Social Networking

A New Social Network Seeks to Sort Out the Data Deluge


With an increasing number of profit-seeking publishers concluding that the unlimited free distribution of original web journalism won't be a sustainable business, it has cleared the path for more simplistic ways to relay stories, without the same demand on audience attention.

Infographics are increasingly being seen as a content genre all their own — while apparently riding the coattails of the movement to urge the public sector to open their data to the dabbling of developers. Naturally, media and marketing types have also seen the appeal, since any information capable of going viral beats the alternative.

With these developments has come an emerging sentiment that data visualizations created as social media bait are better off being ignored because the trend is going to fade.

For now, though, a slick user-generated infographic can still draw attention for its own sake — in the same way that chatrooms or blogs once turned heads on novelty value along. But an infographic slapped together out of self-interest isn't quite worth the scrutiny of a cave painting. Yet, some kind of filter could help draw attention to the data worth a look.

Hunchworks Harnesses Social Networking with a Scientific Twist

Experts can share their hypotheses with their peers.

What happens when you take the philosophy behind social networking and use it for something other than catching up with old friends and sharing funny videos of your cat?

Hunchworks is an online tool that allows experts from a variety of fields to submit a hypothesis (or hunch) that they wish to examine further. This hypothesis can then be viewed and commented upon by other experts.

The goal is that when these experts get together, their experiential knowledge, gut feelings, and their expertise will coalesce and allow them to discover whether or not to accept or reject the posted hypotheses.

In addition to promoting a space in which researchers and their ideas can come together, Hunchworks also exists to make the exchange of knowledge and information both inside and outside the United Nations more effective.

Here’s how it works:

Growing Up, Who Did You Most Admire? is a new social networking site based on the popular 19th-century parlor game Marcel Proust was fond of playing. Though it was a fixture in Parisian salon culture before his time, this list of twenty or so probing questions has come to be known as the “Proust Questionnaire” simply because his answers were so… Proustian.

The developers of, which hovers in a nebulous space between a digital scrapbook and a dating site, state that they are not Proust scholars and that the impetus for this site is to provide its users (“you”) with a way to better “know the ones you love,” by telling your story in “the spirit of sharing that the Proust Questionnaire represents.” However, in the WordPress-like interface used for this site, the line “Growing up, who did you most admire?” reminds one vaguely of a hackneyed password-reset question.

Vanity Fair has used the Proust Questionnaire as a back-page feature since 1993, and in 2009 compiled their results into the book Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire: 101 Luminaries Ponder Love, Death, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life. They have even developed a “Turbo Proust” interactive version at, where readers can compare their responses with the likes of Catherine Deneuve and Tom Waits and post the results to Facebook.

The developers of do not note the popular existence of the Vanity Fair interactive Proust Questionnaire in their exposition of the site. Instead, they present it as a novel way to share and memorialize one’s personal history via photos, videos and text files. The site is ostensibly geared towards bored OK Cupid users and neophyte digital scrapbookers.

To this end, offers its users features that Vanity Fair’s does not, such as:

    a multimedia platform, where content can be edited or deleted;

Geert Lovink at the Infoscape Lab

On Wednesday, April 27 Dutch media theorist, internet critic and activist Geert Lovink was in Toronto to participate in a panel discussion about the Wikileaks phenomenon. Prior to the event, he stopped by Ryerson University's Infoscape Research Lab to discuss what he's been up to in his role as the director of the Institute of Network Cultures.

Since the advent of the internet, Dr. Lovink has been at the forefront of theorizing both the significance and the potential of networked technologies. He's organized countless conferences, exhibits and symposiums all over the world aimed at generating critical discourse about the internet, and in 1995 he co-founded Nettime, a highly influential mailing list that counts figures such as Bruce Sterling and John Perry Barlow among its subscribers.

Although Lovink's lecture on Wednesday covered a lot of ground, his thesis was fairly simple: our critical perspective on network culture is lagging behind the pace of technological and social change on the internet. There remains an emphasis on discussing emerged -- as opposed to emerging -- phenomena and the pace of academic publishing (a PhD dissertation can take four years to prepare and write) is glacial compared to that of the web. For example, until recently it was still common to see critical scholarly articles centred around Myspace.

According to Lovink, this failure to "play catch up" means that we're not properly analyzing a profound shift towards decentralization in network culture, and the bulk of his presentation consisted of examples of the ways in which this trend is manifesting in social networking, e-commerce and online activism.

Where Reality TV, Literature, and Social Networking Converge

A quick note inspired by today's Metaviews Teleseminar on the Internet as Application. There was a brief discussion about the relative stickiness of Facebook in spite of its failure to consistently offer trustworthy custodianship: why people leave, why they come back, why they stay, and, above all, how for some people it represents a really special different way of interacting with others. On social networking sites people can find voices more powerful than they might have offline.

When I think about the idea of being famous to your friends or of having a 'successful' Facebook identity, I think about Sheila Heti, whose book, How Should a Person Be?, is (amongst other things) an exploration of how we conceive of our own identities.

From the excerpt on her site:

"I can tell that a lot of young people today are interested in being famous. I’ve often heard that while young people used to want to be doctors and ballerinas and firemen, now they want to win a singing competition. I do too.

"How should a person be? I sometimes wonder about it, and I can’t help answering like this: a celebrity. But for all that I love celebrities, I would never move somewhere that celebrities actually exist. My hope is to live a simple life, in a simple place, where there’s only one example of everything.

"By a simple life, I mean a life of undying fame that I don’t have to participate in. I don’t want anything to change, except to be as famous as one can be, but without that changing anything. Everyone would know in their hearts that I am the most famous person alive — but not talk about it too much. ... It is the quality of fame one is after here, without any of its qualities."

Taking advantage of social media's strengths

We're slowly beginning to see data collection based marketing emerge. It's my firm belief that these techniques harness the advertising potential of social networks and mobile phones best and most simply.