Last Wednesday Jeremy and I participated in the SSM2010 workshop organized by Ian Soboroff (NIST), Eugene Agichtein (Emory University), Daniel Tunkelang (Google), and Marti Hearst (University of California, Berkeley). It was a full day of panels, discussions and poster presentations on a variety of topics related to search, to social media, and how to combine the two. In an earlier post, I wrote about one way that we can characterize the space, and Daniel did an excellent job of summarizing the workshop, which was also cross-posted at BLOG@CACM.
I am still trying to digest all that I learned during the day, but I can say that one of the challenges was live-tweeting the event. I was one of several people who tweeted about what was happening in the panels and about the issues that were raised. Over 500 tweets were sent and resent with the workshop’s hashtag by people at the event and elsewhere. It was interesting to see other people pick up some of the topics and comment on them. In particular, several of my twitter friends who are not part of the SSM research community had commented on the tweets, and retweeted certain aspects of the discussion.
It’s exciting to see a technology undergo widespread adoption at the same time as (or perhaps even before) academic research has had a chance to analyze and understand the phenomena. In some ways, academia is playing catch-up here: social media technology (such as Twitter, Facebook, etc.) did not original in academia, and was widely adopted before starting to receive academic attention over the last couple of years.
Fortunately, there is lots left to learn and understand about how this media is used, what sorts of problems it can solve, and how to facilitate these new forms of communication. I expect that academia will tackle many aspects of this rich space, including understanding people’s behaviors and information needs when searching social media, generalizing those behaviors into descriptive and predictive models, improving our ability to discover communities in social networks, etc. But all this work will require an interdisciplinary approach that brings together researchers in HCI, CS, IR, psychology, and sociology (just to name a few relevant disciplines). Some of this kind of collaboration has already started, as Mor Naaman mentioned in his remarks at the workshop. I expect his example will be emulated in other institutions, particularly in iSchools and HCI programs.