A New Prototype: Research Desktop

Fact: The international conference on Advances in Social Network Analysis and Mining (ASONAM 2009, next July in Athens, Greece) today issued its call for papers on “experimental and theoretical works on social network analysis and mining,” particularly relating to online social Web sites, email logs, phone logs and instant messaging systems “which are widely analyzed using graph theory and machine learning techniques.”  Interested authors are encouraged to submit abstracts of up to 300 words by December 10, 2008; the full papers aren’t due until January 31, 2009.  More info at www.asonam.org.

Analysis: Several Microsoft Research people are preparing papers based on their current research, and I’m considering attending myself (I’ve written before about MSR’s work in analyzing large social networks). There are three Microsoft scientists on the Committee (Dou Shen, Haizheng Zhang, and Rina Panigrahy - check out Rina’s publications on hashing and sketching algorithms).  It should be a top-notch conference, co-hosted by ACM and IEEE.

But that’s way off in the future – what if you want to look at some research stuff right now? Well, I’ve been going through the related “Socio-Digital Systems” work of MSR Cambridge (UK), and they’ve just added more information to their section here of the main MSR site.  That’s some neat stuff, more on the side of the actual social uses of digital data and the effects on our (still-human?) everyday lives.

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When Intelligence Officers Get Social…

Today (and on-and-off this week) I’m attending the Intelligence Community’s “Enterprise 2.0: WIRE and ICES Conference,” up at the Kossiakoff Center at JHU/APL in Maryland, with its focus this year on social software and social networking – not the same thing, of course.

Acronym explanation, with some new ones tossed in:

  • WIRE = CIA’s World Intelligence Review, a very nifty Web 2.0-style classified news site now available on JWICS and SIPRNET.
  • ICES = Intelligence Community’s Enterprise Services group. 
  • And of course, JHU/APL = Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab.

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Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments

Channel 10 podcast

Channel 10 podcast

I’m a big fan of the cool site Channel 10 and its podcasts and blogs (“a place for enthusiasts with a passion for technology. Through a world-wide network of contributors, Channel 10 covers the latest news in music, mobility, photography, videography, gaming, and new PC hardware and software”).

So I was chuffed when the ubiquitous Jon Udell interviewed me a week ago for Channel 10 (“Lewis Shepherd discusses the Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments“).

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Click on My Head and You’re Classified 2.0

Fact: According to the latest McKinsey Global Survey report, “Building the Web 2.0 Enterprise,” many companies find themselves actually changing organizationally, both internally and externally, as a result of adopting Web 2.0 tools and practices. 

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CIA 2.0: The Agency’s CIO and Change

Fact: CIO magazine is running a big story on the CIA’s Chief Information Officer Al Tarasiuk and his IT operation, and their online site is breaking it up into a four-part series running this week.  Below I analyze the series.

Analysis: By the halfway mark in the series, the magazine’s reporter Thomas Wailgum had only accomplished a fairly rote recounting of what CIA is, what its CIO does, and how both those factors have changed since the good ol’ spy days amid the challenges of a post-9/11 world.

Part Onedescribed “a business-IT alignment project like few others,” although it mainly served to introduce CIO magazine’s broad readership to the unfamiliar world of a walled-off intelligence agency, waxing on about the hyper-security at Langley.  Part Two similarly was background on the bureaucratic culture of the agency and its relegation of IT to backwater status – until 9/11 came along.

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Washington Post Puts Microsoft on Page A1 – For Good Research!

Stop the presses! Microsoft Research is getting national front page coverage!

The work of Eric Horvitz and Jure Leskovec got top coverage in major newspapers and news sites today.  With that fame, Eric will probably never again be willing to just while away a Friday afternoon with our Microsoft Institute folks, brainstorming some outside-the-box ideas for future work, as he did this week with us in Redmond’s Building 99.

Right after that meeting, I bugged out of Redmond for a red-eye to the east coast.  Back home in DC this morning (Saturday), I opened my Washington Post to find on page A1, “Instant-Messagers Really Are About Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon: Big Microsoft Study Supports Small World Theory.

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Loopt Brings Apple, Microsoft Together

I don’t have an iPhone (I like my Windows Mobile 6.1 platform better, on a touch-screen Samsung i760) so I miss iPhone news sometimes.  I’m tardy in learning that, In the words of one of my colleagues at the Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments, “Loopt is launching their app on iPhone and is using Virtual Earth. How did Apple ever allow that to happen?”  :-)

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Semantic Reality (Microsoft Acquires Powerset)

Fact: At last, the public announcement this afternoon of one of the most-rumored secrets in tech: Microsoft is acquiring Powerset, taking us one major step forward in semantic technologies. 

Analysis: There’ll be plenty of analysts looking at this, and I expect the acquisition will get a lot of buzz just as Powerset did originally when launched.  After all, Microsoft is buying a company which was called a “Google-Killer” by everyone from the New York Times to various esoteric search-technology blogs.  [Update: it's already started on TechCrunch.]

If you haven’t used Powerset’s first announced product, semantic searching of Wikipedia, check it out on their site and you’ll begin to see why there’s been so much interest in their technical approach. I’ve know founder Barney Pell for a while now, and we’ve mused about the possibilities of adding Powerset’s strengths to Microsoft’s global scale.  The more I played with PowerLabs, before its full launch, the more I was convinced of its power.

When I was working at DIA, one of our dreams was a semantically enabled intelligence enterprise. IC analysts and advanced users within any other enterprise vertical are going to find some very interesting capabilities finally possible when Powerset technology is wedded to the FAST search software already being deployed at web scale.

But that’s only the beginning. 

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Tradecraft in the Long Tail

Fact: Chris Anderson, WIRED editor in chief and author of the Internet-era classic book “The Long Tail,” also runs a couple of Ning social networks focusing on what the intelligence community would call IMINT, or imagery intelligence – specifically DIY Drones, “a site for all things about amateur Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs): How-to’s, videos, discussion and more,” and PictEarth, “a Social Network used to collect, link and geotag RC, UAV/UAS or Kite derived Earth imagery for use in 3D Globe Programs including Google Earth, Virtual Earth, World Wind and ArcGIS Explorer.”

Analysis:  With these sites, Chris Anderson is promoting what he calls “Crowdsourced Aerial Imagery.”  In the mission statement for DIY Drones, he writes that “Reasons to make your own UAV range from a fun technical challenge, student contests, aerial photography and mapping (what we call “GeoCrawling”), and scientific sensing. We are primarily interested in civilian, not military, UAV uses here.” (Emphasis is in the original.)

Let’s presume that individual DoD or intelligence-agency personnel have an interest in such issues, and maybe even in spending their personal time by keeping current and following the crowd’s interest in such topics, by participating in these new social networks.  One can then assume that others from foreign intelligence might have some interest in tracking those very IC personnel, by observing their activities within social networks (and not just Ning ones).  No spectacular logic needed for that.

The CIA has had some challenges in understanding their field presence within the Long Tail. 

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“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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