Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wikipedia Conflict and Coordination Talk at Yahoo!

Yesterday, I went to Yahoo! and give a talk there to an audience of about 30 people in various teams (Social Search, Answers, and Local) on the Wikipedia research results on Conflict and Coordination. The audience asked some tough and very interesting questions through out the entire talk, and made me wish I had a recording of all of the questions.

Here are the slides entitled "Conflict and coordination in Wikipedia" (work done jointly with Niki Kittur, Bongwon Suh and Bryan Pendleton.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wisdom of the Crowd, Collective Intelligence, and Collaborative Co-creation

“Wisdom of the crowd” is a great phrase, but we’ve had difficulty really understanding what it means. As mentioned by Ross Mayfield, one way to think about it is to break it up into two halves: “collective intelligence” and “collaborative intelligence”. Voting-style systems exhibit collective intelligence. Google’s page link algorithms involve pages voting for other pages; there are authors behind these pages, so implicitly there are people voting for people or people voting on content. Those are aspects of what you might call “collective intelligence.” It involves the averaging of opinions. I think a less buzzy term for it is "collective averaging".

At the other end, we have "collaborative intelligence", in which we see content production being produced in a kind of divide-and-conquer environments. Ross Mayfield said on his blog that the Wiki style of wisdom of the crowd was more “collaborative intelligence” than collective intelligence. For example, the group of people who are experts on World War II tanks will write that part of Wikipedia; the group of people who are experts on politics in Eastern Europe at the end of World War II will write those articles. So there is an implicit self-organization according to interest and intention. It’s not everybody voting on the same thing—it’s everybody collaborating on different areas to result in something, so that the sum of the parts is greater than the parts themselves. That seems to be at the spirit of this kind of collaborative intelligence.

I don’t really like the term “collaborative intelligence”—it sounds too buzzy—so we tend to call it “collaborative co-creation” instead. It is a very interesting production method. There is a lot of research now on, for example, the open source movement—how it’s a collaborative co-creation mechanism, how successful it is, what’s wrong with it, etc.

Wikipedia probably the most interesting collaborative co-creation system right now, and it is unique in the sense that it is all-encompassing; its net has been cast very wide and it has been able to succeed because of that. There is a little bit of a success-breeds-success phenomenon going on there with the feedback cycle.

This feedback cycle is the part we’re really interested in understanding, because coordination is at the heart of collaborative creation. We want to understand how people are coordinating with one another through either self-organizing mechanisms or through explicit organizing mechanisms; we want to understand the principles by which those things happen in these environments but not in other environments.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Why is the research area called "Augmented Social Cognition"?

Over the last few years, we realized that many of the information environments are gradually turning people into social foragers and sharers. People spend much more time in communities, and they are using these communities and social networks to share information with others, to communicate, to commiserate, and to establish bonds. This is the "Social Web" that people in the Web2.0 movement is talking about.

In my view, what is different about this new Web 2.0 environment is that people are sharing information today in a fundamentally different way from how they are used to. One example is Wiki systems like Wikipedia, which is a fascinating collaborative editing environment for creating an encyclopedia. The collaboration that happens here is very different from passing documents back and forth using traditional email, because you have (1) automatic versioning, and (2) you can always go back and find out who contributed what (transparency). Developments like this have taken a lot of the burden off of users. The features reduces the time it takes to collaborate with each other, thus enabling users to collaborate much more effectively with other users.

We sensed that this style of enhanced collaboration began to have an impact on people’s work, so that’s why we proposed and formed a new research area here at PARC, in April 2007, to go after some of these concepts in depth. The name of the group came from a discussion I was having with Mark Stefik and others in UIR, where I started to call this new research area “Augmented Social Cognition" (around March of 2006.)

Why did I call it “Augmented Social Cognition"? For that, we should go back to the definition of "Cognition".

Many years ago, the researchers in the User Interface Research group at PARC like Stu Card, Peter Pirolli, and myself, agreed that we needed scientists from the field of cognitive science and psychology together with people who are well versed in computer science, graphics, and information visualization. We believed that the fusion of these two areas was fundamental to advances in user interfaces.

During this time, I never bothered to look up the definition of "cognition." When I finally did, I was pleasantly surprised. The definition of cognition is “the faculty of knowing; the ability to think, remember, and reason.” That’s so succinct and so simple. But it can encompass so much.

By extension, we started becoming very interested in what I was calling “social cognition.” Now, as it turns out, the phrase “social cognition” has somewhat been used in psychology in the past, but with a different meaning. In social psychologists' usage, it means the individual cognitive processes that relate to social activities. To explain it somewhat simply, basically, it’s about scheming to insert yourself in social networks or social activities of social processes. But I actually think that’s a terrible definition for the phrase.

If cognition is the ability to remember, think, and reason for an individual, then social cognition, by extension, should have the definition: the ability of a group of people, community, or culture to collectively remember, think, and reason. As an example, our ability to remember history by writing it down on paper or stone or computer and share that with other people is a form of social cognition. Wikipedia is an example of social cognition. A group of people getting together to create a written history of our knowledge on this planet.

So now the reader probably can guess what “augmented social cognition” means. It is the enhancement or the augmentation of a group of people’s ability to remember, think, and reason.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Social Search and Social Information Foraging

I just returned from Beijing where I attended the HCI International conference. I presented a paper that outlines some of the background and thinking that has gone into the formation of Augmented Social Cognition Group here at PARC. Specifically the paper focused on how understanding of social capital, social information foraging, coordination, information flow in social networks, structural holes, and overlap in social navigation are shaped by various research going on in various fields. Here is the
paper on Social Information Foraging and Social Search
(joint work with Peter Pirolli, Shyong (Tony) Lam.)

As a side note, we also presented
an eyetracking paper that showing the effect of highlighted text in reading tasks
(joint work with Lichan Hong, Michelle Gumbrecht).