I was asked to formulate a position statement for the WWW conference panel on “The Future of Online Social Interactions: What to Expect in 2020″:
In 2020 our efforts, our productivity, our creativity, our knowledge and our interaction, will no longer be stored in shoeboxes, or any boxes at all. Their transmission will no longer necessarily be mediated through paper or institution, rigidly constrained, perhaps not shared at all and soon forgotten. Efforts will be discoverable and appreciated, or archived until such a time as they need to be discovered or are ready to be appreciated. Knowledge will be sought after and sharable. A culture of generosity will prevail, whether it is the sharing of experiences with one’s friends and family or contributing to common knowledge bases with observations, advice, or expertise. We will no longer force our generosity upon others; they may look at our photographs or read our musings at their leisure. They may do so because they know us, or because they want to know us, or because they are indifferent to us, aside from our ability to satiate their thirst for information and entertainment.
We will become intimately familiar with strangers, and allow strangers views into the intimate parts of our lives. We may find ourselves comfortable letting strangers sleep on our couches or take our money, provided their online reputations are good. We will not blunder about the world blindly. We will know where to go, what to do, what products to purchase, and what mates to choose, because some algorithm will optimally combine experience gathered in our social network, with the opinions of “people like us”. The likelihood that we will go wrong will be reduced. We will watch only funny videos, ready only good books, get excellent value for our money, and be able talk about it with our friends, because they will have shared our experience. We will find our niche in the ever growing and evolving network of online people, information, and creativity. We will inextricably be caught in its web, a web that readily adds news threads across great distances, but may or may not ever remove them.

 

I attended the NIH meeting on modeling social behavior in November. It was one of those meetings where you fall in love with science and research all over again. Like a kid, you are told all sorts of wondrous things you had no clue about. For example:
- having friends leads to a good night’s sleep (John Cacioppo)
- locusts all swarm in one direction because if they don’t, their asses get bitten (Iain Couzins)
- gossip is not all bad. In fact, it helps alleviate misconceptions (Eliot Smith)
- bees on cocaine change their dance (Gene Robinson)
And especially relevant to my own research, Sinan Aral talked about diversity of social networks and productivity, as well as some fascinating brand new research on a massive online dataset (the complete IM network, purchase and browsing patterns). Drool :) Sinan is looking at the important question of disambiguating correlation and influence.
My own talk was on, you guessed it, expertise sharing in online communities.
To see the talks, go to the NIH website:
http://videocast.nih.gov/Summary.asp?File=14799 (Sinan’s talk is about 5 hours and 29 minutes in!)
http://videocast.nih.gov/Summary.asp?File=14800

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