Archive for October 21st, 2013

Gossip, Graphs and Guerrilla Marketing   no comments

Posted at 9:38 pm in Uncategorized

WWW Network Graph

Why would Web Scientists be interested in Gossip?

Gossip is defined as “idle talk; trifling or groundless rumour” between people and is usually thought of as being rather innocuous and of little consequence (OED 2013). The Web facilitates the free exchange of information regardless of quality or authenticity and this could be useful or contentious when mining the Web for data.

Gossip is a form of information exchange but unlike scholarly communication or financial transactions it is rarely coherent, uniform or predictable. The prolific use of the Web 2.0 in particular the social networking sites and micro-blogs allows gossip to spread between platforms and in different forms. A mosaic of verbal and pictorial information and more importantly combinations of the two spread throughout the Web.

Ultimately, gossip is a way of exchanging information in an informal and relaxed manner. Before Web scientists attempt to design or engineer new web technologies they must understand what the Web is being used for currently. This is of great use to Web scientists because it can help them understand how information can be exchanged faster and easier and how their efforts can facilitate this exchange.

The reader may feel that this review is nothing but mere folly and they could be forgiven for thinking that. However, the author would ask them to consider how the principles of gossip could be applied to more serious and practical fields e.g. disaster relief, management, law enforcement. Gossip transcends technical and social boundaries and so it will be of use when studying the Web as a socio-technical object.

Why Network Science?

Network science offers a near perfect set of techniques and practices for studying the Web. Due to the mixed lineage of this field it offers a variety perspectives of networks as social and technical entities. Biological networks are of interest as well – the study of other species such as cephlapods or bees could inform Web science about information exchange.

Network science leans upon sub-fields that have themselves been created from interactions by other disciplines e.g. graph theory (mathematics, computer science) and social network analysis (sociology and anthropology). This chimera of a discipline allows for the topic to be fully opened up and examined thoroughly by illustrating its interconnected nature.

Newman, Barabasi and Watts (2006:4) provide clear cut guidance as to why their discipline is different.

  • It is focused on “real-world problems” and is willing to sacrifice theoretical purity for real world application.
  • It views networks as dynamic entities and will not settle for static models.
  • It aims to “understand the framework on which distributed dynamical systems are built”.
  • It explains rather than describes networks and uses stochastic processes to understand the changes in networks.

It will provide a stimulating read to say the least and offers insights previously hidden in the fragments of other disciplines.

Why Marketing?

“The aim of marketing is to make selling unnecessary” Drucker (2001:20).

If gossip is the idle talk amongst people, marketing is the attempt to infiltrate this “idle talk” and make it into a profitable opportunity. Marketing provides a perspective borne out of commerce and academia and offers insight into how information exchange is made into a commercial product.

Marketing is made up of segments and channels. The segments are different markets and the potential consumers within them. The channels are the method by which a marketer will reach them and build a relationship with so as to continually acquire their custom. From humble posters in shop windows to multi-millionaire pound advertising campaigns, marketing is essentially about raising awareness through word of mouth. Marketers make use of traditional (offline) and digital methods and this means that the Web is of great importance to them.

Marketing provides a mixture of theatre and statistics. It has an array of metrics to measure the success of a commercial activity which can give marketing near-science like properties. It is heavily influenced by economics, business studies, psychology and computer science. Especially the statistical techniques and numeric concepts within these disciplines and how they can aid decision making. However, it also attempts to allure customers not through technical or economic measures but through appealing to consumer’s subconscious desires. For a campaign to be successful it must use art and design, music and even activism.

It will provide an opportunity to see how the Web is used to generate custom and subsequent profits. This demonstrates that gossip is used not just as a social mechanism but also as a commercial one.

Convergence of the two disciplines?

The emphasis on analysing social networks is an obvious property of both disciplines. It is not clear as to whether marketers have the capital (human, cultural, financial, physical) to utilise the same tools as network scientists. It may be the case that they can collaborate and share access to data and any insights gleaned from it. The interest in real-world social networks and observing them in real time is something that will be of use to Web scientists and will further extend their influence to other small-world networks.

P.S. This post was originally posted on 15/10/2013 – however, it failed to publish and only showed the title. The author apologises unreservedly for any technical blunders on their part.



Written by Andrew Scullion on October 21st, 2013

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Psychology in a nutshell   no comments

Posted at 9:02 pm in Psychology

This week I have been looking at the basics of psychology. After I talked to a friend in the Netherlands, who studies psychology, I came to the conclusion that the book ‘Psychology’ by Peter Gray would be a solid introduction to the discipline and could introduce me in an appropriate matter to the subject. I scanned over the 654 pages of the book and learned about psychology’s basic methodologies and research fields.

On the first page of his book, Gray states the following:

“Psychology is the science of behavior and the mind. In this definition behavior refers to the observable actions of a person or an animal. Mind refers to an individual’s sensations, perceptions, memories, thoughts, dreams, motives, emotional feelings, and other subjective experiences.”

(Gray, 2007: p. 1)

After this formal definition, Gray continues with explaining that there are three foundation ideas for psychology. The first idea is that behavior and mental experience have physical causes, the second that mind and behavior are shaped by experience, and the last is that the machinery of behavior and mind have evolved through natural selection (Gray, 2007: p. 2).

These foundational ideas are explored by using different research strategies. Gray recognizes three categories in which these strategies can be ordered. The first is research design, wherefore experiments, correlational studies, and descriptive studies are needed. The setting is the second category. Herewith, one must think of either field or laboratory research. Finally, the data-collection method is important. The basic types are self-report and observation (Gray, 2007: p. 29). Another important factor of psychology is the usage of statistical methods to understand the data that has been collected. According to Gray, descriptive statistics are used to summarize sets of data. Inferential statistics help researchers in their confidence about the collected data (Gray, 2007: p. 35).

After the basic methodologies of psychology, Gray goes into more detail and talks about the different fields that are being explored in psychology and have shaped it to what it is now. Human behavior is an important field, that is often being examined  through genetic evolution and the environment around a human being (Gray, 2007: p. 49). Furthermore, cognition and neuroscience are important in studying the shaping of behavior and the mind.

An interesting example in which the field of psychology is particularly relevant to Web Science and the subject that I chose, online surveillance, is through laws of behavior as social facilitation and social interference. These terms are being described by Gray as influential on human behavior, because the individual knows when it is being observed and its behavior is being affected by it (Gray, 2007: p. 502).

This week I wrote on the basic definition of psychology and some of its methodologies. Next week I want to explore in detail which different fields of psychology exist and how they might relate to online surveillance. 



Gray, Peter. Psychology. Fifth Edition. New York: Worth Publishers, 2007.

Written by Gert Van Hardeveld on October 21st, 2013

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How is gender equality represented on the web? Philosophy: back to basics.   no comments

Posted at 1:10 pm in Uncategorized

This post will cover defining equality and looking at some of the arguments against equality.

In order to look at gender equality at all, let alone on the web in relation to philosophy, the first logical step is to go back to the very basic philosophical question of ‘what is equality?’. The idea of treating all human beings as equals originated thousands of years ago, and with that age old ideology comes differing views and definitions of equality itself. Philosophy commonly defines four different types of equality: moral/ontological, legal, political and social.

Moral/Ontological Equality: This type of equality has been defined in several ways, but all to the same end. One definition is “the fundamental equality of persons” which takes the religious view that all are equal under God. Others have a less theological take but still denote that all human beings should be valued the same, without preferential treatment irrespective of the situation. For example, the ‘all women and children out first (or debatably all wealthy women and children out first) principle’ used on the titanic, would not hold true.

Legal Equality: Otherwise known as ‘equality of result and outcome’; this advocates that all people should be treated the same with respect to the laws they have to follow, and subsequent retribution if they fail to do so. Historically in America, black Americans had a substantially higher chance of receiving a conviction or a harsher punishment than a white American; in a truly legally equal society, all citizens would be tried against the same standards, without taking race, gender, religion or any other factor into consideration.

Political Equality: This equalitarian stance otherwise known as is based on all members of a political community should have an equal say when it comes to making laws or voting in public elections. Therefore no country where anyone who is considered a ‘lesser citizen’ and therefore not allowed to vote (e.g women up until the 20th Century, or the working class until the 19th Century) could claim to be ‘politically equal’.

Social Equality: This is the idea that all members of a society should have equal access to it’s resources and equally benefit from it. The fact that realistically (certainly for Britain) more money can buy you better health care, debatably better education with access to private schools, and the fact that our country still arguably holds class divisions means that we do not enjoy social equality. Unfortunately even countries/governments that have attempted to use communism (a socialist movement to create a classless society) still suffered from corruption and attempts to un-equalise the balance.

After defining these different types of equality, would it then logically hold that ‘gender equality’ would be where both genders can enjoy all four types of equality with no differentiation between them; which would also mean that in terms of how both genders are represented on the web, the way they are viewed, their legal and political rights in relation to the web, and the resources they are allowed access to on the web, should be exactly the same for both?

There are many arguments against these definitions of equality, that therefore would potentially invalidate the question above, as those characteristics of equality would no longer hold true.

The first argument against equality is that different elements of equality aren’t compatible; society is not by design equal. Even if it were possible to conceive a true ‘classless’ society, jobs/salaries/positions within society would still be different, and therefore ‘unequal’; and why shouldn’t they be? If one position requires a higher skill level than another, why shouldn’t the most skilled person for the job secure it? This then poses the question ‘should everyone be afforded equal opportunities, or just the ability to gain the skills to gain access to those opportunities in the first place?’. In relation to gender equality therefore, shouldn’t women and men be given the same starting blocks, with the capacity to make of it what they will. One gender shouldn’t be automatically considered over the other for any position, it should be based on skill, but both genders should have the abilities to gain those skills. To look at this matter in relation to gender representation on the web, it would logically follow that both genders should have the ability to hold any position socially on the web (e.g both should be able to contribute to academic resources) and they should be judged on merit and knowledge not gender.

The second argument is that it is impossible to adhere to full social equality. To enforce such strict rules would be tantamount to introducing a totalitarian rule over society. It has also been argued that a totalitarian esque rule doesn’t work as human nature means that society will always eventually rebel against such a strict rule; rendering utter equality infeasible. It would therefore be almost as impossible to ensure utter gender equality on the web. It would still be marginally easier than ensuring it completely within society (as unless we drift into the fictional realms of totalitarian novels such as 1984; the government has yet to work out how to read or control our thoughts) as all web traffic and content can be monitored, but it would still be a monumental task.

The third argument is that radical steps towards equality aren’t necessarily desirable. At what point would we be compromising our personal liberty in favour of forced equality? This resonates with the popularly quoted concern ‘political correctness gone mad’. Has the desire to treat everyone equally, and not cause offence irrespective of gender, race, religion etc gone too far? At what point would say a gender inequality based joke or phrase e.g ‘get back in the kitchen’ be considered a point of humour between friends, and at what point would it be regarded as blatant sexism and an example of gender equality?

My essay will address equality in it’s origins looking at all of these different types, in addition to the arguments against them to study how one would go about ascertaining the representation of gender equality on the web from a philosophical standpoint.

[1] D. Johnston “Plato, ‘Democracy and Equality'” in Equality, Indianapolis, USA: Hacket Publishing Company Inc, 2000, ch. 1, pp. 1-9.
[2] B. S. Turner “Types of Equality” in Equality, student ed. New York, USA: Tavistock Publications Limited, 1986, ch. 2, pp. 34-56.

Written by Samantha Kanza on October 21st, 2013

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