Creating Technology for Social Change

Top 12 Media Lab Social Technologies

During my work on Social Mirror, tablet tech for social checkups, I have been inspired by other amazing Media Lab social technologies. Here are 12 of the projects which I have found most inspiring, including one or two from other universities.

Did I miss a project you love? Post your favourites in the comments. 

Social Empowerment through Networks

Can social checkups empower marginalized teenagers? In 2001, Leo Burd, now a researcher at the MIT Center for Civic Media, conducted several paper-based studies at Computer Clubhouse, with positive results. Leo is now an advisor on the Social Mirror software.

Leo Bonnani’s SourceMap uses networks to optimise industries and encourage ethical sourcing. Using beautiful touchscreen displays, industry representatives pool information about their supply chains to plan economic development and highlight supply chain ethics (blog post here).

Sourcemap: Laptop Supply Chains

Big Data Network Research

We’re bad at identifying the relationships that matter most to us. Nadav Aharony’s PhD on Social fMRI with Alex (Sandy) Pentland quantifies the difference between our perceptions and the reality of what our relationships really are. The people we think we trust are often different from the people we actually spend time with or call on the phone. In a future with better data privacy, automated behaviour mining technology such as Funf will outperform Social Mirror, which relies on the perceptions rather than behavior.

One Community, Many Networks

What is the economic value of a water-cooler? Ben Waber’s Media Lab spinout company Sociometric Solutions tracks face-to-face interactions and extracts social signals from speech and body movements. Using “sociometric badges,” Ben’s company can quantify the value of social interactions towards factors like social performance. (see Alex Pentland’s HBR article “The New Science of Building Great Teams“)

What do our emails reveal about our relationships? In 1995, Judith Donath created the Visual Who, one of the first network analyses of social interactions online. At the lab, Judith’s Sociable Media Group created dozens of groundbreaking technologies in the social media space. Judith has moved on to Harvard’s Berkman Center, where she continues fascinating research on online communities and virtual identities.

When to invest in plastics. Cesar Hidalgo applies network science to high-impact economic questions. Built together with Alexander Simoes, the Atlas of Economic Complexity breaks an economy into its component parts to tell governments what new industries provide the highest yield within the current capabilities of their infrastructure.

The Power of Online Networks

Were the revolutions tweeted? In this amazing paper and data visualisation, researchers from SocialFlow, the Web Ecology Project, and Microsoft Research examine the role of Twitter in the Arab Spring. One of the project’s authors, Erhardt Graeff, joins the Center for Civic Media this fall.

Can trust online turn into trust in person?. Network scientist Lada Adamic (UMich) has carried out a fascinating study of trust among CouchSurfers. Want to learn social network analysis? this September, she’s teaching a massive online course on Social Network Analysis.

CouchSurfing activity across the globe. From an article by Debra Lauterbach, Hung Truong, Tanuj Shah, Lada Adamic

How can networks boost the power of sharing? Andres Monroy-Hernandez intentionally designed for remix when creating the online learning community for MIT’s Scratch. The network of sharing within the Scratch community is amazing.

Recommending Relationships

Can algorithms suggest good mentor relationships? Catherine Havasi and her company Luminoso use the power of networks and natural language processing to automatically pair hundreds of entrepreneurs with experienced mentors.

A new paradigm for social computing. Sep Kamvar, a luminary of Social Search and Social Datamining, is creating a new programming language, Dog, for social applications. Watch his amazing talk on Community Computing.