Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Quick links

Some of what has caught my attention recently:
  • Netflix may have been forced to change its pricing by the movie studios. It appears the studios may have made streaming more expensive for Netflix and, in particular, too costly to keep giving free access to DVD subscribers who rarely stream. ([1] [2] [3])

  • Really fun idea for communication between devices in the same room, without using radio waves, by using imperceptible fluctuations in the ambient lighting. ([1])

  • Games are big on mobile devices ([1] [2])

  • "Customers have a bad a taste in their mouths when it comes to Microsoft's mobile products, and few are willing to give them a try again." Ouch, that's going to be expensive to fix. ([1])

  • Microsoft's traditional strategy of owning the software on most PC-like devices may not be doing well in mobile, but they're stomping in consoles ([1]). On a related note, Microsoft now claims their effort on search is less about advertising revenue and more about improving interfaces on PC-like devices. ([2])

  • Many people have vulnerable computers and passwords. Why aren't more of them hacked? Maybe it just isn't worth it to hackers, just too hard to make money given the effort required. ([1])

  • In 2010, badges in Google Reader is an April Fools joke. In 2011, badges in Google News is an exciting new feature. ([1]).

  • Good (and free) book chapter by a couple Googlers summarizing the technology behind indexing the Web ([1])

  • Most people dread when their companies ask them every year to set performance goals because it is impossible to do well and can impact raises the next year. Google's solution? Don't do that. Instead, set lightweight goals more frequently and expect people to not make some of their goals. ([1] [2])

  • 60% of business PCs are still running WinXP. Maybe this says that businesses are so fearful of changing anything that upstarts like Google are going to have an uphill battle getting people to switch to ChromeOS. Or maybe this says businesses consider it so painful to upgrade Microsoft software and train their people on all the changes that, when they do bite the bullet and upgrade, they might as well switch to something different like ChromeOS. ([1])

  • Fun interview with Amazon's first employee, Shel Kaphan ([1])

  • Thought-provoking speculation on the future of health care. Could be summarized as using big data, remote monitoring, and AI to do a lot of the work. ([1])

  • Unusually detailed slides on Twitter's architecture. Really surprising that they just use mysql in a very simple way and didn't even partition at first. ([1])

  • Impressive demo, I didn't know these were possible so easily and fluidly using just SVG and Javascript ([1] [2])

Monday, July 11, 2011

Google and suggesting friends

A timely paper out of Google at the recent ICML 2011 conference, "Suggesting (More) Friends Using the Implicit Social Graph" (PDF), not only describes the technology behind GMail's fun "Don't forget Bob!" and "Got the right Bob?" features, but also may be part of the friend suggestions in Google+ Circles.

An excerpt from the paper:
We use the implicit social graph to identify clusters of contacts who form groups that are meaningful and useful to each user.

The Google Mail implicit social graph is composed of billions of distinct nodes, where each node is an email address. Edges are formed by the sending and receiving of email messages ... A message sent from a user to a group of several contacts ... [is] a single edge ... [of] a directed hypergraph. We call the hypergraph composed of all the edges leading into or out of a single user node that user's egocentric network.

The weight of an edge is determined by the recency and frequency of email interactions .... Interactions that the user initiates are [considered] more significant .... We are actively working on incorporating other signals of importance, such as the percentage of emails from a contact that the user chooses to read.

"Don't forget Bob" ... [suggests] recipients that the user may wish to add to the email .... The results ... are very good - the ratio between the number of accepted suggestions and the number of times a suggestion was shown is above 0.8. Moreover, this precision comes at a good coverage ... more than half of email messages.

"Got the wrong Bob" ... [detects] inclusion of contacts in a message who are unlikely to be related to the other recipients .... Almost 70% of the time [it is shown] ... users accept both suggestions, deleting the wrong Bob and adding the correct one.
I like the idea of using e-mail, mobile, and messaging contacts as an implicit social network. One problem has always been that the implicit social network can be noisy in embarrassing ways. As this paper discusses, using it only for suggesting friends is forgiving and low-risk while still being quite helpful. Another possible application might be to make it easier to share content with people who might be interested.

For more on what Google does with how you use e-mail to make useful features, you might also be interested in another Google paper, "The Learning Behind Gmail Priority Inbox" (PDF).

For more on implicit social networks using e-mail contacts, please see my 2008 post, "E-mail as the social network".