Volume 4 Issue 2 February 2012

Editor’s Desk

Small World Phenomenon and Clutter of Social Technologies
Having discussed „accidental lucky encounter of useful information’ (Nov 2011), it is interesting to explore the „lucky encounter of people’. The famous small world experiment by Stanley Milgram in 1960s determining the path length for social networks of people in the United States found that on an average everyone is approximately six steps away (six degrees of separation) of introduction from a person to any other person in a chain with „a friend of a friend‟ like statement. The experiment consisted of sending letters to 300 randomly selected people in Nebraska and Kansas, asking them to help ensure that the letter made its way to a "target person" (a stockbroker in Boston) through their known person.

More recently, Richard Wiseman repeated the experiment in Britain with 100 randomly selected persons out of 500 volunteers and found that present-day Britain (in 2003 having 60 million people) is a much smaller world than America in 1960s with four degrees of separation. In the experiment, about 20 persons did not send their parcels at all with the conviction that their parcels would never reach the designated person not known to them. They couldn't think of anyone whom they knew on first-name terms and who could help deliver the parcel to designated person. This experiment claimed that the world has indeed become substantially smaller over the past 40 years. Of course, one has to acknowledge the contribution of science and technology in genuinely shrinking the world on a social level. Very recently, Yahoo also repeated the small world experiment using Facebook.

Richard Wiseman published a book entitled The Luck Factor

summarising results of his

research on why some people lead exceptionally lucky lives and others unlucky lives. He showed that lucky people frequently experience the small-world phenomenon and that such "lucky" meetings have a dramatic and positive effect on their lives. In contrast, unlucky people rarely report such experiences. The author speculated that lucky people develop lots of connections with others (and know a large number of people) leading to better probability to be linked to the strangers they encounter and hence significantly increase their chances of having benefits of small-world phenomenon. That is why the lucky participants in the above experiment were far more likely to know potential recipients for the parcels than unlucky people. In other words, lucky people living in a much smaller world than unlucky people maximise their potential for "lucky" small-world encounters in life.


No doubt, ‘the small world experiment’ demonstrated the possibility of epidemic diffusion of information, viral marketing, „the luck factor‟ and other benefits of networks. But, whether you are six-degree separated or four-degree separated in the chain with a mouse-click friendship or „a friend of a friend‟ kind of relation, the person at the other end of such a chain is not your friend because the „transitivity‟ property is not valid in this kind of relation (i.e., A is a friend of B and B is a friend of C does not assure that A is a friend of C). We shall later explore about this social technology clutter and the limit of social channel capacity. But the „social‟ part of the Internet is undoubtedly the next great revolution with empowerment and transparency. It is breaking all barriers, particularly the barrier between companies and their customers. Companies are on their toes to respond to complaints on social networks more quickly than others. In this way they tend to focus and attend to only selected activist-angry customers leaving the large number of average customers and the potential non-customers. An average employee is also overloaded with data and this additional „data deluge‟ from social networks (expected to increase by 40 times in the next 10 years) will make it worse affecting the quality of work. In this sense, are social technologies truly democratizing the power from selected few to many („few Goliaths to many Davids‟) is the question raised in a recent article of the Economist (Dec 31, 2011). Yes, it is true that an ordinary netizen can easily broadcast his opinion and expand his network as he wishes. Such an empowerment and expansion of network might work occasionally well for political campaign and viral marketing. But it is the „rarity‟ that adds value to anything and the „abundance‟ that brings it down. As more and more tweets/messages pour in on social networks, less and less attention is paid to individual messages. The average netizen is required to put more efforts and time to detect useful information in an ever increasing clutter/noise of communication. An optimistic view is that better filters, editors, analysts and intermediaries are going to evolve to circumvent the situation.

The new J-Gate 2 has extended filtering/clustering and faceted browsing to take care of your information overload.

M S Sridhar
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------http://directory.leadmaverick.com/Helping-Psychology/DallasFort-WorthArlington/TX/10/11278/index.aspx http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_world_experiment http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/3309137/It-really-is-a-small-world-we-live-in.html http://www.richardwiseman.com/books/luckfactor.html

Editor’s Post-Script Miscellany
Publishers play a villain for open access movement: The Association of American Publishers took an anti-open access stand by working hard toward „Research Work Act’,


referred to House Committee in December 2011, and astonishingly claim that the Act will prevent unauthorized free public dissemination of journal articles and also prevent nongovernment authors from being required to agree to such free distribution. Good news for digital preservation: There is a good news for the precarious problem of „elusive digital preservation‟ (Sep 2011) with the pilot project of digitising to preserve rare manuscripts of Vatican library in FITS (Flexible Image Transport System) format

(http://heasarc.nasa.gov/docs/heasarc/fits.html). FITS is not a new format, but developed in early 1970s by ESA and NASA (space agencies of Europe and America) for storing enormous satellite imageries of the sky. The instructions needed to read and process the data are kept in a text header locked to top of the data itself. As such this open source format has longevity and backward compatibility. In other words, if a tool can read FITS today, the same can also read any earlier data in FITS. Professional delight: We have all heard of customer delight. But there are professional delights too. In a recent survey on „job satisfaction „of LIS professionals published in Library Journal** , a respondent-public librarian who helped people (his customers) in a thousand different ways almost everyday opined that “by helping them, I learn and grow as a human being” (http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/careerscareernews/890617-

300/lj_2011_job_satisfaction_survey.html.csp). This was given as cause for his job satisfaction differing from the usual monetary benefits and career growth. This is most delighting aspect of the profession required to be seriously examined and taken further by LIS researchers.

Online Piracy Act to squeeze intermediaries: The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) being considered by US Congress is going to hold intermediaries like Internet service provider, credit card firms and advertising networks responsible for foreign pirate web sites. The Act empowers the right-holder to request intermediaries to take down links to the site or block the domain name and intermediaries will have just 5 days to comply or rebut (The Economist, Nov 26, 2011 and Jan 25, 2012). Invading privacy of mind: As everyone is struggling to keep physical privacy from CCTVs, mobile phones, web sites and so on, there is a breakthrough in mind reading based on neurological activities threatening the mental privacy. Like the fantasy story of „magic goggle‟ of yester years, brain reading is becoming a reality. On the advantage side it may enhance the working of text-based speech engines, detect false witnesses and understand the thoughts of person in coma, but what happens to necessary harmless lies of everyday domestic life? (The Economist, Oct 29, 2011). M S Sridhar sridhar@informindia.co.in


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