Last.fm Personal Experiences and The Spotlight Effect

Reading “I’ll press Play, but I won’t listen”: Profile Work in a Music-focused Social Network Service, by Silfverberg et al., got me thinking about my own Last.fm profile. The paper investigates profile work on Last.fm, in which the researchers found that users encounter remarkable complexities in having a profile and that effort is required to maintain and manage a public profile.

“The users consider their profiles to be products that are guided by the interpretations made of others’ and their own behavior. Personal desires and social norms may conflict and cause tensions for the users. These tensions are diminished by means of profile regulation.

The finding that users are ready and willing to go as far as changing their actual music listening behavior for the sake of their profiles makes a strong case for the significance of profile work.”

My Experiences

I feel that the findings in the paper do not match very well with my personal experience on Last.fm.

My Profile:

Perhaps this is due to how users use Last.fm. Personally, the greatest value I get out of last.fm is their event and festival recommendations. In this case, any attempt at profile regulation will greatly hurt the list of events Last.fm recommends to me.

Event Recommendations:

I believe that the findings of profile regulation may be a little bit exaggerated due to the sample size of users interviewed. The researchers sent interview invitations through Last.fm messaging services to 60 users – of which, 12 users were available to be interviewed. This sampling may be biased towards users who actively use Last.fm’s message service – and thus, may be more likely to use Last.fm as a social profile.

Personally, I haven’t found Last.fm to be useful as a social profile due to its much smaller user base. I have less than 10 “friends” or connected users on Last.fm, but over 100 connected users on Facebook, Google+, etc. (over an order of magnitude difference). Therefore, I feel that it’d be more useful to regulate my favorite artists on Facebook then Last.fm. It’d be nice to see how many connections on average the interviewed subjects had.

How does the Spotlight Effect play in to this?

Another thought that occurred while reading the paper – is how does the spotlight effect (or Barry Manilow effect) tie in to profile regulation? The Spotlight Effect in Social Judgment: An Egocentric Bias in Estimates of the Salience of One’s Own Actions and Appearance by Gilovich et al. provides evidence “that people overestimate the extent to which their actions and appearance are noted by others, a phenomenon dubbed the spotlight effect… people appear to anchor on their own rich phenomenological experience and then adjust–insufficiently–to take into account the perspective of others”.

The following quotes from the Silfverberg et al.’s interviewees suggest that users pay a lot of attention to their own social profile:

“Everyone wants to show others online what they are listening to.”

“All the songs that I listen to fit well with my profile.”

“I want others to know what music I listen to.”

“Some people might get the wrong impression about me on the basis of my scrobbling profile.”

Perhaps, users are more concerned about what their own profile says to the world, than looking at what their friend’s profiles say about them.

Can Twitter predict the elections?

Peaks and Persistence: Modeling the Shape of Microblog Conversations, by Shamma et al, presents different methods for finding temporal topics from Twitter streams. In particular, the paper presents two key metrics – peaky topics that show highly localized, momentary terms of interest, and persistent conversational topics that show less salient terms which sustain for a longer duration. The paper shows that the textual content of tweets can reveal a great deal about the structure and content of the event as well as relative level of interest that individual moments generate.

But can the temporal evolution of the textual content of tweets be used to predict the upcoming election? Twitter has released an interesting application called the Twindex, or the Twitter Political Index, on their homepage.

The Twindex shows both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s daily tweet index on a historical timeline.

Details behind the Twindex are rather opaque – but speculation says the index is composed by a candidates’ daily tweet volume and the textual sentiment belonging to those tweets.

A simple approach for a student project may be calculating and comparing the Σ[tweet sentiment] for each tweet about a particular candidate, where [tweet sentiment] is 1 if the tweet is positive and -1 if the tweet is negative. And perhaps normalize the tweets by user – so that a single spammy user can’t greatly affect the index (maybe by applying diminishing returns to each tweet from a single user after his first daily tweet – such that the first tweet adds +1, the second tweet adds +0.5, the third tweet adds +0.25, and so on…).

Beyond Being There: Project Glass

In Beyond Being There, Jim Hollan and Scott Stornetta write about the value of face-to-face communication and the difficulty in solving the telecommunication problem. The telecommunication problem is about creating a sense of being there, by establishing some form of audio and video connections between two distant locations.

I was most intrigued by the following quote from the paper:

“It seems to us that there is no real solution to this situation so long as people use one medium to communicate with those at a distance and another for those for whom distance is not an issue. Those distant will always remain at a disadvantage to those present. It is not really even a question of the quality of the device. It is what it is trying to achieve. It could be 3-D holographic with surround-sound, but if people use an imitation to talk to some people but the “real thing” to those physically

A logical extension to this line of thinking is that the people at a distance will never stop being at a disadvantage until we use the same mechanisms to interact with each other when we are physically close as when we are physically distant. And that means that to make real progress on the telecommunication problem, we must develop tools that people prefer to use even when they have the option of interacting as they have heretofore in physical proximity. We must develop tools that go beyond being there. But what would it mean for something to be better than being there? And how could we design such a device?”

They go on to state a “conclusion of studies that the audio/video medium is much closer to the audio only medium than it is to the face-to-face condition.”

I personally believe that Google’s Project Glass may be futuristic device that Hollan and Stornetta had dreamed of.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Project Glass, you may refer to:

Project Glass Concept Video:

Project Glass Demo at Google I/O 2012:

I had the pleasure of attending an undergraduate AI class with Professor Thad Starner back around 2008 – in which, Prof. Starner provided a demonstration of the potential in wearable computing. Prof. Starner picked out a random student on the first day of class – and had him introduce himself. During their face-to-face conversation, Prof. Starner was actively searching for the student’s facebook profile, linked-in, personal website, and anything else he could find on the internet about the student. It seemed very that Prof. Starner knew everything about the student, from interests to past jobs, without ever knowing the student existed just minutes before.

This may seem creepy by today’s standard, because it’s a method of interaction we are not used to… but one could also argue that building a profile containing your personal interests, hobbies, activities, check-ins, and photos on the internet could also be seen as creepy just a decade ago. Today, this seems normal – as online social networks have become mainstream.

Imagine if your wearable computer gave you an alert whenever a friend (or perhaps, even a stranger with extremely similar interests) was within close proximity to you. Even if not built in to project-glass, this seems like a fairly simple mobile application to write.

Now imagine you’re having a technical argument with a friend, and you have seen hard statistical evidence somewhere on the internet that proves you’re right. Given networked wearable computer, you could easily search for such statistical evidence and share it to your friend’s display. Behold the end of technical arguments! This idea could be taken even a step further to fact-check politicians. Imagine how interesting a presidential debate could be, if you had real-time fact checking =)

I believe that Project Glass has the potential to not only imitate face-to-face interaction via Google+ Hangouts, but also augment face-to-face interaction and become the norm.  It may provide a revolutionary new method for meeting other interesting people and having richer fuller relationships by surfacing common interests you never knew you had! And it has the potential for so much more – ending technical arguments, fact-checking EVERYTHING, providing a second memory for Alzheimer’s patients, etc.

The Impact of our Online Interactions on Offline Relationships (and vice-versa)

I was intrigued by the discussion surrounding our relationships on community networks online versus offline in Computer Networks as Social Networks and The Benefits of Facebook ‘‘Friends:’’ Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. In particular, I’m interested in how do we interact with friends online versus offline, how do our online interactions affect our offline interactions (and vice-versa), and where is this all headed?

Ellison et al. brings up interesting discussion on how the Internet can provide people with an alternative way to connecting with others who share their interests or relational goals, and how computer-mediated communication can lower barriers to interaction and encourage more self-disclosure – enabling connections and interactions where that would not otherwise occur. I feel that that the impact of the Internet and computer-mediated communication on our offline relationships will only increase, as we become increasingly connected. It is interesting to see how the rise of cell-phones and smart-phones have completely changed the way we interact with each other over the past decade. This is particularly evident in film. Most horror-movie plots can be easily avoided with the simple use of a cell-phone. Today, horror-movie writers have to accommodate that fact by coming up with an explanation as to why the protagonists can’t just call for help (usually with the explanation – “no signal”):

Pro-tip: If you find yourself with low cell-phone coverage – you may have a killer after you.

Wellman brings up an interesting point in how many e-mail and chat messages can be used to arrange face-to-face meetings. I believe computing can be used more than to arrange face-to-face meetings, but also augment them. I think the changes in the way we interact with one another will continue to evolve as computing becomes even more ubiquitous. Personally, I see a lot of potential in wearable computing and augmented reality.

Imagine how interaction with people you haven’t met before could change. One could bring up a fairly complete profile of a stranger without ever having to interact with them – simply by looking up their facebook, linked-in, personal websites, etc. Let’s take this a step further, in which we imagine that we can interact with the wearable computer in real-time with our offline interaction – perhaps by bringing up a user’s profile via facial recognition or detecting speech (i.e. “Hello, my name is Bob”).

We could see the end of arguments with networked wearable computers. It becomes harder to argue when every assertions you make can be fact checked with hard numbers instantaneously online. Imagine how this could impact politics – such as presidential debates.

Would wearable computing allow us to engage in face-to-face relationships more effectively? Or help our ability to meet others with common interests – bringing about the concept of the “long-tail” to relationships?

It’s also fun to think about all the new problems surfacing around the rise of social networks. Will our expectations surrounding privacy change? We can already see a bit of this from the amount of self-disclosure on virtual social networks like facebook, Friendster, and Linked-in. What about the increasing amount of loggable data we generate (e-mail logs, call logs, location-based-services logs, etc.). How will our behaviors in interaction change as our offline identities become increasingly tied to our online lives (through facebook login, etc.)?