Open Problems

1) emergence not of one "PrGuy" but several
2) emergence of several Jim-types of various degrees of opposition, and in fact K people something for at least K different reasons
3) real or threatened lawsuits by aggrieved parties
4) a well-meaning member makes available a third party application which is in fact a Trojan horse that worms its way into members' systems and listens in on their private emails

I"m not sure a group of researchers can agree on their favorite scientific problems, but major initiatives depend on them. Just to give one example, there is difficult issue of security vs freedom. On the one hand, in the social networking ideal universe, anyone can connect with anyone else. In the ideal secure universe, there is insurance against that. Another issue has to do with what it means to achieve social intelligence. Yes, patients can share their experiences, report their symptoms and treatments, and give their opinions of doctors, but much of that is biased self-report, misleading expert witness testimony, or sheer story telling. There is conflicting "evidence" from patient communities. Bob Kraut and I have data suggesting this makes people worse, not better. A third major issue has to do with the ease of creating virtual organizations versus the difficulty of making them productive. These are only three of many scientific puzzles that have to be solved using computation and behavioral and social science.

Research Reference

Preece, J. and Shneiderman, B., The Reader-to-Leader Framework: Motivating technology-mediated social participation, AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction 1, 1 (March 2009), 13-32, available at

Thoughts on Research Directions

Here are thoughts on research directions in Social Technology, from a talk I gave to NSF in March 2009 on Social Technology. I define what I mean by Social Technology earlier in the talk. [Marti]

  1. Should Social Technology affect the research questions that grant writers address?
  2. Should Social Technology fundamentally change the way science is conducted?
  3. Should Social Technology fundamentally change the way science is funded?

Popping up a level, if we just look at what are some interesting research questions for those studying the phenomena of social technology, I proposed the following:

  • How to support constructive online debate?
  • How to make citizen input scale (comments on proposals, for example)?
  • How to divide up tasks to allow for large-scale user participation?
  • Which incentives work for which kinds of groups / tasks / structures?
  • What to do, if anything, about destructive uses of social technology? Ethical issues?
  • What to do about people who are shy or don't like to share their thoughts publicly?
  • Can contributions be anonymous in today's interconnected world?
  • What to do about slander / how to correct false information?

Some examples of already funding interesting research in this area:

  • Research Example: What Makes Hit Songs?
  • Answer: It's strongly affected by what other people think!
  • NSF grant: "Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market" Salganik, Dodds, Watts
  • NSF Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences Directorate

  • Research on Collaborative X:
    • Collaborative Search
    • Collaborative Visualization
      • (Heer)
      • Many Eyes (Viegas and Wattenberg)

  • The NSF HSD Program provides a good start:

  • About 14 IIS awards, including:
    • Collaborative Research: IT-Enhanced Market Design and Experiments
    • Transformed Social Interaction in Virtual Environments
    • Scalable Computational Analysis of the Diffusion of Technological Concepts
    • Investigating the Dynamics of Free/Libre Open Source Software Development Teams
  • New (April 29, 2009) NSF program on Social- Computational Systems

The Social-Computational Systems (SoCS) program

seeks to reveal new understanding about the properties that systems of people and computers together possess, and to develop a practical understanding of the purposeful design of systems to facilitate socially intelligent computing. By better characterizing, understanding, and eventually designing for desired behaviors arising from computationally mediated groups of people at all scales, new forms of knowledge creation, new models of computation, new forms of culture, and new types of interaction will result. Further, the investigation of such systems and their emergent behaviors and desired properties will inform the design of future systems.