Monday, November 8, 2010

Big Data, Global Development, & Complex Social Systems - A Talk with Nathan Eagle

When: Mon, Nov 22, 2010; 3:30-5:00pm; refreshments served.
Where: IBM Research, 1 Rogers St, Cambridge MA 02142
Free and open to the public with RSVP at Eventbrite
Discounted parking at Galleria Mall. Bring parking ticket for validation.

About the talk
Vast amounts data about human movements, transactions, and communication patterns are continuously being generated by everyday technologies such as mobile phones and credit cards. This unprecedented volume of information provides a novel set of research questions that can be applied to a wide range of issues.

Nathan Eagle and his colleagues - in collaboration with the mobile phone, internet, and credit card industries - are collecting and analyzing behavioral data from over 250 million people across the world. In this talk, he will discuss some projects that focus on behavioral dynamics over a broad spectrum of scales - from risky behavior in a group of MIT freshman, to wealth in the UK, and cholera outbreaks in Rwanda.

This vast volume of data requires new analytical tools. Nathan's team is developing a range of large-scale network analysis and machine learning algorithms designed to provide deeper insight into human behavior. His goal, as he says, is "to determine how we can use these insights to actively improve the lives of the billions of people who generate this data and the societies in which they live."

About Nathan Eagle
Nathan Eagle is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the MIT, a Research Assistant Professor at Northeastern University, and an Omidyar Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute. His research involves engineering computational tools, designed to explore how data generated about human behavioral patterns can be used for social good.

Nathan is the CEO of txteagle Inc, a mobile crowdsourcing company that has recently become one of the largest employers in Kenya. txteagle helps companies increase productivity, reduce expenses, and gain new insights by harnessing the power of the massive, low cost workforce in the developing world. They have a patent-pending platform that is enabling 2 billion mobile phone users in 80 countries to earn money or airtime by doing work on a phone or computer.

He holds a BS and two MS degrees from Stanford University. His PhD from the MIT Media Lab on Reality Mining was declared one of the "ten technologies most likely to change the way we live" by the MIT Technology Review.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hiring Software Engineers - Thanks for your interest - job has been filled.

The IBM Center for Social Software is seeking software engineers to help us design and build the next generation of social and collaborative applications. Our engineers work in small teams with leading research scientists and designers to solve critical problems in social networking, human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, and visualization. Our group provides a friendly and intellectually exciting environment with the opportunity to have significant impact both inside and outside IBM.

Candidates should hold a B.S., M.S., or Ph.D. in Computer Science or a related field and should have skills in one or more of the following areas:
• Design and construction of Web applications with rich user experiences. Some of the tools we currently use: jQuery, Dojo, Ruby on Rails, and J2EE.
• Scalable system architecture and cloud deployment. Experience with Linux, Hadoop, relational databases, and NoSQL data stores is a plus.
• Mobile development for iOS and Android. Familiarity with non-traditional user interfaces, such as speech or touch.
• Analytics on structured and unstructured data, such as multimedia processing, social network analysis, or natural language processing.

Candidates with a PhD may also be considered for a Research Staff Member position, which in addition to the skills above, requires experience in publishing at top-tier HCI, CSCW, or Visualization conferences. The position includes setting research directions, conducting research analysis, and continuing to publish.

This is a full-time position and is based in Cambridge, MA. To apply, send your resume/CV via email to with the subject line "Software Engineer Position".

IBM is committed to creating a diverse environment and is proud to be an equal opportunity employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, national origin, genetics, disability, age, or veteran status.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Announcing our 2010 Fall Speaker Series

This fall, we will be hosting four amazing speakers: S. Craig Watkins, Tiffany Shlain, Nathan Eagle, and Nicholas Christakis. All events are free and open to the public.

Come to the Center for Social Software in Cambridge, for the first of our fall 2010 speaker series, on October 11...

The Social Impacts of Young People’s New Media

Here are the facts:
Nine out of ten American teenagers are online.
Over 70% use social network sites daily.
75% own a mobile phone.

Join S. Craig Watkins, author of The Young and the Digital, in a conversation about the social media behaviors captured in his talks with young technology users and how it is shaping their lives.

S. Craig Watkins studies young people's social and digital media behaviors. At the University of Texas, Austin, he teaches in the departments of Radio-Television-Film and Sociology and the Center for African and African American Studies. Watkins has participated in the MacArthur Foundation initiative on Youth, Digital Media and Learning, exploring the intersection of digital media, everyday life, and learning.

Register at Eventbrite.
When: Monday, Oct 11, 2010. 3:30pm - 5:00pm; refreshments served.
Where: IBM Research, 1 Rogers St, Cambridge MA 02142
Parking: Galleria Mall, next to IBM. Bring parking ticket for validation.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wondering how to teach students about teamwork? Try "Software for a Cause!"

It all started after a call between IBM Rational Marketing and IBM Researchers Li-Te Cheng and John Patterson of the Center for Social Software. The topic of the call? How to get people to notice and try out IBM® Rational® Jazz®.

What is Rational Jazz? A new software development technology platform co-conceived by Rational and Research. The platform is designed for distributed teams, which is the way most of the world works. The idea behind Jazz is to transform how people work together on a project by integrating and synchronizing the people, processes, and assets associated with that project.

Back to the call...Li-Te and John's call got them thinking about how to engage students using Jazz itself. So afterwards they continued discussing what might encourage people to write code in teams. They believed Jazz might be a great tool to teach Computer Science students the fundamentals of distributed software teamwork.

Getting students from different universities to co-develop something in a class, using Jazz in a distributed manner, would be an ideal setting. They believed they could harness the prevalent open-source hacker ethos and get a group of students to do it for a cause. And, because social software has enabled people to become more active and connected than in the past, it's easier to get involved in social good. Li-Te decided that this type of project was perfect for a summer internship at the Center in Cambridge, MA. The next steps were finding a "cause" to work with, students to work on it, and - most critically - the right summer intern to design the project.

Li-Te convinced colleagues at McGill University in Montreal and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver to run their second year computer science courses together. He made arrangements using IBM's Open Collaborative Research Program, which enables IBM Researchers to work together with university faculty on joint projects. His colleagues were enthusiastic, but had two concerns: they did not want to host and manage a Jazz server, and they wanted to work with a Canadian cause.

Rational helped put Li-Te in contact with Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. Marist was setting up server hosting of various IBM products for academic users as part of its Enterprise Computing Community initiative. They offered to host a Jazz server, and Software for a Cause became one of their first customers.

IBM Corporate Citizenship helped Li-Te make contact with the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and he approached them about doing the project. This foundation serves a community of about 3000 people who, because of their compromised physical condition, need to avoid face-to-face contact. Tools such as Facebook and Skype have made a huge difference in their lives. The Foundation agreed to work with IBM, as the "customer" for Software for a Cause.

So, with help from various IBM resources, Li-Te had participants and a proposal. Now he needed to find a summer intern to create the tools for the course. He had to get just the right person to design the tools, develop and assist with teaching the course, and work with us as it all unfolded. In our next post on this topic, we'll meet that person. Tristan Ratchford, a graduate student at McGill, is spending his summer designing this project for the Computer Science class he'll be teaching this Fall semester.

Stay tuned.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The People and Impetus behind Many Bills is a public watchdog group that uses the data from Congressional voting records on bills, supporting and opposing interests for each bill, and campaign contribution data to revealing connections that could never before be easily seen.

In September 2009, the Visual Communication Lab (the VCL) of the IBM Center for Social Software hosted an event called "the Transparent Text Symposium," spurred by the US government initiative for transparency. MapLight had heard about the symposium and sent the VCL the text of bill HR627, the "Credit CARD Act of 2009." This bill (now Public Law No: 111-24) is an amendment to the Truth in Lending Act, and was created to make sweeping changes in the credit card industry and protect consumers against egregious pricing.

The bill is 33 pages. The content of almost all of it relates to the title of the bill, and what you'd expect. On page 31, however, section 512, titled PROTECTING AMERICANS FROM VIOLENT CRIME, concerns the right to bear firearms in National Parks. Two questions immediately arise: 1. Why would anyone want to allow automatic rifles in National Parks, and 2. What was that doing in a bill about consumer credit card protection? Then the VCL asked themselves a third question: "As a visual communication lab, how could we help people find things like this?"

Lab members Irene Ros and Yannick Assogba decided to take on the challenge to create a tool to help reveal various topics in a bill - not just the bizarre outliers like this one - but all topics. This came to be the germination of a research project - how could a text corpora best be navigated visually? What impact would a visualization have on people's ability to find what they were looking for. And, who would be likely to use this type of tool?

According to Assogba, "We decided to present the bills in a map mode with the text as a zoomable entity. Knowing that these bills are filled with "legalese" our first step was to help people navigate through the data to find the general area they wanted to examine." On April 5, 2010, after many designs, prototypes, and user input, the team launched a public Beta of what is now called Many Bills. Says Ros, "Our hope is that the interface offers users an overview of this complex dataset while still allowing for full access to the original text." Now that the tool has been available for almost three months, they are beginning to understand what things people want to explore and how better to show that. The next big push is to contact Many Bills visitors who have offered to provide feedback and see how they respond to some proposed feature additions and design changes the researchers would like to make.

Have you visited Many Bills? Try browsing. Or, take a look at various versions of HR627 on its journey through Congress. If you have comments, click the Feedback button on the site to give Assogba and Ros your ideas.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Jer Thorp examines how a new era of open data is affecting science, art, and design

On June 21, 2010, the Cambridge lab of the IBM Center for Social Software will kick off a new speaker series open to the public. Our aim with this series is to attract a steady local audience and build a community of interest by hosting speakers who are well-known and respected in their area of social software.

We are very pleased to have Jer Thorp, data artist and educator, as our first speaker. Jer is a former geneticist. He uses that background in his practice to explore "the many-folded boundaries between science and art." His art has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, BusinessWeek and the CBC. His award-winning software-based work has been exhibited in Europe, Asia, North America, South America, and Australia and all over the web.

Jer is an instructor in Langara College’s Electronic Media Design Program, a frequent guest lecturer at the University of British Columbia and Emily Carr University, and a sought-after speaker at various venues around the world.

Jer's Talk: Hacking the Newsroom

In February of last year, the New York Times announced that it was giving away the keys to 28 years of data - news stories, movie reviews, obituaries, and political statistics - all for free. Whether the dying gasp of an legendary institution, or the beginnings of an extraordinary rebirth, the release of this vast and historically significant information has been a boon to data visualizers, entrepreneurs, social scientists and artists around the world.

In this session, Jer will show a variety of work that he has produced using data from The New York Times, The Guardian, and other traditional and non-traditional media sources. He'll show how to access this information easily, and will share code samples to get you started in explorations of your own. Along the way, he'll attempt to examine how a new era of open data is affecting science, art, and design.

This event will take place Monday, June 21st 2010. 3:30pm-5:00pm at 1 Rogers St, Cambridge MA. Admission is FREE.

More info and registration at Eventbrite

Friday, May 14, 2010

Late-breaking Summer Internship Openings @ IBM Center for Social Software, Cambridge, MA

"Smarter Social Cities" Summer Internship Openings

This summer project will be a team effort in the area of "Smarter Social Cities" research. The proposed project will explore the role of social collaboration in supporting the discovery of the cities people inhabit or visit. The team will design and develop mobile and web tools to support co-discovery and include mechanisms to map attractions to personal interests. The goal of the project will be to implement a basic working prototype of a novel idea, which the interns will play a significant role in shaping.

We are looking for the intern candidates with skills in one or more of the following areas:

  • Experience with design, prototyping, and web development tools and technologies. A plus: experience with Apple interface builder and HAML.
  • Familiarity with Ruby on Rails, Apache, and Linux
  • Understanding of database setup in Rails. Understanding of web services and remote DB access
  • Experience with mobile development. A plus: experience developing iPod apps with networking component

To be eligible, students must be enrolled in a full-time academic program. Advanced undergraduates or Masters students preferred.

If interested, please send a note and your resume/CV to

"Mass Participation Social Software" Summer Internship Opening

We are looking for a graduate (or advanced undergraduate) intern with UI and web development skills to develop an innovative prototype as part of a larger project aimed at supporting participation in large scale events. The project can include novel ways of visualizing and interacting with back-channels, such as those that result from posts on Twitter around an event, as well as inventing new mechanisms for brainstorming, polling, breakout discussions, and decisions through web and mobile interfaces. The goal of the intern project will be to implement a basic working prototype of a novel idea, an idea which the intern will play a significant role in shaping.

To be eligible, students must be enrolled in a full-time academic program. If interested, please send a note and your resume/CV to

Monday, April 5, 2010

Launching Many Bills: A Visual Bill Explorer

Government transparency is an important issue to many in today's political environment. The recent controversy in the US over health care reform is just one example of how hard it can be to see the realities behind the rhetoric. As researchers, we believe we can help by giving people the right tools to understand, explore, and communicate about government data.

Inspired by the fantastic people we met and conversations we had at the Center's Transparent Text conference last year, we decided to act. Today, the Visual Communication Lab at the Center launches IBM Many Bills: A Visual Bill Explorer. Many Bills is a web-based visualization that enables members of the public to see the high-level topic structure of US Congressional Bills, then drill down and read the actual content. The dataset currently includes all bills considered by both houses in 2009, plus some select content from 2010, courtesy of GovTrack.

You can find more news and updates on the Many Bills blog or follow the project on Twitter.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Social Software from Haifa Research Lab Shines at Lotusphere

Social analytics software from IBM's Haifa Research Lab (HRL) was front and center at the opening session of Lotusphere this year. A demo of the next version of Lotus Connections showed off recommender widgets from HRL. Even more ambitious recommender systems and social analytics based on work from Haifa were envisioned for Vulcan -- the bleuprint for the future of collaboration that Lotus unveiled later in the session.

What people saw was based on SaND, a platform developed by HRL for mining and aggregating social data across multiple data sources in an enterprise. The result is a rich model of relationships among people, content and tags, which search engines, recommender systems, expertise locators, social network analysis systems and visualizations can tap into. For example, the content recommender widget in Lb Connections Next suggests items such as wikis, blog entries, bookmarks, and communities based on the relationships it detects. Detailed explanations for each recommendation explains why it is being suggested. SaND is already used by many IBM projects world-wide.

In the Innovation Lab attendees also got a peek at DUNE (Desktop Unified with Enterprise). DUNE — a first step towards aggregation across the entire Lotus Portfolio — collects social data across Lotus Notes and Lotus Sametime in addition to Connections. SaND also has the capability to extend beyond IBM to external products.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Research Talk at Lotusphere Focuses on Enterprise Health and Many Bills

In their Research talk at Lotusphere, IBM Center for Social Software Director Irene Greif and Researcher David Millen highlighted new work from the Center. In the area of enterprise social software, they reported on the latest adoption and assessment studies, including new dashboards for community health, Vivacity and BlogMuse (both seen in the Innovation Lab).

Vivacity shows a variety of ways people are contributing in Connections, and highlights the concept of "Return on Content" as a way to measure impact and understand the relative value of different kinds of contributions, such as status updates, profile changes, blog or wiki entries. BlogMuse encourages people to contribute in meaningful ways to enterprise blogs.

Federal legislation is a hot topic these days, and the Center's latest work on visualization, dubbed Many Bills, tackles the challenges of government transparency and citizen participation by helping people navigate and understand large, complex documents, then communicate with others about them. While Many Bills focuses on government, the work has strong implications for business communities, as well.

Many Bills, tackling the challenges of government transparency and citizen participation.

LotusLive Labs: Trying Out New Technologies from IBM Research

LotusLive Labs was announced Monday at Lotusphere and demoed throughout the week in other talks and in the Innovation Lab. LotusLive Labs is a collaboration between IBM Research and LotusLive that lets users evaluate experimental IBM Research technologies that are integrated with LotusLive. It's another route to market for Venture Research, and opens today with several social and collaborative applications. Slides can be shared individually or in decks, so that people can easily create new presentations from material already available in their organization. Meetings can be recorded, but more importantly can be tagged for later reference, making it easy to skip to just the parts that are proving to be of most interest. Eventmaps, an interactive way to visualize conference schedules, was available to plan attendance at Lotusphere, and Composer lets you create LotusLive mashups by combining LotusLive services. Later this year, Concord, collaborative, real-time document-authoring technology from the IBM China Research Lab, will be available on LotusLive Labs. This set of Web-based editors will let multiple authors create and edit documents on-line in real-time, making them relevant, accurate and up-to-date.

To read about the demos in the Innovation Lab sponsored by the Center for Social Software, click here.

Glimpsing the Future of Social Software at Lotusphere

Lotus customers got a glimpse of the future of social software at Lotusphere this week. Lotusphere draws thousands of Lotus customers, business partners, and press every year who gather to learn about what's new from Lotus. In the Innovation Lab sponsored by the Center for Social Software, members of IBM Research, Lotus, and IBM's CIO office showed off 20 leading-edge projects designed to help people work together.

One of the new social prototypes that visitors saw was the Visual Backchannel, which we aimed at Lotusphere itself. The Visual Backchannel shows what people are talking about at a large-scale event by visualizing tweets as wordclouds and topical streams in real-time. The visualizations are interactive, so attendees can select a topic, word or phrase and then drill down to specific messages, people and images. Enhancements that will let people conduct polls and form impromptu groups around topics of interest are already in the works. The picture below shows exactly when in the opening session on Monday, the Project Vulcan was announced and how twittering about the new vision from Lotus continued throughout the day. Vulcan -- IBM's next generation collaboration platform -- adds business and social analytics capabilities to Notes and other applications in the current Lotus portfolio.

The Visual Backchannel shows what people are talking about at a large-scale event

To see descriptions of all the demos shown in the Innovation Lab, click here.

Why oh Why?

Millions of people are familiar with Many Eyes, the tool that Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg created to help users make sense of data by visualizing it. In this New York Op Ed piece, Fernanda and Martin take a turn at asking seasonal questions and using Many Eyes to find out which ones people are asking most often on the web.

Try it out here.

Courtesy of the New York Times