Friday, November 14, 2008

Some Doctor's Offices Have Better Magazines Than Others (And Some Doctor's Receptionists Let You Take Them if You Ask!)

(note from id - I edited this for size, it was driving me nuts!)

(Picture courtesy of "Discover" magazine.)

Sometime within the last few weeks I was in my Rheumatologist's office and found my way to an issue of "Scientific American." It was a current issue, which is a really big deal in a doctor's office.

This issue, October 2008, has the article "Web Science: Studying the Internet to Protect Our Future." Very cool article with some fascinating charts.

In summary, the article outlines a relatively new science, beginning in late 2006, of studying the Web.

The article defines it as
“This new discipline will model the Web’s structure, articulate the architectural principles that have fueled its phenomenal growth, and discover how online human interactions are driven by and can change social conventions. It will elucidate the principles that can ensure that the network continues to grow productively and settle complex issues such as privacy protection and intellectual-property rights. To achieve these ends, Web science will draw on mathematics, physics, computer science, psychology, ecology, sociology, law, political science, economics, and more.”

The article then goes into the mathematical algorithms involved in “PageRank” and the need to “engineer out” properties such as “link farms.” The article continues discussing how the study of the Web and the understanding of scale-free networks has led to a cross application of disciplines by applying “power-law degree” distributions to business alliances and even using it at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to
“improve its models of sexual disease transmission and has helped biologists better understand protein interactions.”

As if the above weren’t fascinating enough, the article then began to discuss the impact of blogs. The leading graphs discuss the origin of the phrase “six degrees of separation” [damn I love Etymology] and then goes on to admit that no one really knows the size of the blogosphere.
"It is difficult to estimate the size of the blogosphere accurately. David Sifry’s leading blog search engine, called Technorati, was tracking more than 112 million blogs worldwide in May of this year, a number that may include only a mere fraction of the 72 million blogs purportedly in China. Whatever the size, the explosive growth demands an explanation. Arguably, the introduction of very simple mechanisms, especially TrackBack, facilitated the growth. If a blogger writes an entry commenting on or referring to an entry at another blog, TrackBack notifies the original blog with a “ping.” This notification enables the original blog to display summaries of all the comments and links to them. In this way, conversations arise spanning several blogs and rapidly form networks of individuals interested in particular themes. And here again large portions of the blog structure become linked via short paths—not only the blogs and bloggers themselves but also the topics and entries made."

The article goes into the rise of “Semantic Web.” From my vantage point this is nothing more than drilling down information to get you as close as possible to what you are actually looking for. However, for Web Scientists and Web Designers it has actually led to a new programming language,
"Engineers have devised powerful foundations for the Semantic Web, notably the primary language—the Resource Description Framework (RDF)—which is layered on top of the basic HTML and other protocols that form Web pages. RDF gives meaning to data through sets of “triples.” Each triple resembles the subject, verb and object of a sentence. For example, a triple can assert that “person X” [subject] “is a sister of” [verb] “person Y” [object]. A series of triples can determine that [car X] [is brand] [To¬yota]; that [car X] [condition is] [used]; that [car X] [costs] [$7,500]; that [car X] [is located in] [Lenox]; and that [Lenox] [is located in] [western Massachusetts]. Together these triples can conclude that car X is indeed a proper answer to our query. This simple triple structure turns out to be a natural way to describe a large majority of the data processed by machines. The subjects, verbs and objects are each identified by a Universal Resource Identifier (URI)—an address just like that used for Web pages. Thus, anyone can define a new concept, or a new verb, by defining a URI for it on the Web."

The physical magazine has a very cool map of the blogosphere, which I had to find in Discover Mag so that I could post it. The Discover article explains it better anyway. (It also reminds me of the cartoon map of the blogosphere that I have spent so long looking for now, because I do not remember where I saw it, that I am now bored to death with this entire post.)

This science of new science might lead to a discipline devoted to studying exactly how Obama won the election. Funny how science works that way.

For more information on next generation web technology, I found this forum of forums while doing this research.

If I were more ambitious (and maybe more well) then I might be interested in pursuing something in this direction. I find the convergence of sociology, poli-sci, psychology, math and technology pretty cool. However, since I am not that ambitious (and tend to get bored easily) maybe I will just pursue a subscription to “Scientific American.” Kiddo wants it for Christmas anyway, so I could kill two birds with one stone [that was a metaphor, never would I advocate the killing of any birds with any number of stones.]


Anjha said...

Crap. Sorry guys, I fucked around with the picture enough and cannot get it smaller. Sorry. Follow the link to see the whole map.

I am done dinking around with it and need a nap now.


Good day to all of you.

Seven of Six said...

...never would I advocate the killing of any birds with any number of stones.

Hey, I love Chicken and Thanksgiving is coming up!