Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do (

"A revolutionary new theory showing how we can predict human behavior..."

"...the patterns of human mobility in an era of total surveillance..."

"Your life may look random to you, but everything from your visits to a web page to your visits to the doctor are predictable, and happen in bursts."

I haven't even had a chance to read Laszlo Barabasi's new book, Bursts, (it doesn't come out until the 29th) but the quotes above (from the book itself, Clay Shirky and Ogi Ogas) have got me pretty excited.

Yes, yes, some of it is back of the book puffery but more important than the quotes is the author. We still use Barabasi's book, Linked, as supplemental reading material in our theory class. It is an intellectually rich, yet still accessible, look at the emerging science of networks and I heartily recommend it.

Now, it seems that Barabasi thinks he can make some accurate predictions regarding human behavior. This, of course, is going to be of definite interest to intelligence analysts. I will hold comments until I actually get to see the book but, given the reputation of the author...let's just say my spider sense is tingling.

One of the most fascinating things Barabasi is doing in advance of the release of his book is a little social experiment. You can go to the Bursts website and "adopt" a word from the book (You can see my certificate above -- I got the word "along").

Once you adopt a word, you can gain points by guessing other words in the book. As you and others who are playing the game do so, the book gradually becomes revealed to all of the players. Top point scorers also get signed free copies of the book from Barabasi.

I am just guessing but I suspect that Barabasi thinks that the data generated from the activity of the players will confirm some aspect (or many aspects) of his predictive model. I can see where number of participants might well come in bursts (My posting this to my blog may cause, for example, a burst of activity). I can see where sections of the book will be uncovered by the participants in bursts of activity and how the number of books sold might also occur in predictable bursts. I can also see how one burst might be predictive of the next burst.

Pure speculation, of course, but even if I am wrong, the Bursts game is fun (and a clever piece of marketing strategy) and the game of trying to figure out what Barabasi is up to this time is even funner.
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dchido said...

Thanks, Kris, for yet another unusual experiment. I have "or." Congratulations! You are currently in the Top 10 referrers!


Lauren said...

Thanks for the story!

Checking the top 10 list, there's one person (user blueiaso) who revealed the book, apparently through cascade size + many correct guesses + teamwork (invited friends correct guesses are revealed). 8 have revealed the book.

I suspect the top 3 users to reveal the book are friends working together, probably all 8 of the revealers. Blueiaso has a cascade size of 17, but 2 other users had larger cascade sizes (134 and 110), but have not revealed the book. The other 7 revealers have 0 - 2 cascade size.

I also suspect that the team strategically divided their labor. They need to choose a list of most probable highly used words, possibly by looking thru all available data (past papers + reviews of the book), then using font size/family and word = green box length.

Another task might be to find the most probable location(s) of the meat of Barabasi's argument.

There are many online word unscramblers as well to facilitate high correct guesses. Or, they're just good at it!

What are cascades here? Blog cascade: 1) Post, then 2) read by others, 3) they post, and 4)link back to original post. What is the link back? Messages/communication? What am I missing?

This is fun!

Lauren said...

A much easier strategy than the one above: Divide this short book (272 pages) amongst team members, then guess words, etc...