Berkeley Project Set to Expand Knowledge through Social Networks

Project Set to Rapidly Expand Knowledge through Social Networks

By Camille Crittenden, CITRIS | September 18, 2012

How can knowledge be spread rapidly across large populations using social media? To explore this question, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are launching a new website that allows visitors to spread the word quickly about important issues. The key is a novel “influence score” that quantifies the role each participant plays and illustrates each user’s social graph through a unique visualization.

The UC Berkeley group is developing a general-purpose system that can be used for a wide variety of issues. The system will be tested on a timely and important issue: Proposition 30 on the November 2012 California ballot. Ken Goldberg, a professor at the College of Engineering, notes that “although the outcome of this vote has an enormous potential impact on students, alumni, teachers, parents and employers, many are not aware of Proposition 30. The California Proposition 30 Awareness Project aims to change that.”

Visitors to the project website can learn about Prop. 30 and receive a custom web link to share with their friends and family using email, Facebook, or Twitter. Visitors can return at any time to view a visualization of their “influence” and track their influence score. After the election, the website will list the 50 “most influential people.”

“Clearly, social media can influence people, but we’re still learning how to measure social impact,” said social entrepreneur Craig Newmark, founder of “It looks like the California Proposition 30 Awareness Project can really help.”

Influence is computed using a variant of the Kleinberg and Raghavan algorithm, where each visitor’s influence increases for each person he or she recruits, by half a point for every person those people recruit, and so on down the line. This model has been applied in many contexts with financial incentives, but researchers believe this is the first time it will be tested with intangible rewards.

The project, from the CITRIS Data and Democracy Initiative, emphasizes awareness and is careful to be unbiased. It includes links to the California Voters Guide and to campaigns on both sides of the issue. Visitors may also indicate their position for or against the proposition and join an online discussion afterward.

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