January 26, 2011

Google Grants $800K to Cornell Researchers

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Google Inc. announced on Wednesday that they will give a team of 10 researchers at Cornell a grant of $800,000 to study online social networks.The Google Focused Research Award will go to the recently-created Center for the Interface of Networks, Computation and Economics, which is headed by Prof. Jon Kleinberg, computer science, and is made up of nine other professors from a wide range of fields.“[The center’s] basic goal is to research online social networks to try to understand what we can learn from that data,” Kleinberg said. “There are a lot of social applications online right now and I think the whole research community is looking for ways to get those social applications to more accurately reflect social life offline.”

Kleinberg explained that most social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, only have two categories of people: those you are friends with and those you are not.  Offline, people fall into many different categories and the line between being friends and not being friends becomes blurred to reveal more “subtle shading of relationships,” Kleinberg said. One of the goals of the research is to allow online social networks to reflect this.The second goal is to “estimate the health of online groups,” he said. When a group is formed online, sometimes it succeeds and grows and other times it stagnates and fails at its stated purpose. This research will try to determine why some groups succeed and others do not, Kleinberg explained.The final goal, he said, is to determine how incentives can be offered to ensure efficient online work.“Think of the number of people who are working on a Wikipeida article,” Kleinberg said. “How do you make sure the right work goes to the right people to make sure work gets done efficiently?”Kleinberg said he hopes that the research will prove useful to both regular Internet users and other researchers, particularly those interested in the way humans interact with each other. The research will improve the way online social applications work and “make them more valuable to people in their daily life,” he said.“[The research] offers an opportunity to begin understanding how social groups function,” Kleinberg said. “It was very hard to get data on how social groups function [offline] and it is possible to get this data in the online world.”

Original Author: Joseph Niczky