Social Architecting and the Narrows
As of a few weeks ago, the Web Ecology Project concluded an experiment called Socialbots, essentially an event in which three teams competed to program bots to enter and influence large groups of users on Twitter over a two week, all-out battle of automated social shaping. We’re still sifting through all the data generated, though the code from the competition has been made available open source, and we’ve been talking about the project to a variety of different folks — trying to think through the implications of what’s come out of it all. But, wanted to drop out this post talking about how it all turned out, and addressing the next project that we’re planning to take on given those results (and looking for people who might be interested in collaborating with us).
The results: tremendously exciting! With only two weeks of coding time, the three competing teams were able to develop bots that, even following rudimentary patterns of behavior, were able to elicit an enormous amount of activity in the social cluster. The winning team alone built 107 mutual connections between its bot and the targets, and elicited close to 200 responses (@ replies, RTs, etc). In all, the bots collectively generated close to 250 responses, and received mutual connections from close to half of the entire target set. And the bots also had a strong effect on the topology of the social graph as well — in the two weeks, the bots were able to heavily shape and distort the structure of the network. This included bringing people together not originally connected, and bringing together a community of activity around the bots themselves (the picture above was the final end-state network graph in the game).
The ultimate “so-what” of this? Beyond just competitions, it opens the possibility of building a class of technologies that could be used to do targeted social shaping on a very large scale. Essentially, Socialbots demonstrates that proof of concept. To that end, swarms of bots with statistically-predictable social outcomes could be built and used to actively sculpt and rewire the connections of social groups online consisting of thousands (or perhaps hundreds of thousands of users).
So we’re setting our sights a bit higher now. What we’re working on now is the “The Narrows,” the first ever robo-constructed social superstructure leveraging and extending the technology from Socialbots to really engage in building mega-scale community architecture. That’s pretty abstract, but the idea behind the project is simple and concrete: we’re going to survey and identify two sites of 5,000-person unconnected Twitter communities, and over a six-to-twelve month period use waves of bots to thread and rivet those clusters together into a directly connected social bridge between those two formerly independent groups. The bot-driven social “scaffolding” will then be dropped away, completing the bridge, with swarms of bots being launched to maintain the superstructure as needed.
In any case, we’re getting a team together to embark on this project and form a social architecture team, the first construction project of a group that we’re calling “Pacific Social.” If you’re interested in playing a role, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!