Yahoo Answers looking for lead designer

I don’t generally post job positions on my blog, but this seems to be at the intersection of two themes of this blog (Social Software and Design) and so of possible interest to readers. I have spent some time looking at Yahoo Answers recently, and I must say I am intrigued. In a sense, it seems like a larger (which I am addicted to), except with a larger, more diverse community and pockets of groups, rather than one large group. Unlike many of the other cool Yahoo social sites (, & upcoming), its actually built in house, and rebuts the notion that Yahoo is just buying the cool social software startups.

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Tagging comes of age at the World Wide Web conference

I have been looking over the program for the workshop on tagging at the World Wide Web conference, and I am amazed at the diversity and quality of the papers that will be presented there.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy working on tagging – the topic seems to attract the interest of practitioners, builder of systems and researchers. I am honored and more than a little overwhelmed to be the keynote speaker for the workshop, especially as I look at the list of papers to be presented there. There is some excellent work being presented there.

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BayCHI Social Search panel – Podcast is online!

Last week we had a great BayCHI panel on Social and Personalized Search. Participants were from Netflix, Live365,, Pandora and digg. I moderated it. The podcast for that panel is now online. In inviting this particular group of panelists, I was hoping to highlight the changing trends in Social and Personalized Search. The companies were founded between 1997 – 2005 and their different approaches tells its own story. More about that inside.

For a more detailed desciption of the panel, go to Rick Boardman’s blog.

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Wisdom of crowds: Why diversity is important for good decisions

Interesting research coming out of Tufts University showing that racially diverse groups were consistently better at decision making than homogenous groups. While it has been known for some time that minority members are more likely to express divergent viewpoints in diverse groups, this research shows similar advantages for majority members as well.

This study implies that racially diverse groups may be more thorough and competent than homogeneous ones. “Diversity, at least in a group decision-making context, has some real benefits–and for everyone in the group,” says Sommers, one of the study authors.

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A social analysis of tagging

(or how tagging transforms the solitary browsing experience into a social one)

In a previous essay, I wrote about the cognitive aspect of tagging – describing how people tag, and why they find it easy. There is another, equally important aspect of tagging that I did not touch upon – the “why” of tagging. Why do people tag? For many, tagging is for sharing their own information and watching others. Even if you tag mostly to remember your own stuff, it is difficult to remain untouched by the presence of others. This article will explore how tagging lets us connect with others.(1)

social analysis of tagging

From solitary to social

Web browsing can be a solitary experience. Computers are individualistic devices. Many afternoons, I sit at my desk in our office, browsing the web, listening to music. I come across an article I want to remember. I tag it. That moment, I go from wandering the web alone to joining a group of others. This transition is important. In a moment, I am transported to a crowd of people with whom I have at least one thing in common. And best of all, I can enjoy their presence, but I don’t need to converse. After being on many mailing lists for many years, let me say, conversation is often overrated. Often, I like to be in the company of others, without needing to follow threads and participate. It is the same reason that I like working in a cafe – enjoying the presence of others without the burden of active interaction. Similarly, tags provide a companionable social hum that I enjoy.
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Digg and the wisdom of the crowds

Gene has an interesting post on “how much wisdom there is in Digg“. He was referring to a recent icident where an O’Reilly author was accused of stealing the Digg CSS. This set set me thinking the social structure created by Digg. If you look at it through the lens of “Wisdom of Crowds“, it does not fulfill the criteria laid out by James Suroweicki. The four conditions are
(1) diversity of opinion
(2) independence of members from one another
(3) decentralization and

(4) a good method for aggregating opinions

Digg fails the “independence of members from one another” criteria. People digg stories and comment with reference to what other members have already done. So, people are highly influenced by what others are doing. Overall, in cases such as this (when emotions are running high – this story was about stealing from Digg itself!), the social structure is more like a mob.

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Why flock makes sense

I don’t generally get involved in these web2.0 brouhahas, but Flock has been on my mind recently. The most round of criticism comes after the release of Performancing a cross-platform browser plugin for Firefox that makes Flock pointless.

I was initially excited then skeptical of Flock, but it was at a talk about FireFox recently that I decided that Flock makes sense. Blake Ross and Asa Dotzler talked about how they had managed to create simple software in an open-source geek culture (not known for simple software). What struck me was that their method primarily seemed to be about having a small team that worked as gatekeepers keeping the non-essential stuff out. I am simplifying, but I have thought a fair bit about how to make usable software in an open source culture, and their method was definitely what I would term the “gatekeeper model”.

They also talked about Firefox’s current main challenge, which is to move beyond early adopters, and some early majority and go after more of the Internet Explorer crowd. Strategically, Firefox will be focused on a simple experience that is similar, but compares well to Internet Explorer. That is Firefox’s main battle especially with renewed efforts of Microsoft with IE.

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Collaborative Filtering strikes back (this time with tags)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I became interested in collaborative filtering. Well, it was five years ago, and I was at UC Berkeley, but it seems like eons ago.

What is collaborative filtering? Technically, it’s an algorithm for matching people with similar interests for the purpose of making recommendations. In non-technical terms, it’s a system for helping people find relevant content. Unlike search, where you parse a query to and the most relevant content, with collaborative filtering you find some way of gauging an individual’s interest in content, and then recommend what other similar users liked.

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Is the Lazy Sheep bookmarklet for a good idea?

sheepTagging captures the variety and commonalities in thinking about an object. When many people tag a url, it turns out that some of the tags are common, while some are unique. A lot of people, making decisions independently act in an intelligent fashion, and provide value for everyone. manages to balance the individual’s selfish motivations, and the group good, in a manner I have not seen many social systems do. It’s a delicate balance, but maintains it very well. Let us look into how it maintains that balance, and why I think that the Lazy sheep bookmarklet disturbs it.

Cognitively speaking – just what is happening at the individual level when you tag a url? I encounter an article I would like to bookmark. Semantic networks related to the article are already active in my brain. When I press “post to” it’s not much more work to note down some of the more important associations.

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