Aaron Zinman Thesis Defense

July 14, 2011


MIT Media Lab, E14-633


Every day, millions of people encounter strangers online. We read their medical advice, buy their products, and ask them out on dates. Yet our views of them are very limited; we see individual communication acts rather than the person(s) as a whole. This thesis contends that socially focused analysis and visualization of archived digital footprints can improve our perception of online strangers.
Six original designs are presented, each of which examines the social fabric of a different existing online world. They address unique perspectives on the problem and opportunities of online perception, including: navigating teams and identifying member roles for collaborative purposes; prototyping approaching strangers by their past behaviors; identifying cultural and topical trends across large online public and social networks; characterizing individuals from heterogenous textual artifacts; and navigating virtual crowds using metrics grounded in sociology. A reflection of these endeavors is also presented, including a formalization of the problem and considerations for future research. A meta-critique by a panel of domain experts completes the discussion.

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