13:51 11/06/2004 Mathemagenic: Mathemagenic
...giving birth to learning...


  Saturday, January 29, 2005


Anjo shares details about BlogTrace, weblog analysis tool we are working on (as you can see from Anjo's post my main contribution is motivating the work and then going for a vacation :))) 

There are too many specific comments I have, so at this moment just an image representing BlogTrace architecture. Read Anjo's post for more details.

  Friday, January 28, 2005

  Ontological fingeprinting: documents or people

Anjo gives a bit of insight into our internal discussions on uses of ontologies:

Andy Boyd came up with a wonderful new term: "ontological fingerprinting" and to illustrate how imaginative he is: zero hits on Google! Suppose one has an ontology (lexicon, thesaurus) and some software that can determine whether the terms in the ontology are present in a document. Applying the software, one gets a "fingerprint" of the concepts in the ontology for a given document. Comparing fingerprints for different documents, such is the assumption, provides a better metric of the similarity between these documents than comparing plain words. Ideas like this simply have to be tested in practice. Fortunately, Andy is making available a lot of real data to try it.

I like the term, but find it a bit misleading: usually documents do not have fingers :)

I'd associate the term with people - you may think of "ontological fingerprint" of a person, which could be something like conceptualisations produced by Sigmund based on analysis of weblog posts written by someone, set of personal categories someone uses to classify a document or mapping one's documents to a shared ontology. Then you can look for others with similar "fingerprints" (this was one of uses I imagined for Sigmund, but didn't have such a nice term to talk about it :). 

May be we should rather talk about "ontological abstract" in case of documents...

  Researcher vs. blogger: researcher influence

Inna Kouper on disadvantages of participant observation as a research method (in relation to reading Milroy, 1987):

The researcher may be unable to fit the data in a wider context without additional broader studies. Participant observations can be very demanding in time, energy and emotional involvement. There might be a lot of "unanalyzable" data because the researcher has to record everything and then sort it out. Personal characteristics play essential role and can skew the sample (e.g. males attracted to a female researcher). There is a chance of data distortion from researcher's side (who unconsiously may influence communication) and from the studied community side referred in sociolinguistics to as "observer's paradox." The paradox was formulated by Labov in late 60s - early 70s works as follows:

"... researchers want to find out how people talk when they are not being systematically observed; yet we can only obtain these data by systematic observation..."

It is usually ignored in blogs studies because we're studying "publicly available" behavior. But if people know there is a blog researcher in their community and they're being observed do they change their behavior?

I started to articulate my concerns regarding this issue in Hard choices: researcher vs. blogger?, but I guess I can make a bit more fine-grained distinctions of my influence:

  1. bloggers I study may change their behaviour as a result of knowing that they are being observed (I guess this is what Inna refers to)
  2. by participating in the community I influence behaviours of others

Before I get into the details, I'd like to specify that what I say applies to "my community", broadly defined as "KM/learning/Internet research bloggers". I do not have an objective way to describe it yet, but this is one of my goals in our work with Stephanie on defining weblog community boundaries.

Now to the points...

Bloggers I study may change their behaviour as a result of knowing that they are being observed

Sure there is a risk of that, but:

Blogging is a bit exhibitionistic anyway - you write in public and you are likely to know that you are "being observed" by your readers. I guess knowing that your family member/friend/colleague/potential employer may read your weblog would influence what is being said and how more than knowing that someone may study it for research purposes. Of course, it depends on a blogger awareness of public nature of blogging, which may not be the case in some groups, but definitely not an issue in "my community".

Another reason I don't think I have influence of this kind is a longitidinal nature of my study. You may be aware of a researcher around you for a week or month, but then life takes its own course (as Dina puts it, you can't be consistently fake). It may have the same effect as videocamera that people stop noticing after some time of being videotaped (btw, anyone knows scientific evidence of it?)

Now to the second part - by participating in the community I influence behaviours of others.

The simple answer would be that it's part of my design since what I do is pretty close to action research. And I'm still working on the complex answer since what I do is closer to research through active participation in a sense Torill uses in her dissertation (as a side remark - this is a nice example how sharing good Italian food and your research problems with another blogger influences your own research :)

The "complex answer" is still hard to articulate and I don't have all the ingridients, but as an indication - questions I'm trying to tackle as part of it:

  • My community: What is "my community"? Is it one or several? Characteristics? Boundaries? Who are the members?
  • Me and others: What is my role in the community? Is it different from others' roles? How?

This post also appears on channel weblog research

  Thursday, January 27, 2005

  Social visibility at work

While finding my way in our new office building I'm thinking about social visibility in a slightly new context - how physical layout of the building influences chance encounters.

Our old office had a pretty simple structure: 3,5 T-shaped floors with long corridors connected by shorter T-"leg". Long corridors had offices along, stairs and coffee tables at both ends, meeting rooms more or less in the middle where they were also connected with the "leg" connecting another stairs and set of meeting rooms via a huge hall with sidewalks running through all floors.

That building had pretty nice social effects:

  • just looking along the long corridor you could see who is in the office (we usually keep doors open) or who is there for a coffee - nice no-tech way to gain "presence awareness" :)
  • to walk to others you would have to walk to the corridor end, passing all other office rooms on the floor and coffee tables, so you could see you is there and occasionally engage into conversations or just exchange greetings
  • walking to one of the bigger meeting rooms in the middle or at the tower you would walk through the side-walks of the big hall, so you could see people at other floors walking to meeting rooms and they could see you
  • walking along long corridors wasn't that fun, but given that most of the people had to walk the same way it was more about meeting, greeting and ad-hoc conversations then about "sightseeing" on the way

Our new building is different. Social spaces between offices are bigger, more colorful and architecturally it's more fun to walk around, but I'm not sure that it's well-constructed for ad-hoc social exchanges:

  • there are two sets of stairs in the middle of 3 floors, which leaves quite some offices in "dead ends", which no one passes through unless going directly there
  • each floor has a complex structure with multiple ways of walking, so people don't see all the way along and walk different routes (usually shortest from their offices)
  • coffee tables are in the middle, but they have semi-closed walls around, so you don't see who is there unless you are almost there (so there is a webcam at one of them for people to see without walking ;)

I guess all these results in a few things:

  • less unobrtusive "presence" cues that can help to locate people you may want to talk
  • less chance encounters while walking around
  • different social visibility of people when they are in their offices - ones next to stairs and coffee-table hallways get everyone else (also dogs :) passing their doors and ones in "dead ends" have a very quiet and invisible life (which of course is nice for writing papers, but not that fun socially

I wonder how all these changes will influence social practices around work. Could be an interesting case to study changes in social networks, coffee-table habits or uses of technology for communication (e.g. how IM use patterns change).

More on: presense space transparency 

  Wednesday, January 26, 2005

  Folksonomies: bits of research and visual browsing

As I still have work to do I'm not going to add relevant links for the on-going discussions on folksonomies, related tools and social implications, but just link to a few things.

Bits of research:

Visualising del.icio.us:

Regarding the last one:

  • Wonder how many people actually look at their del.icio.us subscriptions (I don't)
  • Thought that it would be fun visualising social networks based on similar linking patterns, but discovered that that particular feature is not in del.icio.us anymore. Given how often I used it as an argument it's pretty stupid not having screenshots.


  Visual settlements: on weblog visualisations

Anjo Anjewierden (Blog posts 2004)While I was travelling, Anjo did a great job of working out his visual settlement idea into an implementation (and I'm also a lucky one who can actually play with the software and not only enjoy images in his weblog :)

First, Anjo's explanations (the image right is a representation of Anjo's weblog):

Roughly the method to draw the pictures is as follows:

  • Size of a blob is determined by the number of words in the post. Bigger blob, more words (in fact: every pixel represents one word).
  • Colour of the blob is determined by whether there are links to others (grey), links from others (green) or no links (red). All with respect to a community of KM bloggers determined by Lilia and Stephanie
  • Position of the blog is determined by the chronological order (oldest posts are in the center) and by self-linking (if a post self links back to an own post, it will appear close to the original post).

My first questions are about things Anjo didn't clarify:

  • is there any difference between squares and circles? circles and ovals?
  • what color is the blob if post behind it has both, links to others and links from others?

Lilia Efimova (Blog posts 2004) Alex Halavais (Blog posts 2004) These are two other visualisations, of my own weblog and one of Alex Halavais.

My weblog is more colored than the one of Alex. Does it mean that Alex doesn't link or not linked back? That he is not well connected with the community? Or (which I guess is the reason) that the community was mapped as a snowballing starting from my weblog, so my "linking partners" are there, but not those of Alex. Of course, we are working on mapping the community properly, but still would be nice to have some workaround...

You can also see that Alex' blog shows more "rays from the center" structure than mine - guess as a result of me heavily linking to older posts, so posts are grouped braking straight lines (ray structure is even more visible on visualisation of Robert Scoble's blog). But what is behind those rays starting from the center? Are posts randomly assigned to a line or there is a logic behind it?

I'm still thinking of what else and how I'd like to see visualised. You are welcome to share your ideas.

And, if you need more inspiration, you may want to check BlogScapes by Brian Dennisvarious visualisations of five years writings by Tom Coatesweb-log continuum sparklines or knowledge flow sparklines...

I'm back to my usual "bad" practice: blogging when I have to work on a paper :)

This post also appears on channel weblog research

  Relations <-> networks <-> communities ???

That was too fast thinking that I could get over jetlag in 24 hours. I was happy yesterday feeling nice for the whole day until it got me at night – I couldn't sleep. This, as well as WiFi that didn't work got me into reading What Binds Us When With Whom? Content and Structure in Social Network Analysis by Frans Stokman, downloaded just a few hours before that following a hint from Bill Ives

The paper gives me mixed feelings. From one side I immediately get into the feeling that Frans has some answers for a couple of community/network questions that has been fighting with:

  • What is the difference between a network (individuals with their interconnections) and a community (something with a sense of a "whole – norms, practices")? Why/when/how a network turns into a community?
  • What is the difference between someone's relation to a community as a whole and relations with it's individual members? How those influence each other?

From another side, I'm feeling helpless – the paper goes in the theories and methods I don't know. Directions for the answers I want are there, but I can't get them out (I guess unless I change my PhD research topic and work for a few years on social network analysis :) I wish I'd have someone near by to translate the complexities into a language I can understand…

Anyway, the paper gives some leads. And Frans Stokman is at the University of Groningen, which is just a few hours away, so I can try to contact him to see where it goes.

And a quote:

In network evolution, two processes take place simultaneously. On the one hand, social actors shape the network by initiating, constructing, maintaining, and breaking up relationships. On the other hand, attributes (behaviour, opinions, attitudes) of social actors are partly shaped by their relationships. (p.24)

Hope jetlag gods will let me sleep now. To be posted in the morning :)

  Tuesday, January 25, 2005


I'm back from travelling. First day at work, trying to find a way around in a new office, looking where are people from my social network are sitting now and not finding robot dogs that should be running around ;) 

It feels strange, not being able to find people and things, but exciting as well - as an opportunity to redefine existing order...

And, of course, spending a bit more time reading weblogs of others and realising how much new had happened :)

Don't be surprised if some of the older drafted post appear...

More on: travel 

  Sunday, January 23, 2005

  BlogWalk Chicago: colorful on white

BlogWalk Snowball FightBlogWalk Chicago was fun :) Jack Vinson did a great job of getting everyone together and all others were brave to get through the snowstorm (and to survive the snowfight :)

Don't think I'm awake enough to write intelligent comments, but since Euro bloggers are waking up in a couple of hours I'd link to things to start reading.

AKMA wrote a very detailed overview of the day in BlogWalk blogging and BlogWalk After Lunch, so you may start from those, or from photos at Flickr. AKMA wasn't that active in the discussion, but he did an excellent job of building a bridge between f2f meeting and online world... Thinking of Ton's post on lurking:

The most obvious characteristic of a lurker is that he’s at the fringe of a group, listening and observing. Being at the fringe may seem like a bad place from the core, but in fact is a good position to build bridges to other groups, and be aware of other groups in the vicinity.

Window Wiki

Between the things I really liked today is the changed color palette of Window wiki. I wasn't feeling like taking the bag of yellow post-its that had travelled around Europe for all earlier BlogWalks, so Jack had to get a whole new set. This time I loved not only the view of colorful mosaic on white background, but also an ability to track my own contributions fast, just by spotting "my" color in the picture.

This is pretty much what I want from a blended weblog-wiki-somethingElse tools - a way to provide both a bigger picture of shared contributions and my traces on it. Wonder how much it will take - I guess less than I expect...

As usual, more posts about it at BlogWalk channel at topicExchange (and don't forget to ping it :)

More on: BlogWalk wiki 

  Thursday, January 20, 2005

  The fun of others blogging for you :)

Jack Vinson:

Since Lilia is having difficulty posting to her blog while traveling, I am going to take the liberty of blogging a thought she had as we walked around the Art Institute of Chicago's Impressionist collection. 

A single blog post is a spot of color in a Seurat painting or a dash of color from Monet.  A single weblog taken as a whole over time might paint a small picture or it might reveal some color gradations - more likely it will reveal many patches of a larger canvas.  But when you stand back from that single post or that single website, the picture begins to reveal itself in the writings of all the other bloggers (and websites and forums) with whom the individual interacts.  I believe this is what Anjo Anjewierden et. al. are doing with their visualizations of blogs as Visual Settlements.


Have no idea when this post will get online - Radio still doesn't behave :(

  BROG: blog research, visualisations & sushi

Had lots of fun meeting the BROG group people... Most of our discussions were about weblog research and sushi. In my presentation I was jumping around different topics we study heavily illustrated by visualisations from several papers (notes by Peter Welsch).

As promised - references and links:

  Wednesday, January 19, 2005

  Linear time

Finally, after a very nice company for my holidays I'm travelling alone. A bus takes me from Chicago to Indianapolis. I have a funny feeling – the bus feels as a physical representation of hyperlink, connecting not places, but people: I left Jack Vinson at the bus station in Chicago while Denham Grey will meet me in Indy (learning to speak local :)

This bus is also a link between holiday and work – I'm working on my presentation for tomorrow's meeting with the BROG group in Bloomington.

And, as usual at those moments, I'm thinking on differences between work and life. This time it influenced by the book I'm reading, A sideways look at time by Jay Griffiths. Jay talks about linear and circular time, male and female time, time of native societies and time of the "civilised" world.

I'm thinking of differences between holiday time and work time that are especially evident in the current phase of my trip.

The salted water of the Pacific is just two sunsets away. The vacation time is stretchy and connected to the world. Wake up time is when the lights come to play, before any alarm clock – strangely enough for the late sleeper like me. Food time is when the stomach asks for it. Snorkelling time is when turtles are feeding. Dolphins play in the cove when the sun starts to get hot and some time before the sunset. When the sun leaves skies it's time for lava to glow in the dark and time for manta rays to come checking if divers' lights attract enough plankton to stay. If not, it's time to go…

Somehow vacation time is reflected in everything around. Roads are narrow and winding. Next stop is unexpected: when there is something interesting on the road and as long as it feels right – until mosquitoes bites are unbearable or as long as the body feels comfortable in the water. The best sushi comes when sushi chef likes you and time to try sea urchin comes not earlier than you hand is covered with black itching spots after you managed to touch one. And diving places are never known in advance – it's up to the weather, waves, captain and dive masters…

And, of course, the time is over when you wake up with alarm clock, check departure times and your world gradually becomes straight and scheduled. It's time to answer emails, to catch the bus and to start working on the presentation. And as a sarcastic reminder streets become straight and you got squeezed between square skyscrapers…

Linear time is here, knocking with alarm clocks, deadlines and to do lists, but I hope I can sneak in bits of holiday time imprinted in tanned skin... 

  Wednesday, January 05, 2005

  Radio :(

It seems that this happend again - Radio is not publishing weblog posts :(

May be I'm lucky and it starts working, otherwise all my notes will get online at the end of January...

  Tuesday, January 04, 2005

  HICSS-38: Persistent conversations workshop

Persistent conversations workshop was a nice way to start the conference: some familiar faces, lots of people I wanted to meet and interesting conversations.

The workshop was framed around Slashdot as an example of the system supporting persistent conversations.

I'm glad that I had an opportunity to present as well - it was a chance to talk not about finished work, but about some thinking in progress. This time it was about social visibility.

I picked up the idea from Jan Schmidt's pointer to the paper, "Communication without Agents? From Agent-Oriented to Communication-Oriented Modeling" (proper reference and more) quite some time back. It associates well with some of my thinking on weblog conversations, but this time I tried to play the rules and use Slashdot as an example. My presentation (What is "beneath your current threshold"? Social visibility in persistent conversations) is online, but it's sketchy, so I hope to find time to write it up properly.

Other presenters (will add more links later):

Thinking themes from the workshop:

  • interactivity and critical mass
  • visualisations and their impact on conversations/communities
  • relations between conversations and community (e.g. what can you say about relations between people by looking at their conversations; re: artefacts in weblog communities)
  • self-regulation (re: defragmentation effort users take when fragmentation of conversations is explicit)
  • getting value of old discussions (re: process vs. outcomes, knowledge mapping)

  Wiki wiki bus and conference blogging

There are things that can make you smile after 2 flights, 18 hours in planes, jetlag and all other things that I'd call downside of travel. This time it was a sign at Honolulu airport with directions to "Wiki wiki shuttle bus" (is case you didn't know - wiki wiki is Hawaiian term for "quick" or "super-fast" :)

Anyway, I'm at HICSS, it's still 3 January despite of the fact that Radio on my server will put it on 4th, HICSS wifi works (not everywhere and not all the time :), so I guess I'd be blogging. But before I get into anything else, a great piece on conference blogging from Gabriela:

Why do we spend time on this? It is really time consuming and hard to locate all these people and places and papers in order to add the necessary links to the posts, besides the editing of your own conference notes. And it interferes with our day-to-day work, and makes us put off some other tasks. Do we want to show off- look, we've been there!? Do we want to impose the world our perspective on things? Are we doing it for ourselves or for the sake of our readers? I'm not really sure. I've been writing this kind of reports ever since I attended my first international conference for my own use - writing down names, ideas, references. The fact that now I have the chance to blog them and to link to what other people said makes them a lot richer.

In the last week, two persons had a similar reaction to my blogging itch: OK, that's nice, I can understand your need to reflect upon an event afterwards as a chance to learn more, even to keep a diary on it, but why show it to the whole world? Why publishing it? What's the use of sharing this kind of knowledge?

Well, hoarding this knowledge wouldn't bring me any benefit. And if it's not interesting for my readers, they will be so wise to skip it. As for the ones who are not my readers and are not interested in the subject, it won't hurt them at all, because they will probably never find out it about it existence. So who's the target group?

    -People who were there, and want to continue the conversation in the first place.
    -People who didn't get the chance to be there, but they would have loved to.
    -Some others interested in the topics discussed there who did not find out about the event.
    -Scholars and students studying the topic in the years to come.

To me, it sounds motivating enough.
And I would compare ourselves with cartographers rather than with historians - we're trying to map the reality (not only facts, but also people and ideas) on the web. We're actually building a double, that will remain accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world, for years from now on.

Having the chance to meet someone whose ideas are already familiar to you shortens significantly the time to having a meaningful conversation - and this is very important. Real life conversations continue via blogs, social networking systems, Skype, participation in wiki editing, virtual environments.

Conference blogging is always a balance: finding a ways to combine your personal goals and informing your readers, choices between f2f time and time needed to reflect and write, balancing fun of being in the flow of discussions and discipline of writing things down. Don't know how it will go this time, but I'll try...

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This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

Last update: 6/30/2005; 11:35:00 PM.