Taking a Bird’s-Eye View of “Social Cyberspaces”

REDMOND, Wash., July 29, 2003 — Have you ever joined an online message board or newsgroup discussion only to find yourself struggling to decide which participants’ advice to heed, whom to ignore, who are the experts, and who is simply making noise or
? Trust and identity are at the core of any well-functioning community, online or in the real world. Researchers at Microsoft Corp. are creating tools to help computer users understand these dynamics — and get real value from what research sociologist Marc Smith calls
“social cyberspaces.”

According to Smith, social cyberspaces include e-mail, e-mail distribution lists, chat rooms, buddy lists, instant messages, message boards, weblogs (
), and discussion groups such as Usenet. Today, most of these virtual spaces offer little or no
“social accounting”
data or information that helps users get a big-picture view of the community they are interacting with. Yet the role of social cyberspaces is becoming increasingly important.

“Technology no longer consists just of hardware or software or even services, but of communities,”
said Howard Rheingold, author of
“The Virtual Community”
“Smart Mobs.” “Increasingly, community is a part of technology, a driver of technology, and an emergent effect of technology.”

At Microsoft®
Research, Smith leads the Community Technologies group, which is developing tools that can help people make more informed decisions on which community members they can trust, instead of acting on blind faith.

One project is Netscan ( http://netscan.research.microsoft.com/ ). Drawing on the estimated 100,000 newsgroups and 20 million active contributing members within Usenet, Netscan offers an interface that supports the discovery of communities of interest, the selection and evaluation of high-quality content, and, as a reputation system, motivates members to make quality contributions.

In another project, Smith and his colleagues are exploring how online information can play a role in the physical world. Advanced User Resource Annotation, or AURA ( http://aura.research.microsoft.com/ ), demonstrates how people can bridge the gap between online information and the offline world. Using a wireless Pocket PC outfitted with a bar-code scanner, users can scan any bar-coded object — such as food, books or even works of art — and find relevant information in real time from newsgroups, Web sites and message boards.

For example, a visitor to an art museum could scan the bar code on a painting’s frame and instantly access newsgroups or message boards associated with the particular artist. Then they could read what others think of the work and even annotate the discussions with their own ideas.

Today at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus, Smith will discuss his group’s research in
“Group Dynamics in Social Cyberspaces.”
The talk is open to the public.

Where: Microsoft Corp.

Bldg. 1, Conference Center

1065 LaAvenida

Mountain View, Calif.

Time: 12:30–2 p.m.

About Microsoft Research

Founded in 1991, Microsoft Research is dedicated to conducting both basic and applied research in computer science and software engineering. Its goal is to develop new technologies that simplify and enhance the user’s computing experience, reduce the cost of writing and maintaining software, and facilitate the creation of new types of software. Microsoft Research employs more than 700 people, focusing on more than 55 areas of computing. Researchers in five labs on three continents collaborate with leading academic, government and industry researchers to simplify and enhance technology in such areas as speech recognition, user-interface research, programming tools and methodologies, operating systems and networking, graphics, natural language processing, and mathematical sciences. More information can be found at http://www.research.microsoft.com/ .

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq
) is the worldwide leader in software, services and Internet technologies for personal and business computing. The company offers a wide range of products and services designed to empower people through great software — any time, any place and on any device.

Microsoft is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.

The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

Note to editors: If you are interested in viewing additional information on Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft Web page at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/ on Microsoft’s corporate information pages. Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication, but may since have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/contactpr.asp .

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