The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

March - 2011 - issue > Technology

The Science Behind Social Networks

Dr. Ravi Kumar
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Dr. Ravi Kumar
The Internet is undergoing a revolution at a tremendous pace thanks to Social Networking. In a candid interview with Hari Anil, Dr. Ravi Kumar, Principal Research Scientist, Yahoo! Research talks about his research in Yahoo Labs and it hopes to tap the power of Social Networking.

What does Yahoo! Labs do?
Yahoo! Labs has its center in U.S. and has presence all over the world, including, Bangalore, Barcelona, and Santiago. Our primary goal is to study two things, one, study the science behind the internet, and second, work with the company, its business units, products and engineering teams, to make things science proof. We have a few societies all over the world and we look into various problems that come in the Yahoo! domain. My research is primarily concerned with the science behind social network. The goal is to study online conversation.

What do you mean by ‘science behind social network’?
If you take any social network there is some aspect of human behavior that goes on to the social network — How do people participate in it? What prompts them to join a particular network? At which point do they join? In real world there is no way to observe these, but online we can observe as these are all recorded. We can study people’s behavior and extract patterns and principles out of that, and this can be used to improve user experience. For example; if two of my friends are on Facebook or Twitter, at what point do they actually start becoming friends among themselves? In real world this happens, if I throw a party and by the end of it may be some of them will become friends. But we are talking about two people connecting online. This is one aspect of the social network.

The commenting on any user generated content is fairly intense on the internet. So how do these things shape up and what prompts people to enter in these conversation, what kinds of things they discuss there, what fuels to prolong the conversations — these are all very valuable information but it is very hard to explain them as there is no structure to them. To pull up something valuable from them is a purpose of the research. Then there are various other things that are going on like the activities people perform, when do they respond to messages, how do they shapeup the discussions that happen there, what brings them together; to understand all of this requires some amount of science. This is something we do in general.

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