NetMob 2011

Posted by Salvatore Scellato

Last week I was in (the other) Cambridge, attending the "Second conference on the Analysis of Mobile Phone Datasets and Networks", or NetMob, held at the MIT Media Lab together with SocialCom 2011. NetMob provides an interesting format: there is only one track of short contributed talks, with the possibility to present recent results or results submitted elsewhere.  Speakers have about 10-12 minutes to present their work and then there is plenty of time to discuss ideas network with other people over 2 days. I gave two talks: one of our research on the effect of geographic distance on online social networks and another on our recent work on universal patterns in urban human mobility.

The unifying theme of the workshop is the analysis of mobile phone datasets: as people user mobile devices more and to do more things, these datasets help us to understand complex processes such as spread of information, human mobility, the usage of urban geography and so on. Indeed, the range of talks presented at the workshop was impressive and fascinating, spanning between two main points: the first day focused more on studying user mobility, while the second day featured works on social behaviour.

Among the most innovative works during the first day there was a talk by people at MIT & Berkeley on using mobile phone CDRs to make sense of urban roads, proposing to use a the Gini coefficient to measure the diversity of individual traffic carried by each street. Individual user mobility was the main theme of several talks: I particularly liked one on the seasonal patterns of user movements, presented by Northeastern University researchers, and one by a large team led by Vincent Blondel on exploring the spatio-temporal properties of human mobility and the regular home-work routine of many users. Laszlo Barabasi gave an invited talk on mobility and predictability, presenting much of his last work and trying to connect the statistical properties of human mobility to the performance limits of many related applications that rely on user regularity. Finally, AT&T Labs presented their results on why it is impossible to anonymize location data.

The second day featured works on the social properties of mobile phone communication between users. Researchers at CMU presented their results on quantifying how social influence might compel users to adopt some products by using randomization techniques. Another interesting talk by a a joint team UC3M and Telefonica presented how time allocation in social networks has strong constraint that are likely to affect and be affect by the social structure itself: well-connected hubs have a lower importance on information transmission than less connected users, with important consequences on many dynamic social processes. Sandy Pentland have another invited talk, offering a wide overview of how mobile devices are changing the technological landscape with their ubiquitous sensing capabilities. Another interesting talk discussed the economic value of mobile location data, presenting scenarios user actions can be monetized and profit shared among different service providers.

Overall NetMob provided an insightful venue for discussions and potential collaborations, always revolving around the idea that as mobile devices become more and more ubiquitous they will offer new fascinating research opportunities.

Many more details about all the talks in the book of abstracts.