Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University delivered today's Keynote at SIG IR 2006 here in Seattle. Jon is a leading investigator in the area of complex networks, and in particular, in exposing mathematical relationships between large networks and small ones. His talk was dense and provocative, ranging across well-known history and recent experiementation in the domain of search theory in social networks.
The notion of "six degrees of separation" is well known these days, an illustration of how even large social networks (the world) can be traversed in a surprisingly low number of links. Jon described the clever, pre-computing demonstration of this phenomenon by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s. Theories and experiments concerning network models are not so new, then, as most of us might have guessed. What is new, however, is the proliferation of large-model systems that leave records of social activity that is unfathomably rich in data for analysis. As the Web has proliferated, the availability of full-text data and rich linking among resources has superheated the domain of link analysis leading to extraordinary entrepreneurial oppotunity now familiar to all of us, but also to a deeper understanding of linking theory and self organizing systems (see, for example, Albert-Laszló Barabási's Linked: How everything is connected to everything else, and what it means for business, science, and everyday life.
Kleinberg's interest, however, is less on the linkage of information assets than on the linking within social networks that comprise the heart of what we have come to refer to as Web 2.0. Social networks on the Internet are not all that new, either... indeed, Usenet newsgroups, bulletin boards, chatrooms and email networks predate the Web, and are arguably the most important side effect of Darpa's experiments in robust networking now known as the Internet.
One difference, though, in the Friendster/Myspace/Facebook world that mystifies oldsters (especially legislators) and captivates youngsters is that for the first time, one's place in a social network is visible to all, and subject to self-aware 'gaming' by the participants, as well as exploitation by information retrieval scientists, marketeers, predators, spooks, and even parents with the courage to delve.
Image: Opening Plenary of SIG-IR 2006 in Seattle, August 07, 2006