Category Archives: MIT

Play into a Broader World View with Terra Incognita

My colleague Catherine D’Ignazio is one of those rare people who manages to create beautiful art and clever software while remaining incredibly down to earth. I’ve been helping out here and there on her Media Lab Master’s thesis, Terra Incognita. Here’s an overview of the project I wrote up for the Internews Center for Innovation & Learning.

We’re building a news game that helps you explore a wider swath of the globe than you may have before. Terra Incognita: 1000 Cities of the World is a game delivered by Chrome browser extension. When you open a new tab, you’ll be prompted to read a news story from one of the top 1,000 global cities. You’ll also get credit for news stories you read on a limited set of news sites. You can get early access to Terra Incognita today.

Terra Incognita screenshot

Continue reading Play into a Broader World View with Terra Incognita

Joi’s Guiding Principles for Innovation in the Network Era

I just got to hang out with my friends at MIT’s Center for Civic Media and the insanely relevant and great group of people that Civic and the Knight Foundation bring together for the annual conference. Here’s my liveblog of Joi Ito‘s 9 Principles for the Media Lab, some of which directly informed my thesis on participatory aid and crisis resilience. Check out the Civic blog for more coverage.

Liveblogged at #civicmedia with help from Ed Platt. Any errors are likely ours.

Joi Ito (@joi), Director of the MIT Media Lab, is here to share his nine principles.

Nearly thirty years ago when the Media Lab was founded, the internet was about connecting together supercomputers. The Media Lab was all about empowering the individual and making everything digital. The Lab’s founder, Nicholas Negroponte, wrote Being Digital.

What’s changed in these last thirty years is that we’ve made a lot of progress empowering the individual, and as a result, we now have a network. When you have a network, you need to think about systems rather than objects. ‘Media’ is plural for medium, and a medium is something in which you can express yourself. In the past, that was hardware: displays, robots. Today, a medium can also be society itself. Applied social science and journalism are newly relevant. Continue reading Joi’s Guiding Principles for Innovation in the Network Era

Questioning the Quantified Self as it Marches Towards Mainstream

I’m back at the Media Lab today and got to attend a talk by cultural anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll, of MIT’s Science, Technology, and Society program, who’s speaking at Pattie Maes’s Tools for Well-Being series.


Digital technologies can have negative impacts on our well-being. Natasha grew interested in the topic over the course of writing Addiction by Design, on the game elements throughout machine gambling in Las Vegas. Speed, repetition, continuity, and designer chairs lure players into a zen flow and open wallet. The casino industry seeks to produce this bubble state, and closely tracks players’ behavior to further refine its profit engines. Loyalty cards are a key mechanism for these studies, recording the games we prefer, the denominations we default to. As “Dividuals“, we are treated as a collection of habits and preferences that can be marketed upon, often in real-time. Continue reading Questioning the Quantified Self as it Marches Towards Mainstream

Thinking ethically about our relationships with social robots

Liveblog of Kate Darling’s Berkman Center lunch, A discussion of near-term ethical, legal, and societal issues in robotics.

Kate begins with the observation that there aren’t nearly enough experts in robotic law. Those that are interested in the emergent field need to become more expert, and many more need to join them in the pursuit.

Here are some of the emerging issues:

  • Liability: the chain of causality of harm is going to get longer and more complex
  • Code is going to contain ethical decisions as autonomous units interact with their environments
  • People’s sensitivity to invasion of privacy is more strongly manifested when infractions are committed by robots (vs. NSA infrastructure-level scripts). Public aversion to such invasions may actually be an opportunity to push for stronger privacy rights.
  • Our tendency to project lifelike qualities on robotic objects. People bond with their cars, phones, stuffed animals, and virtual objects in video games. But this effect is stronger in robots.
  • Physicality: we react differently to objects in our physical space than things on a screen


Continue reading Thinking ethically about our relationships with social robots

Comedy Hack Day Demos at MIT Media Lab

Cultivated Wit Comedy Hack DayComedy Hack Day began when Craig realized he had two independent groups of nerdy friends: comedy nerds and computer nerds. Comedy Hack Day brings these two groups together.

The first event was held in NYC September 2012. The second was held at Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco in April 2013 (watch highlight reel). This weekend, we infested the MIT Media Lab.

group shot

Here are the final demos:

Continue reading Comedy Hack Day Demos at MIT Media Lab

Characterizing the Life Cycle of Online News Stories Using Social Media Reactions

I’ve graduated, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting to see my first academic paper accepted for publication. Thanks to Carlos CastilloMohammed El-Haddad, and Jürgen Pfeffer for driving this paper, and for inviting me to collaborate. Take a look. Al Jazeera English provided us with some great data.

To appear in Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing. Baltimore, USA. February 2014.

[Download PDF]

The shelf-life of hard news vs feature pieces
The shelf-life of hard news vs feature pieces on Al Jazeera English

This paper presents a study of the life cycle of news articles posted online. We describe the interplay between website visitation patterns and social media reactions to the news content. We show that we can use this hybrid observation method to characterize distinct classes of articles. We also find that social media reactions can be used to predict future visitation patterns early and accurately.

We validate our methods using qualitative analysis as well as quantitative analysis on data from a large international news network, for a set of articles generating more than 3,000,000 visits and 200,000 social media reactions. We show that it is possible to model accurately the overall traffic articles will ultimately receive by observing the first ten to twenty minutes of social media reactions. Achieving the same prediction accuracy with visits alone would require to wait for three hours of data. We also describe significant improvements on the accuracy of the early prediction of shelf-life for news stories.

Make an Internet Time Capsule with Google Chrome

If you use the Chrome browser, you may have noticed that when you begin typing in the address bar, Google’s Autocomplete prediction service guesses where you might be heading to save you keystrokes. If you have Web History enabled, those guesses aren’t just popular websites, but rather the sites you’re historically most likely to visit.

I realized that this list of sites actually end up serving as a sort of internet time capsule of the last ten weeks (the amount of time the browser history spans). So, here are my Internet ABCs of my last three months of grad school at the Media Lab. Click any of the images to go to the site.

A is for Analytics
is for Analytics. I maintain a lot of websites

Continue reading Make an Internet Time Capsule with Google Chrome