Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Social Software

Human Trails In Cyberspace

Multimedia: Maps and audio charting human interactions in cyberspace



If the Internet is a new kind of social space, what does it look like?

That's a question of particular interest to social scientists eager to see what cyberspace might reveal about the nature of human behavior.

Researchers, after all, have long sought to map social groupings and interactions in the physical world. Now, with so much activity on computer networks, scientists can collect vast amounts of hard data on human behavior. Each blog points to other blogs in ways that reveal patterns of influence. Online chats can be tallied and parsed. Even the act of clicking on links can leave trails of activity like footprints in the sand.

"We're entering the golden age of social science," says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. "We know more than we ever did about what's on people's minds."

While all that data could seem overwhelming, researchers are refining ways to visualize Internet activity. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a visualization may well be worth 10,000 data points.

At a conference this month at the University of Pennsylvania called "The Hyperlinked Society," a panel of academic and industry experts showed off their Internet maps and talked about the challenges of painting meaningful pictures of cyberspace.

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