Yahoo!, ZoneTag Search for Science on the Web

Does the Internet need a new scientific discipline? That was the contention of Usama Fayyad, Yahoo!‘s chief data officer and senior vice president of Research & Strategic Data Solutions, who spoke about “the new science of the Internet” at the Supernova conference in San Francisco today.

“The Internet touches all of our lives, almost every aspect of our lives,” he said. “And yet, when you really ask what these things mean — what does community mean? what does it take to make a community thrive, or whither? what does it take to establish trust on the Internet? — these are questions that are all really fuzzy, and what you find when you dig into them as a scientist is that there’s no science behind them. What can we do to fish ourselves out of the dark?”

Fayyad spoke about some of the things that Yahoo! is studying in order to firm up Internet disciplines like search, community, microeconomics on the Web (which he described as “a new generation of economics, driven by massive interactions”), and trust, among other things. Search in particular needs a lot of work, Fayyad said. “I would argue that search technology is not even at the baby stages,” he said.

After Fayyad’s talk, Mor Naaman of Yahoo! Research Berkeley gave a demo of Yahoo!’s ZoneTag, which “provides an easy way to tag the uploaded photos by generating a list of ‘suggested tags’ for each photo.” ZoneTag suggests tags in an interesting, 3pointD way. When you take a photo with your phone, ZoneTag looks for other photos taken nearby and suggests that you tag your photos the same way, assuming that you’ll often be taking a picture of similar things and so may want similar tags.

I’m not sure ZoneTag does anything to solve the problem of making search and social software more scientific, but it’s a nice system, if you ask me. Fayyad’s contention that Internet functionality may need to develop more of a scientific bent has some weight, though. I’ll be interested to see what people come up with. In the meantime, though, don’t let the lack of theorems hold you back.

Author: Mark Wallace


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