the second ePart conference held in beautiful city of Lausanne in Switzerland. eParticipation is a discipline studying engagement and participation of citizens in public policy using modern communication technologies, particularly Internet. The conference was co-located with its more famous and established conference on electronic government – eGov – from which it split off. I presented there a paper based on my Master’s thesis I elaborated on ontology driven self-organization of politically engaged social groups. See below the slides.

[slideshare id=5354165&doc=epart2010-belak-101004112234-phpapp02]

I found interesting particularly two presentations. The first was an announcement of new EU FP7 project called Padgets, which stands for “participation gadgets“. The goal of the project is to develop a platform, which will allow policy makers to directly communicate through well established social web sites with the citizens. I consider this approach as the only one possibility how to really engage citizens to participate, as it is highly unlikely the citizens will start to use dedicated system just for eParticipation purposes.

The second talk was given by Pietro Speroni di Fenizio with title Don’t vote – Evolve! He presented an interesting evolutionary approach for large-scale collaborative decision-making. The key characteristic of his method is that every opinion in the system is taken into account and considered, thus elegantly avoiding tyranny of the majority.

The conference was in a completely new building of Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration. The campus of the university is really well located – being perfectly accessible by metro on the one hand and being surrounded by trees, meadows with cows, and Geneva lake on the other hand. Lausanne itself is also very nice place: walks on the shores of Geneva lake, perfect public transport, friendly people, good food, … And of course: art! It seems to me Swiss people really have a good taste of art. I had this impression in Basel three years ago, and my visit in Lausanne only confirmed my impression. I have never seen so many beautiful sculptures, fountains, graphittis, and building as in Switzerland. On the occasion being in Lausanne, I went to the  famous gallery of Art Brut and was really amazed. I was thinking that for such exceptional collections, the establishment should provide wheel chairs, because after two hours of walking and staring at paintings your legs really start to hurt:). I hope I will return to that place soon.