Obrigado Rio @ WWW 2013

At IGI Airport, in a flight at 4:15pm, talked to all my family, friends, colleagues, and told them that `THE TRIP’ was finally taking place. Scared, excited, ready to learn and explore, I knew the trip bagged many things for me. I was flying to RIO DE JANERIO, BRAZIL (The Trip), to attend WWW conference to present joint our work with Prof. Joshi on “Identity Resolution” at WoLE. This was my second WWW, after 2011.  Thrilled, I kept on polishing and practicing my presentation in the flight, people thought I was weird because I was talking too much IDENTITY (u see).

Reached Rio, settled down, roamed around a bit and then started the academic excitement. First day, first workshop, first presentation (May 13th, WoLE, 2pm), sitting with PK in the same room, my first International presentation made me all shiver on the stage. Though conference people had very nice infrastructure that presenter could see slides on a screen placed at the right eye angle and that comforted me. On the successful completion of the presentation, multiple researchers approached to discuss ideas and to know more about the work.  To my surprise, the paper bagged “Honorable mention for the best paper award” [1].

Rest of the WWW days kept us (PK and me) on toes, with paper presentations in 24 rooms, spreaded out across 5 floors, 125 research papers + workshop + demos + posters. WWW had 22 social network papers, out of 148 papers submitted, 15 security papers out of 82 submitted and 11 user interface papers, out of 55 submitted.

After attending an amazing keynote by Luis Von Ahn on Captcha and Duolingo, we rushed to attend our marked sessions in the conference booklet. Some very interesting sessions on how to smartly pick mechanical turk users, to give them something they like to annotate [2], how to remove near-duplicate tweets from Twitter and why do it? [3], how timestamps and content created by users can be used to correlate their accounts on multiple social networks [4], how shortened URLs clickthrough behavior can help building the user profile and disclose her identity [5], characteristics of Q-A forums as Quora [6], prediction of evolution of user activity graphs for an social media app [7], why and how criminals hold on valid domains for profit (cybersquatting and typo squatting) [8], etc. One interesting paper on predicting a group stability on an online social networks, said that radioactive decay was observed while detecting user engagement in game / site / application, however they claimed different observations for DBLP network [9].

Apart from technical learning and experience, we got to meet smart people around during poster sessions, research tracks and coffee breaks. Few kind professors and senior PhD students also responded with meeting slots when I requested them. And few good professors invited to roam around the city and experience Rio specialties.

We returned with one best paper award (Aditi’s work on credibility [10]), one honorable mention award, a problem for next WWW, loads of memories and sad faces.

Brazil was an amazing fun loving relaxing city. I got to see beaches, which I had been thinking of, since my first year in PhD. I got to meet my old friends in Rio, and made new friends as well, tried new cuisines, food, places, art, history, and above all, the Christ. Ahh, the feeling of ticking off another wonder from your list, was just amazing.

Thanks to all Precog members, and special thanks to PK for supporting me in all ways (kind to give away his travel grant to add to my travel grant to cover the trip expenses).

Attached is the moment, to say it all in one go:

[1]: Paridhi Jain, Ponnurangam Kumaraguru, and Anupam Joshi. 2013. @i seek ‘fb.me’: identifying users across multiple online social networks. WWW ’13 Companion.

[2]: Djellel Eddine Difallah, Gianluca Demartini, and Philippe Cudré-Mauroux. Pick-a-crowd: tell me what you like, and i’ll tell you what to do. WWW ’13

[3]: Ke TaoFabian AbelClaudia Hauff, Geert-Jan Houben, Ujwal GadirajuGroundhog day: near-duplicate detection on Twitter. WWW ‘13

[4]: Oana Goga, Howard Lei, Sree Hari Krishnan Parthasarathi, Gerald Friedland, Robin Sommer, and Renata Teixeira. Exploiting innocuous activity for correlating users across sites. WWW ’13

[5]: Jonghyuk Song, Sangho Lee, and Jong Kim. I know the shortened URLs you clicked on Twitter: Inference attack using public click analytics and Twitter metadata. WWW ’13

[6]: Gang Wang, Konark Gill, Manish Mohanlal, Haitao Zheng, and Ben Y. Zhao. Wisdom in the social crowd: an analysis of quora. WWW ’13

[7]: Han Liu, Atif Nazir, Jinoo Joung, and Chen-Nee Chuah. Modeling/predicting the evolution trend of osn-based applications. WWW ’13

[8]:  Nick Nikiforakis, Steven Van Acker, Wannes Meert, Lieven Desmet, Frank Piessens, and Wouter Joose. Bitsquatting: exploiting bit-flips for fun, or profit? WWW ’13

[9]: Akshay Patil, Juan Liu, and Jie Gao. Predicting group stability in online social networks. WWW ’13

[10]: Aditi Gupta, Hemank Lamba, Ponnurangam Kumaraguru, and Anupam Joshi. Faking Sandy: characterizing and identifying fake images on Twitter during Hurricane Sandy. WWW ’13 Companion.




Wizters, making you socially anonymous

“We are the generation of Social Media, Our biggest Revolution is a Tweet of 141 characters.”
― Sandra Chami Kassis

The social aspect of the web has been quite astonishing. No one before 2004 thought online social networking can be something this big that almost all the Internet companies will have to go “Social” to gain people’s attention. When Facebook started showing the potential of Online Social Networking (this is how everyone remembers, Friendster and Mysapce are dispensable ), it caught everyone’s imagination and spawned an urge to create more social networks for special needs. And now that we are connected through multiple social networks, do we really share everything that we want? Social networking brought privacy and identity exposure issues for users and the only solution that appears first in the list is, Anonymity. There are things that people can’t share because they are afraid that everyone will know who shared it. These things are their voice, their thoughts, their confessions, things that they want everyone to know, but they cannot. This is how Wizters comes in the picture.

Wizters, is a social network that serves as the medium of online anonymity. Its hard to define what “social” anonymity is because according most people a person cannot be social while being anonymous. But we are trying to break this barrier of anonymity and social networking. Wizters is a social network first and foremost, because it helps in connecting you with the people you know in real life but the only thing that is different here is the way you connect to them.

Every person has a current / active social circle like colleges, schools, offices etc. Wizters divides people in their respective social circle, called Networks. Odds are very high that you know most of the people in your social circle of everyday life and so you must also have a lot of things to say to the people in it. So, Wizters solves this problem by putting you in your relevant network and then whatever you share is anonymous to the people in it, but they get the message, they get what you want to say. Another cool thing that Wizters has brought to the table is sharing direct and private posts with your Facebook friends. This opens up avenues for the birth of a totally different online social practice or an anonymous ecosystem.

If we put Wizters aside and focus on what happened few months ago on Facebook. The flood of college confession and compliment pages came in and people welcomed these pages, they welcomed the idea of anonymity. Thousands of likes and hundreds of posts shared per day on a single page and yet people were hungry for more but these pages lost their importance because they raised moderation issues and more than that the fact that anonymity cannot survive on conventional social networks. A piece of web was meant to be cut out for this thing.

The idea of Wizters was born in the summers of 2011 and it has made a lots of progress since then. It is available for web, Windows Phone and Android (updated apps will be relaunched this month). It is now being developed as a part of PreCog@IIITD.

Wizters, for its motive can be called a social anonymity start-up which aims not only to provide this service on web and mobile but also works to counter the issues generated by online anonymity, like moderation and handling misuse of such services. It is one of the reason why Like-a-little, one of the promising and very well funded anonymity start-up from California got shut down. But where Wizters is trying to head, it can become a revolution in social media instead of 141 characters tweet.


Go home Google Groups, you’re drunk!!!

Well, as they say, no one’s perfect. Not even Google! Evidence: A recent “praise the iPad” bug in Google’s Text-To-Speech [0], which has reportedly, now been rectified, went unnoticed for months!

All the geeks out there must be familiar with the concept of bugs. May it be the =rand(200,99) bug in MS word, the famous “Why can’t I create a folder named ‘con’ in Windows” bug, or the Y2K mega-bug; geeks love bugs. Their impact can vary from funny to disastrous.

Coming to the point, we (PK and myself) recently discovered a bug in Google Groups, which made me feel rather “unpleasant.” We at Precog, run a mailing list, where all members of the group post about topics of common interest, related to security, privacy, and social media etc. Google Groups provides a nice summary of the total number of topics and posts circulated on the list for each month. Last month, that is May 2013, we hit our all-time-high (#PrecogRocks) in terms of topics and posts. PK and I went to the About page to check it out, and were rather shocked to see 183 posts for the month of June already! Terrible statistics, Google! Less than 2 hours into the month of June (IST), it does not seem humanly possible to make 183 posts, right? Given that our previous best was just over 300 for the previous month, this was definitely….. a “bug”!

The Google Groups Bug: 183 posts in under 2 hours? Incorrect!

Reverting to the “old” Google Groups revealed something totally different. The older interface reflected that we did not have a single post for June yet! That would be inaccurate, since both PK and I had posted on the mailing list just a few minutes ago. A possible explanation could be the difference in time zones. If Google works in some western time zone, then our posts were indeed in May (2am, June 1, 2013, IST would still be May 31, 2013 at many places on the planet). Well, if that’s the reason, how does one justify the 183 posts in June, 2013?

The "old" Google Groups. June doesn't yet have posts? Incorrect again!

Feel free to write to us, if you have encountered a similar bug in the past. If you haven’t, we’d be glad if you can give it a shot! Stay glued to Google Groups, just past midnight on a month end, and check what’s going on! 🙂

Stay tuned for more “bug reports” from Precog@IIITD!

PK and Prateek

[0] http://onefoottsunami.com/2013/01/04/android-issue-38538/