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Everyone's a Nerd About Something: The Network Effects of Social Mobile Media

Marc Davis, Social Media Guru at Yahoo!, gave a far ranging presentation on "Mobile Media: Connecting Context, Content and Community" at the Stanford Mobile Computing Seminar this week. Marc started out highlighting the imbalance between the proportion of people who currently consume and produce text and consume other types of digital media (music, photos, videos), and those who produce non-text digital media. and claimed that one of the core problems behind this imbalance is the relatively ineffective provisioning of metadata for these richer types of digital media (in comparison to text). Marc went on to present a series of research projects -- and products -- that use context and community to help fill in some of the gaps for this often missing content.

Marc posited the "4 W's" of social media metadata -- where, when, who, what -- and claimed that knowing 3 of them gives you a pretty good idea on the 4th. He presented results from experiments showing that using contextual information alone (where, when, who) can outperform deeper content-based computer vision techniques for analyzing images. [Links to papers he and his colleagues have published on much of the work he talked about are available on Marc's web site.]

Marc observed that with respect to the predictability of human behavior, the two ends of the spectrum might be denoted "prisoner" and "lunatic" ... and sugested that most people -- or at least those who work for a living or go to school -- tend to dwell closer to the "prisoner" end of that spectrum with respect to the periodicity of their patterns.

Another observation, giving rise to the title of this post, was that everyone is a nerd about something, i.e., everyone has at least one thing about which they are passionate and knowledgable. Thus, even though only a small segment of the population may be cameraphone nerds -- having the latest technology such as mobile cameraphones with Bluetooth and GPS, and/or manually specifying meticulous tags for their photos -- the actions of such people can be pooled with larger communities to enable others to benefit. This exemplifies a theme Marc mentioned several times during the seminar -- [with respect to [mobile] digital media], stop thinking so much about individual users and start thinking more about the network -- and brings to mind a variation on one of my favorite quotes (by Margaret Mead):

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed nerds can tag the world.

Toward the end, Marc showed a great slide depicting the four quadrants of media and metadata, distinguishing producers and consumers of media on one axis, and the creation of implicit and explicit metadata on the other, with some suggestions about how the interactions among these groups may, in fact, change the digital media world. [If I can get a copy, I'll post it here.]

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