Amybeth Hale – Research Goddess

April 9, 2008, 10:20 pm
Filed under: Blogging, Education, Networking/Social Media, Technology, Thoughts | Tags:

Better strap yourself in – this is a long post, but it’s full of cool information!

ICWSMLast week, I attended the International Conference for Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM) in Seattle, WA. I signed up for the conference because I wanted to find out some more in-depth information about what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to social media. Little did I know what I was in for! There’s a whole lot more that goes into building a social networking site, tracking blog comments, and analyzing user profiles than I ever could have imagined!


Over all, I thoroughly enjoyed the academic value of the conference. It truly was an academic conference in that all of the presentations were actually original experiments and hypotheses derived by the presenters, the results were shown along with some interesting findings, and the questions presented by the conference attendees were genuine answer-seeking inquiries. I can honestly say there wasn’t a single presentation made that I had already seen in one format or another. There was a great deal of respect shown to all of the presenters by all of the attendees, something which I hate to say does not occur at some professional conferences. All in all, the experience was great, and I did learn quite a bit.


For those of you with short attention spans, I’m putting my bulleted summary first, and if you want more meat and potatoes you can read further 🙂


Some key observations:

  • Social media has crept into almost every aspect of our lives, but how do we leverage it to benefit us in business?
  • There is a LOT of behind-the-scenes stuff when it comes to social media- tracking, algorithms, design, how to maintain interest, etc.
  • Even the social media platform designers are annoyed by how many usernames and passwords one needs to stay current with all the networks!
  • Perception is reality when it comes to how people view your profiles online
  • There is concern over content privacy, ownership, and authentication


  • Most companies’ efforts in being more visible in the social media space are just scratching the surface right now
  • With this being an election year, people are actually gaining interest in social media because of the information that is flowing about candidates, so this is a GREAT time to capitalize on the rise in online traffic
  • Companies that do not actively engage in social media risk allowing competitors that do an unfair advantage, as well as customers having a more open platform for tarnishing a company’s reputation. You have to manage your online reputation or else it will manage itself
  • There is still MUCH room for improvement when it comes to social media applications, and I was pleased to meet so many of the people who are on the cutting edge of these developments! 

The conference actually began before the real conference took place. The folks who put together the event set up a Crowdvine social network site for all of us who would be attending. When I looked through some of the other folks who were going to be there, I started to feel like Wayne and Garth when they met Alice Cooper (“We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”) These folks were PhD students, college professors, linguists, computer scientists, and research scientists at places like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon U, Northwestern U, U of WA, etc. People hailed from the United States, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Israel, Japan, India, and several other places so it truly was an international conference. And here I was, just a simple sourcing strategist looking for a few crumbs from the table! I looked through profiles and decided there were several people I wanted to meet while I was there, so I sent little notes indicating my desire to meet people. I think it was a great idea for the event coordinators to do this, as it helped with the introductions while we were there.


When I arrived in Seattle, the very first session was presented by the founder of LiveJournal, Brad Fitzpatrick. He discussed some of the differences between social networks and social applications. He talked about how most social networks ‘suck’ today as there is very little privacy and authentication of communication requests amongst people, and you’ve got to sign up for a million new networks as each one promotes its ‘one new and cool feature’, and he discussed the future of these problems and how things like OpenID and OAuth will help with these issues. I found it interesting how someone who designed a product that is utilized by so many people in social media thinks that social media sucks!


Then, we dove head first into the deep end by discussing data mining. And I’m not talking about the data mining that we researchers do when we conduct searches – I’m talking about hard-core, semantic search formulas, algorithms, PLSA-LDA theory data mining. I tried to dumb my notes down as best as I could so that I could make sense of them myself, but some of the concepts of data mining alluded me, so much respect to the presenters for their grasp on these topics! There was a presentation that particularly interested me in that it was an experiment in how users participate in contests/surveys/etc. through social media. The presenter shared that higher awards (bigger prizes, large money pots, etc.) attract more views, but not necessarily more submissions and that the prestige of the contest will slightly hinder participation (higher prestige, higher risk). What I gathered from this conclusion is that lots of people will view a high profile/high stakes contest, but not many people will actually participate because they don’t believe they could win. It made me think of the current SourceCon challenges that are going on.


The presentations that were made on the psychology of social media were fascinating. One presentation was made on the perception of people profiles. It brought up some interesting topic discussion, including how one’s own beliefs and interests may change how they view someone of the opposite beliefs or viewpoints. Here are a couple of notes from this presentation:

  • Do environments matter?
    • Findings: people do get each other
    • People on FB get each other better
    • Women are better guessers than men 🙂
    • Women are also easier to get
  • Profile elements that matter
    • More understood:
      • Link to funny video
      • What makes me glad to be alive
      • Most embarrassing thing
      • Proudest moment
      • Spirituality
    • Less understood:
      • Profile picture a non-person
      • Awful website
      • An awful person
      • A great book

So basically, people who don’t post a human photo on their profile are perceived to be less understood. Or, if they post a link to an awful website or person. Interesting! (checking out my links and connections right now….)


A lot of the neatest talks were had during meals and after-hours. I had great opportunities to hang out with several people during our networking lunches and dinners, as well as at a little wine bar called The Local Vine on Monday night. Sometimes, the ‘unofficial’ parts of a conference yield the best information! 🙂 


Day two began with a keynote from Marc Smith, a Senior Research Scientist with Microsoft. He discussed some interesting ideas and findings about the different people who utilize social media. He called them answer people and discussion people. Answer people typically have more outgoing responses to topics but generally do not start discussions, where discussion people typically initiate conversations but generally do not respond to inquiries as much. He showed some graphs backing this information up. We also had a presentation by James Caverlee on MySpace profiles and how to figure out some of the spam and deception that goes on there. Here is a link to that study as it has been made public. The sample search results are VERY interesting! Basically, what they found is that the “fake” profiles on MySpace, based on comparison of text and other factors, modeled the real profiles created by users in their late 20s – late 30s (fake users are really age 26-39, a sad day for my generation! [bunch of spammers and hackers]) Following that, Danyel Fisher presented on space planning for an online community. He said something of interest when discussing the different community members: he said embrace leaders; respect lurkers and that leaders welcome new people. This is important as the lurkers will eventually become active members of your community and quite possibly future topic leaders. By not embracing new folks and/or lurkers, you are in fact alienating your target (and future) audience.


Day three was begun with our last keynote from Technorati founder, David Sifry, who gave a great presentation on developing an effective project management team. The things he discussed I think can translate into how to develop a good sourcing, research, and/or recruiting organization within your company as well. We then moved on into discussions heavy on political news, blogs and tracking. We discussed using blogs to provide context for news articles and what terms produce “emotional charge” and will indicate if a post is charged or not. We also explored the use of social media coupled with viewing television, and how social media has and will continue to impact the methods with which we watch programs. Finally, we looked at the differences in journalistic sourcing between traditional journalism and bloggers. This was of particular interest, since we have folks at Waggener who keep an eye on bloggers in our clients’ respective industries. We concluded with a panel discussion on politics in blogs, and then wrapped up a power-packed couple of days and set off on our merry ways.


Conclusions – I don’t think the conference is for casual observers of social media! There was so much meaty material and much of it went over my head. I am very glad, however, that I attended as I think gaining knowledge of what goes into making a social media application will in turn help me as an end user to be a better consumer of the technology. It was cool to see how the search engine algorithms are developed and how they return results. I would not recommend going to the conference if you’re not REALLY into the math and science aspect of online technology; however, if you want a crash course in the inner workings of social media, this is the place to be!


4 Comments so far
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Thanks for your review, Amybeth. I would love to go to an event like this, and after reading your post I just want to go even more. I realize I am not a research scientist Phd type either, but anything I could soak up would be something new for me, and that’s a good thing! Keep up the good work!

Comment by Penny Gould


I love this post. Thank you for providing such in-depth info for those of us who could not be there. I love the ideas that I wasn’t aware of, like discussing spirituality and embracing lurkers (just to pick two). Even if you feel the info went over your head, you provided a readable and interesting takeaway for the rest of us. Keep up the good work.

Comment by jobfox

[…] ICWSM Recap – Amybeth’s conference summary has some nice customer service nuggets […]

Pingback by renaissance chambara | Ged Carroll - Links of the day

Thanks for sharing the gems of the conference! I think I’ll read this post 3 more times so I can take it all in 🙂

Comment by kaye sweetser

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