The Social Media Research Foundation and the Guardian’s Facebook Timeline app

Visualizing the Future: The Social Media Research Foundation

If we are approaching the age of Big Data, then it is imperative that companies, schools, governments and people alike learn to make sense of and see patterns in vast amounts of data. To that effect, the Social Media Research Foundation is here to save the day.

With an aim to create “open tools, generate and host open data, and support open scholarship” about social media, the organization is poised to dissect the mountains of data that are updated continually online.

The foundation is truly a collaborative effort by researchers from an array of institutions including Microsoft Research, Morningside Analytics and many universities including our very own University of Georgia.



The organization’s biggest project to date is NodeXL, a free, open network discovery and exploration add-on for Excel.  Using this familiar spreadsheet format, NodeXL offers companies and social media researchers a way to collect, analyze and visualize complex social networks in an easy way.

Visualization is the key to understanding how and what we communicate via social networks.  Take, for example, the Bill Gates Foundation.

Marc Smith, one of many researchers involved with the foundation, visually graphed the social networks of the Bill Gates Foundation using NodeXL and, according to a article, found that their network is a “fairly insular and uncommunicative group of people.”  Gates serves as a broadcaster, but does not encourage the community to actively connect with each other.

Without the use of visualization, this trend may not have become apparent.  NodeXL hosts a gallery of hundreds of social media visualizations that have been submitted by users.  The gallery graphs everything from the connections among Twitter users who recently tweeted the #knightfdn or Knight News Challenge to a graphic representation of an individual’s Facebook connections.

The visualization add-on has mostly been used to graph Twitter hashtags or connections, but the tool has the potential to offer companies a chance to find patterns of use and trends among Facebook users

In short, the Social Media Research Foundation’s NodeXL add-on can help companies in their search to prove that they really understand their customers.

Want to learn more? Visit to learn more about the foundation or to view the open gallery.

The Guardian’s Facebook Timeline App


Since Facebook first launched its Facebook Timeline app component, more than 3000 apps have been created to take advantage of frictionless sharing. In the media world, several apps have resulted in a large increase of user traffic, mostly by users that are traditionally hard for traditional media outlets like The Guardian to reach.


That being said, The Guardian’s new Facebook Timeline app is a step in the right direction. The app has been installed over 5 million times with more than half of its users under the age of 24.

Like many other media outlets, The Guardian Facebook Timeline app is a social reader.  With a few clicks allowing The Guardian app to access your Facebook data, the app allows you to read The Guardian’s content and seamlessly share what you’ve read with your friends. As soon as you’ve clicked on an article, that article is then posted to your news feed or ticker and your friends get a glimpse at your news reading habits.  You can also, thereby, see what your friends have been reading at

The launch of this Facebook Timeline app has meant a monumental increase in traffic for The Guardian UK.  According to an article on, The Guardian recently reached a new record of unique visitors to its website, and 30 percent of those visitors were attributed to Facebook referrals.  That’s up from 2 percent just six months ago, prior to the launch of the Facebook Timeline app.

While an increase in traffic is good for The Guardian, besides recommendations from friends and time saved from sharing articles that you’ve read and liked, the app could also offer content that is personalized. The Guardian is poised to show readers that they really get them by tailoring recommended content to a person’s interests, saving the user precious time in finding content that’s relevant to them.

Want to know more about the power of The Guardian’s new Facebook Timeline app? Visit


How WebMD Can Change The Future of Health

In 2011, CNN and many other media outlets reported on a new study about where patients get their health information.  According to this study, one in five people uses Facebook or Twitter to get health information.  That being said, the market is growing larger as we speak, as start-ups and established technology companies alike compete in the Health 2.0 race.  Just take a look at this 200-slide presentation on what the future of healthcare is beginning to look like–iPhone vital sign monitors, localized health data presented in interactive visual format, mobile apps with 3D interactive visuals to explain conditions. The list goes on and on.  And if you’re like me, you want to know what’s worth your time and what isn’t.

WebMD has a unique market.  People visit WebMD to find out more about a condition, to read the latest health news and to find easy to digest information to help them make informed health decisions.  They are mostly women, ages 30 and up, with an aim to keep themselves and their families in good health.  Call it the natural caregiver instinct.  But say you’ve read article after article about preventing cancer or you’ve self-diagnosed yourself using the WebMD diagnostic tool. Wouldn’t you like to know whether it is more likely that you have something as common as food poisoning versus something more severe with similar symptoms?  Wouldn’t you like to know just how likely you are to get cancer in 10 years?  Thanks to Facebook’s open graph, not only can you find out your own personalized risk, you can share it with your friends, and thereby proverbially pass the crystal ball. Your age and gender and location are already there to provide personalization.  The rest of the data is out there as open data, waiting to be personalized.  Once you’ve personalized your risk, you can share what assessed risk with friends. And WebMD can then push you suggested content to read based on your risk assessment.

Say I created a Social Reader application for Facebook. The social reader lists the most popular health videos, emerging health applications and health technologies, interactive data sets, WebMD articles and topics on Twitter from your friends. You see that your friend Jane has read an article about cancer treatments.  This gets you to thinking.  What is my risk for getting cancer in 10 years?  Lucky for you, there’s information out there to help you gain some perspective–a risk chart.  For a 35-year-old woman who smokes or smoked more than a 100 cigarettes in a lifetime, the risk of dying in 10 years from cancer is 1 out of 1000. Want to know what percentage of people suffer from all of those side effects listed in the commercial for a prescription drug you’re taking? There’s a data out there for that. And thanks to Facebook’s open graph interface, you can share what you’ve learned and encourage other people to seek out their personalized risk data on what’s important to them.

So why is this important?  Well, knowing that, for instance, if I take Lunesta I have 16 in 100, or 16 percent, chance of getting an infection such as a cold, will help me arrive at the best health decision I can make.  The point is: you can’t make good health decisions without all the facts, without some bit of perspective on how big of a risk you’re dealing with.  WebMD is a trusted source of information. However, when people are searching for answers to their health troubles, they often sit down to find a diagnosis for a stomach ache and by the end of their interactive experience, they’ve talked themselves into thinking they might have stomach cancer.  Perspective is everything.

Open data on a wide range of health statistics is available from numerous sources.  As a first year Health and Medical Journalism student this year, I read a book that I found to be immensely helpful.  Called “Know Your Chances,” the book teaches readers how to read a news story, understand how big of a risk the topic of a new story may be for people like you and essentially gives readers an opportunity to judge whether or not an article on a new study was really “all that and a bag of chips.”  Anyhow, that’s my idea for WebMD–a social reader with visual, interactive statistical risk assessment tools.  Users gain the knowledge of perspective as a means to make evidence-based health decisions. WebMD gains the possibility to educate people on the statistics of health. It’s a win-win.

In the name of personal health….

It happened all of a sudden. A scratch in my throat. A sudden need to take an early evening nap. A feeling of pressure and congestion in my head. It’s not often that I get sick, but when I do, I Google it.  I don’t have health insurance right now and I quiver at the thought of having to seek medical help if I really need it. And like many people, I rely on the internet to guide me in the right direction.  It’s often the case that we take our own health for granted until we get sick.

As a health and medical journalism student, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own personal health these days.  I’m 27. And while that may seem young, if you’ve been living life a bit haphazardly in your 20s, the health effects will soon become apparent.  For me, this realization came this fall when I returned to UGA for grad school and looked at photos of my skinny, younger self five years earlier in undergrad.

At the age of 19, I fought my own battle with the bulge, so to speak, and dropped my freshmen 15 and then some. I did it through Weight Watchers. And it was a great way to learn about nutrition and portion size.  But at that age, it was easy to just adhere to the diet and skip the exercise.  I lost 30 pounds without ever really incorporating much of a daily fitness habit. The importance of that program, though, is its ability to connect those who are striving for better health with one another. I worked for Weight Watchers for most of my college years, assisting in the arduous process of weighing customers, informing them of that weeks talking points, and encouraging them with some helpful suggestions when the going got tough. That being said, once I stopped working for them, I lost my focus on the importance of managing my own health and lost touch with a whole group of people that had helped me.

I managed to keep it off for two years after college, until the sedentary lifestyle of a desk job in a rural community slowly and eventually had its toll. Not having physical activity as a part of my daily life proved to be detrimental as my metabolism slowed down in my mid-20s too.  Since December, I’ve been seeing a personal trainer, eating a more balanced and calorie controlled diet and working out for three or four days a week.  The trouble is, even with all the social media interaction on health and ample access to science-based studies regarding healthy weight loss, I still lack motivation.

And this, my friends, is why social media is awesome.  I ran across this little tidbit in doing some research the other day and I have great hope in the ability of friends being able to help friends in their battle for better health. Weight loss, addiction, nutrition, mental illness, stress–we all have stories and we all have the ability to provide support to each other as we seek better health.

This was recently featured on the Facebook Developers blog. And it’s great motivation to create an app that could connect those with similar health goals or interest in a way that makes sharing seemless and frictionless, without much effort at all.  Since college, most of my good friends have moved away and are now located all over the United States. We talk by phone, send emails, communicate via Facebook, but a tool like this would really give us the incentive to encourage each other, share our experiences and share relevant web content about whatever it is we’re striving for.  Not too far in the future, a lack in motivation will soon be remedied by our trusty social network friends and mentors.

Another four topics…

So far, it looks like there are some good ideas out there.  Some of the following ideas may overlap with others that have already been posted, but I think we’ll find a consensus amongst the class once we’ve all posted our ideas.  So here goes:

1. The evolution of sharing (i.e. pushing the creep factor):  While I think many company representatives might be excited about the possibilities of this new technology, some of our data methods may be off-putting.  For me, some context could help alleviate any stress about this.  We’ve talked a lot in class about the creep factor and how social media is constantly pushing the envelope as to what people are willing and not so willing to share in the public domain.  That being said, a quick piece on the historical evolution of more and more sharing might help put those who have a “creep factor” problem at ease.

2. Online Consumer Protections Laws in the U.S.: I think we need to address what laws are being proposed that could affect this project going forward.  While this is a potential downside, say if Europe’s laws prevail as the norm, the recent proposal of guidelines for companies is worthy of discussion here.

3. Online Consumer Data Protections Elsewhere: You can’t talk about U.S. online privacy protections without talking about what other countries are doing in terms of data protection.  Europe, China and India may all be worthy of discussion here.

4. The Importance of Transparency, User Control: Recently, the social networking website Path had a bit of a PR crisis on its hands when users were alerted to the fact that their personal data, from their cell phone address books, were being stored by the company.  This example, and several others are out there as well, provide good context about the importance of creating products for our companies that are transparent in their efforts and offer users the ability to have control of their data.

The potential of open graph facebook health apps

So, in looking at the latest wave of open graph Facebook apps, there is an obvious window for health companies, such as WebMD, to introduce a health app that would require minimal manual input on the part of the user.  Traditionally, health apps have required users to input data in order to really make use of the apps, but I’d say that the open graph is an opportunity to not only require less of users, but also give them more of what they want/need in the process.

As we discussed in class, open graph Facebook applications are becoming a great way for company’s to get more website and Facebook traffic and interaction.  Here’s the article on the success of early open graph apps that we talked about in class.  As you can see, the health category has nothing. Zilp. Zinch. Nada.  Another article I found talks about a whole slew of media companies that are jumping on board with the open graph Facebook app movement.  Again, there is no mention of a health-related website or app out there taking advantage of the open graph.  In looking again on Facebook, however, I did find one health-related category: fitness.  There are currently two open graph apps available to users: MapMyFitness and RunKeeper.

I also searched around online and found many, many mobile apps about health.  While most of them focused on food and nutrition, wellness and fitness, they require a lot of from users.  A user must actively want to log in and input information to gain anything from using these apps.

So why is there a delay in getting any sort of health app, beyond the fitness category, out there for users?  It seems like common sense to me.

The Facebook Developer’s website says this about what makes the original apps on the open graph worthwhile for users:

These apps have a few things in common. They’re built around something people care about and identify with, they enable people to share things they want their friends to see, and they provide easy ways to control the social experience.

This gives me a lot to think about in terms of a WebMD opengraph app.  Action words are the key and there are plenty out there to make use of. ConnectedHealth has this to say about the recently released fitness apps and the future of health apps via the Facebook open graph:

The MapMyFitness CEO gets it: “So, whether it’s to boast, find like-minded friends or just share your passion for fitness with your nearest and dearest, we think it’s great that MapMyFITNESS has been so quick to integrate its offering into the new Facebook Timeline, developing an app that makes sharing, collecting and monitoring health and fitness information easy. Just make sure you tailor your settings as soon as you start using the app, if you’re a fitness fanatic even your closest friends might not appreciate 20+ updates a day about your work-outs…!”

On another note, here’s a look at some links about mobile health apps.  Some of the apps are very specific, catering to just one specific health/fitness/wellbeing goal.  I think WebMD has the potential to do something a little more inclusive to “whole health.”

USDA “Let’s Move” Campaign Mobile App Contest

VitalClip: This is an app that actually monitors your health. So cool.  What if this was a Facebook open graph app?

ConnectedHealth: Here’s a list of apps compiled by ConnectedHealth.  There’s some really neat stuff on here.  And I think a lot of these apps will be better utilized using the open graph.

Another look at differences in privacy…

I feel as though this topic has been thoroughly covered by others here, but I was also assigned the topic so bare with me as I provide yet another explanation of why there are big differences in privacy between the United States and Europe. I’m also throwing in China and other potential global economic powers in the mix.

If you think about the political mentalities in both Europe and the United States, there is a definite difference.  As is common in political rhetoric these days, American culture is generally more accepting of the idea that companies can regulate themselves and be responsible.  Not so in Europe.  This article published recently in the Economist provides ample explanation and context for the issue at hand.  A big part of the difference, says the author, is history.

A Eurobarometer poll last year found that 62% of Europeans do not trust internet companies to protect their personal information. A big reason is history. In the 1930s Dutch officials compiled an impressive national registry. This later enabled the Nazis to identify 73% of Dutch Jews, compared with just 25% in less efficient France, notes Viktor Mayer-Schönberger of Oxford University in his book “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age”.

Even though the United States is proposing new privacy legislation in regards to the data, the political climate, especially given that it’s an election year, make the chances of the bill passing very slim.  All the while, incompatibility between the E.U. and U.S. laws could hinder company’s abilities for interoperability.

Right now, there are obvious differences in the laws.

The ability to provide data protection laws and encourage interoperability may well be the basis of innovations of the future and without ample laws, that innovation could be hindered.  On the other hand, just talking about privacy laws in the U.S. and the E.U. is a moot point if one does not consider the other major players in the global economy, writes the author of the economist piece.

America and Europe will set the global standards. But other countries’ privacy rules matter too. China and India will soon have more people online than Europe and America have citizens. Neither Asian country has yet passed formal national legislation, but both are considering it—with every indication that their new laws will outdo even Europe in their severity.

This week I had the pleasure of viewing this video and then the sequel.  Talk about a world of innovative technology!  It made me wonder what environment would better encourage innovation while also protecting consumer data at a reasonable data.  I still haven’t made up my mind as to whether the EU policy goes too far, but one things for sure, some greater amount of consumer data protection legislation or company policies regarding consumer data protection are needed in the United States if this is what our future will look like.  There’s just too much sensitive data out there–on everything from major health scans and test results and credit card history information to menial data such as a lifetime of Facebook data–that could lead to systematic discrimination.

This is what we’re about…

Hey guys.  I was reading through the New York Times this morning and this story popped up.  It’s about everything we’ve been talking about and even includes a reference to “Moneyball.”  Perhaps it’s a good article to pass on to our prospective clients in our introduction letter? Just thought I’d share.