Enjoying Seattle’s Best: UW, WSDM, and SSS

My excursion to Seattle was delightful, and I thought I’d share some details with readers.

I spent most of Friday at the University of Washington, meeting with graduating PhD students.  I’ve always known that UW is a top school, but I was particularly impressed with this batch. I was pleasantly surprised to see folks like Nodira Khoussainova and Kayur Patel working to bring together the often disparate worlds of databases, machine learning, and HCI in order to make people more effective at solving “big data” problems. I realize that I’m aiding and abetting other employers with whom I compete for top talent, but it would be wrong not to encourage everyone to find worthy challenges for these budding scientists.

I then went to the Space Needle to meet up with the WSDM 2012 crowd. Jaime Teevan and Eytan Adar outdid themselves, providing a great setting for folks to mingle, imbibe, and enjoy a spectacular view of Seattle.

Saturday I attended the “social” day of the WSDM conference.

Andrew Tomkins chaired the first morning session, which included Hila Becker‘s latest work on identifying event content in social media and Georgios Zervas presenting the work on the analyzing reputational effects of Groupon that triggered quite a controversy last September. After the break came the spotlight section — a great sequence of 5-minute presentations that in which researchers both summarized their contributions and lured attendees to visit their posters. I hope that more conferences adopt this format, which optimizes for communicating ideas and discourages long-winded expositions.

I then had the pleasure to have lunch with Jan Pedersen and friends at Blueacre Seafood — great food and even better conversation. We both noted the irony that, even though we are practically neighbors, we only seems to meet up at events like these..

I made it back to the conference in time to hear the two best-paper awardees: Adam Sadilek on “Finding Your Friends and Following Them to Where You Are” and Yaron Singer on “How to Win Friends and Influence People, Truthfully: Influence Maximization Mechanisms for Social Networks“. I highly recommend both papers, especially if you are interested in either social network prediction or the underlying economics of influence.

Another coffee break, and then the keynote: Hilary Mason on “The Secret Life of Social Links”. Hilary is a great speaker — I first met her when I invited her to the Workshop on Search and Social Media (SSM 2010) at WSDM 2010. She didn’t disappoint, and it’s great to see practitioners like her crossing the aisle to engage the academic community. Not to mention infusing their slides with lolcats.

The conference wrapped up at 5pm, but then we bussed over to Microsoft Research for the Social Search Social. That was a fun event designed to cross-pollinate the WSDM and CSCW communities. Meredith Ringel MorrisGene GolovchinksyJeremy PickensMadhu ReddyChirag Shah, and Michael Twidale put together a great program of 45-second madness presentations and “speed-dating” to pair up WSDM and CSCW attendees. It was far too short, but a lot of fun. And some of us kept up the social spirit by grabbing dinner afterward at Blue C Sushi.

To everyone I met in the last couple of days: thanks for the great company and conversation! Keep sharing ideas and making data and science social.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

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