Computer scientist predicts your next Facebook friends

A Stanford University researcher wins a Microsoft fellowship for analysis of social networking activity

By Nicolas Zeitler, IDG News Service |  Security, Analytics, Facebook

Apart from social networks, Leskovec analyzes the use of online media as well, and he lets his computers dig through 30 million articles every day. One of his goals is to design algorithms to find patterns that show what happens to these news items. This could show, for example, how information changes gradually. "It could reveal that your political attitude affects how you treat certain information. Maybe you forward a very long Obama statement while you shorten the quotes of other people in a text," Leskovec said.

Recently he found out in a study that news spreads quite differently depending on the platform where it is first published. One finding was that material published by newswires gained the highest attention shortly after being published. Blog posts in contrast very often got a number of attention peaks over time.

Leskovec has already made some plans on how to spend the money coming with the fellowship (he will receive $100,000 this year and the same amount in 2012). Leskovec said part of the money will go into "risky projects or startups" that without the grant would not have been possible to do. He said he particularly appreciates the fact that he can use the money at his own discretion. "It is a gift without strings attached and we did not promise anything in return," he said.

Leskovec also plans to buy new equipment and use part of the grant to organize seminars. He wants to send his students to work with Microsoft, too. "That is a good opportunity for them to get introduced into new fields of research," he said.

Leskovec received his Ph.D. in machine learning from Carnegie Mellon University in September 2008 and spent a year as a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University. He did his undergraduate studies in computer science at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.

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