An interesting interview in Sunday, June 30 Boston Globe's Ideas Section with César Hidalgo, a professor at MIT's Media Lab. He is leading a fascinating project that invites volunteers with Gmail accounts to use their Immersion tool to analyze the patterns of the metadata in their account. It creates a "people-centric" portrait of the networks in your e-mail life, and how thickly interconnected they are with one another. The data remains completely within the volunteer's control. There are several key points the Professor Hidalgo makes in the interview:
You're seeing all of your network and you're seeing yourself out of it and you're seeing it from afar and you're seeing it in one picture.
You start realizing that, eventually, you are not interacting with people -- you're interacting with webs of people. Because all the people you've interacted with, they're actually connected in tens or maybe hundreds of indirect paths between them. They exist in your absence. So that out-of-body experience, I've found that it was very powerful. ....
Q: Are there ethical or political lessons about metadata that Immersion teaches?
Hidalgo: ... if you're going to make platforms that deal with personal data, you have to develop ways of doing this in such a way that you can be transparent with the user about the data you have, about how you're handling it, and about how the user can withdraw the data from your system.
The image decorating this is not from Immersion, but is a similar sort of graphic, derived from an analysis of a social media network, from http://fastballgirl.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/segmentation-using-gephi/ . In this case, the person analyzed her own Facebook network. I will warn my readers that following the Globe article, Immersion is experiencing very heavy traffic and will take your e-mail address to be notified when they have the ability to take more users. I was hoping to tell you about my own experience, but was not fast enough myself!