“The Largest Social Network Ever Analyzed”

FACT: According to ComScore data cited in a story in Monday’s FInancial Times, “Facebook, the fast-growing social network, has taken a significant lead over MySpace in visitor numbers for the first time… Facebook attracted more than 123 million unique visitors in May, an increase of 162 per cent over the same period last year… That compared with 114.6 million unique visitors at MySpace, Facebook’s leading rival, whose traffic grew just 5 per cent during the same period… The findings mark the first time that Facebook, launched in 2004, has taken a significant lead in unique visitors, [and] come at a time of change inside Facebook, as the one-time upstart attempts to transform itself into a leading media company.

ANALYSIS:  This week several members of the Microsoft Institute met in Redmond with a visiting friend from government, and among other talks we had a very interesting discussion with Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft Research principal researcher and manager.  Eric’s well known for his work in artificial intelligence and currently serves as president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI).

We talked about one of Eric’s recent projects for quite a while: “Planetary-Scale Views on a Large Instant-Messaging Network,” a project which has been described by his co-author as “the largest social network ever analyzed.” 

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How to Find Research: Here, There, Everywhere

FACT: The Washington Post today has a story in the Business section (“Intelligence Agency Joins U-Md. Research Center“) about the relationship between IARPA and the University of Maryland, the location of the planned new IARPA headquarters. 

ANALYSIS: UMd has a set of valuable relationships with the public- and private-sector national security community, and the IARPA startup is just the latest agency to benefit.   Proximity is key, for research and bureaucracy.  In Maryland’s case, IARPA Director Lisa Porter told an IEEE interviewer last month that “It’s nice not to be sitting right next to one particular agency. It’s also nice to be near a university because we’re sending a message that we want to bring in nontraditional partners: academia, industry. It sends a nice message that we’re embracing the broad community to help us solve these challenging problems.”

I lament sometimes that Charlottesville (home to my undergraduate alma mater) is a good two hours away from DC, as even that distance puts a frustrating limit on the amount of joint work that winds up being done with Virginia faculty and students. 

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TechFest and its Value

I am spending much of the week at Microsoft Research’s annual TechFest, which is proving to be an absolutely mind-blowing experience.  So much, so cool, so out there….

There’s been some good press about the show already (ComputerWorld, and ITWorld for example), and the official Microsoft TechFest site has a wealth of material.  The media were allowed in on the “Public Day” to report on a carefully selected subset of the projects being displayed. But I think the coverage has missed an important difference between this show and something like COMDEX or CeBIT.

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The Three-Way Race, in Politics and Search

On the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries I’ve noticed a small but curious synchronicity, a sideways rhyming, between the Microsoft – Google – Yahoo elephant dance, and the back-and-forth among the top remaining candidates on the Republican and Democratic sides in the presidential primaries.

In graduate school I once wrote an 85-page study of “The Strategic Triangle: U.S., Soviet, and PRC Realignment during the 1970s.” Ah, the good old days of Henry Kissinger and grand-game geopolitics. But let’s stick to the more prosaic cage match dominating our politics right now.  Last week, John Edwards finally dropped out (or “suspended” his campaign, preserving some shred of pre-convention viability I suppose), and in doing so he refused to endorse either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Both campaigns said great things about Edwards *after* he left the race, of course, the better to woo his supporters.  But before he dropped out, while he was still showing up in debates, both Clinton and Obama (and their surrogates) showed quite a bit of peevish annoyance that the third-place fellow wasn’t giving up and tossing them his endorsement.

Similarly, Mike Huckabee is hanging on by a thread on the Republican side, to the great solace of John McCain and the fuming of Mitt Romney, the latter believing that Huckabee’s conservative supporters would line up with him in a binary choice between Romney and McCain. (Would that count as a Baptist-to-Mormon conversion?) Romney spent the weekend bashing Huckabee even more than his putative rival, McCain.  Triangulation and frustration boil over into a combustible mix, obviously.

The same combination appears to be brewing in the Googleplex, while investors and analysts dump on the once shiny GOOG, which tanked yet again today, dropping below $500. 

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