Yearly Archives: 2010

Developer position available in SoNet at FBK

The group I lead (SoNet at FBK, Trento, Italy) is looking for a developer. Python and web programming are the key skills we are looking for.
See the call at Feel free to contact me if you have any question!

The SoNet research unit focuses its research on modeling social networks, analyzing their evolution in time and which incentives and strategies are needed in order to keep them lively and successful. The main focus at present it modeling sociality inside Wikipedia.
The successful candidate will support researchers of the group by writing Python and/or Java programs in order to test research hypotheses, and by creating simple web sites where research results are visualized.
Salary offer will be approximately Euro 19.000 before tax per year but can be increased based on experience and skills of the candidate.

Influence of religion on altruism

Interesting blog post at “Experimental Turk, A blog on social science experiments on Amazon Mechanical Turk” by Gabriele Paolacci.

David Rand posted on Crowdflower about a great Amazon Mechanical Turk study he recently conducted along with John Horton on altruism (as measured by cooperative behavior on a Prisoner’s Dilemma), that also used religious priming. The authors found that (rearranged from the original post):

1. A majority of Turkers cooperate in a Prisoner’s Dilemma. Thus even in the entirely anonymous and profit-motivated online labor market of AMT, many people still choose to help each other.

2. Reading a religious passage about the important of charity makes religious Turkers more altruistic, but has no effect on Turkers who do not believe in god. This shows that Turkers respond in basically the same way as “normal” lab subjects, and is fairly intuitive. Those who believe in god are receptive to calls for generosity phrased in religious language, while non-believers aren’t.

Donna Haraway quotation

I will critically analyze, or “deconstruct”, only that which I love and only that in which I am deeply implicated

Donna Haraway (p. 151, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©Meets_OncoMouse™: Feminism and Technoscience, New York: Routledge, 1997). Her web page HTML title says “Professor of Feminist Theory and Technoscience”. Wow!

Scopophobia of Jimmy Wales

The previous images is a screenshot from Wikipedia about “Scopophobia” defined, in a 1906 journal, as “a fear of seeing people or being seen, especially of strange faces.” ;)
Note: Jimbo Wales big face is on top of every Wikipedia page in these days, asking donations. Actually I think his message is really touching so please consider in donating to Wikipedia.
(via morail tweet who retweeted Schmelkes)

Fact checking in the time of Web

In the time of Web, news come much faster than years ago. Can few journalists under harsh deadlines of hours really check factual assertions in order to determine they are true? I guess the question boils down to two different ones: (1) is a timely fact-checking possible? (i.e. what is really happening, for instance, in the Niger Delta for oil?) and (2) if this is possible, can few journalists from their offices check if what is mentioned in a certain “report” is really happened?

The issue (fact-checking) is not new of course but can be dated back to the first newspaper. What is new is the fact we now live in a global world and the Web let news to spread faster and faster.

I made a short investigation to see if there is any user-generated, bottom-up, web2.0sque attempt to fact check in the time of Web. Of course there is. Following a list of what I found:

1. and, two attempts by Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. is a non-partisan, nonprofit website that describes itself as a “‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.”
2., a proposal by Andrew Lih, an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism and author of “The Wikipedia Revolution: How a bunch of nobodies created the world’s greatest encyclopedia”. In a blog post he explains why he believes a wiki is perfect for the task of decentralized fact-checking.
3. Truth-o-meter by was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2009 for “its fact-checking initiative during the 2008 presidential campaign that used probing reporters and the power of the World Wide Web to examine more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters.”
4. The fact checker project by the Washington Post. This is a more traditional attempt but made available in the wild on a public website. During 15 months, Michael Dobbs have checked some 200 claims and statements relating to the presidential campaign, and received 18,000 comments, many of them vehemently disputing his verdicts. He used Pinocchios as markers of un-truthiness.
5. Fact and Reference Check project by Wikipedia. Wikipedia itself has a WikiProject about this important issue. The purpose of this project is to verify facts in Wikipedia by multiple independent sources. Basically there are templates that anyone can add to articles so that these articles end up in categories such as Category:Wikipedia articles needing factual verification, Category:Articles lacking sources, Category:Articles needing additional references Category:Articles lacking reliable references or Category:Articles with unsourced statements.

UPDATE 2010/11/18: Thanks to a comment by sergio maistrello about, I came to know the following ones, thanks Sergio!

Do you know of more attempts? You are very welcome to add them in the comments. Thanks!

Social network pictures: attraction at school and vaseline spreading

Just 2 social network pictures out of many in a PPT by Jim Moody (Duke Sociology, editor of Journal of Social Structure).

The first is a sociogram as invented by Jacob Moreno in 1930s: it depicts an attraction network in a Fourth Grade Class (Moreno was an incredible guy, for example he states that he was feeling he was God since the age of 5).

The second is a network of how vaseline (suggestions) spread. Vaseline Clinical Therapy has created its own word of mouth project, called Prescribe the Nation. The idea behind the project was to give Vaseline Clinical Therapy lotion to one Alaskan woman and to ask her to lather it on everyone she loved. In the end, 1,000 of her community’s 6,000 residents switched to Vaseline Clinical Therapy lotion (from vanksen blog).
Social network of vaseline

Crowdsourcing Landscape

One image says more than 1000 words ;)
Crowdsourcing Landscape
List of Crowdsourcing service providers, categorized as Services Platforms, Idea Platforms, Competition Platforms, Content Markets, Content Rating, Crowdfunding, Crowdsourcing Aggregators, Cycle Sharing, Data Sharing, Distributed Innovation, Innovation Prizes, Microtasks, Prediction Markets, Questions, Reference Content, Service Marketplaces. There is also a list of common crowdsourcing tasks and examples.
(image by, released under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike) (via napo)

Quote: Remember, that time is money.

I was checking The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism book by Weber few days ago. I first checked it years ago when I was reading The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age, a book by Pekka Himanen which build on Weber’s ideas to show how the Web and Internet and Information and software have changed how (some of) us think about work. Very interesting book.

However in the Wikipedia page for The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism I found a quote by Benjamin Franklin cited by Weber.

Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides. […] Remember, that money is the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again is seven and threepence, and so on, till it becomes a hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker.

Now I know who I have to blame if I feel guilty when I think I’m not working hard enough ;)
On a side note, I think we can now empirically test if Weber hypothesis is true: do protestants really use “capitalistic” concepts more than non-protestants? One way could be to do something like the great blog of OkCupid does for different subsamples of its large population. See some gorgeous example on OkCupid blog

Journalism in the Age of Data

Very interesting video report by Geoff McGhee.

Below I embed the first chapter but there are 8 of them! In the first one, Fernanda Viègas and Martin Wattenberg speak about what they mean by visualization (and the great projects they have been doing, up to now when they joined the the Google’s “Big Picture” data visualization group!) and then there is Ben Fry who I love because of WOW!

Journalism in the Age of Data from Geoff McGhee on Vimeo.

Description: Journalists are coping with the rising information flood by borrowing data visualization techniques from computer scientists, researchers and artists. Some newsrooms are already beginning to retool their staffs and systems to prepare for a future in which data becomes a medium. But how do we communicate with data, how can traditional narratives be fused with sophisticated, interactive information displays?

Key points:
• The explosion of data has brought a complementary need for tools to analyze it (Ch. 1, 7)
• Researchers in visualization are helping by building tools for non•experts (Ch. 1, 7)
• Journalists are finding ways to adapt to the challenge of telling stories with data (Ch. 2, 3)
• With experience in charting data, infographics designers are well suited to bring data vis to journalism, but they debate how effective it is at explaining concepts (Ch. 4)
• In a wired world, data is increasingly becoming a medium of personal expression (Ch. 5)
• Data will increasingly arrive in real time, challenging our ability to absorb, analyze and display it (Ch. 5)
• Technologies for creating online visualizations are in transition, but there are new tools coming out that will make the process easier (Ch. 7)
• Data analysis is at least as important as visually displaying it; there are tools that help with this process (Ch. 6)

Geoff McGhee is an online journalist specializing in multimedia and information graphics. Over the past decade he has worked at The New York Times and, and in France at Le Monde Interactif. In 2009-2010, he spent a John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University studying data visualization. In July 2010, McGhee began a new job developing visualizations and interactive content for the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford.

Journalism in the Age of Data by Geoff McGhee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.