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Fall Kickoff Event Features Social Media Research from New Professors


Fall Kickoff Event Features Social Media Research from New Professors

Four of the University's newest faculty members share research on a range of social media-related topics.

For its first event in the 2014-15 school year, the Social Media and Business Analytics Collaborative invited four of the University of Minnesota's newest professors to present recent and ongoing research in social media. Two new professors from the Carlson School of Management and two from the College of Science and Engineering addressed the audience of University students, fellow faculty members, and industry professionals. After a brief introduction by Joe Konstan (computer science professor and SOBACO co-director, pictured above), the four speakers took turns describing their projects. Summaries follow. 

Understanding How Kids and Teens Use Social Video

Before joining the faculty in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Lana Yarosh conducted research at IBM, AT&T Research Labs, and Microsoft. In her presentation, Yarosh described her work in human-computer interaction. Her interest in designing systems that enhance social relationships motivated her to study how children and teens use social media technologies to interact, play, and tell their own stories. In one project, Yarosh examined how kids might use synchronous video technologies to engage in free play together, an important developmental activity. In another project, she studied the video content teens make and post to social sharing sites like YouTube and Vine. For the latter project, Yarosh co-developed a croudsourcing method to filter relevant non textual data.

"As video becomes the means of interaction for the next generation, like text for previous generations, we need methods to study video content," said Yarosh, adding, "This is the next generation of consumers."

Role of Crowdfunding in Medical Bankruptcies

A graduate of the NYU Stern School of Business and the National University of Singapore, Jason Chan joined the Carlson School of Management's top-rated Information and Decision Sciences Department earlier this year. One of Chan's projects examines crowdfunding platforms like GiveForward. Rapidly rising medical costs continues to be a topic of national importance, and Chan cited some sobering statistics:

  • Approximately 62% of individual bankruptcies were a direct result of medical costs (Journal of American Medicine, 2007)
  • Since 2001, there's been a 50% increase in medical bankruptcies (Health Affairs, 2005)
  • Unmet health costs are associated with more than 40,000 deaths and $30 billion in fiscal losses for health providers
  • Someone files for bankruptcy every 30 seconds in the U.S. because of medical debt

Part of Chan's research project was to understand to what degree medical crowdfunding might help alleviate personal bankruptcies in the United States. He found a positive, but modest effect. According to Chan's research, $1,000 raised brings about 6.5 to 8 fewer bankruptcies in a state for a given year-quarter (at the margin), which translates to 160-195 fewer bankruptcies.

Social Shopping Behaviors and Endorsements

Associate Professor of Information and Decision Sciences De Liu received his PhD from the University of Texas at Austin. Among his research interests: online social shopping behaviors and mechanisms. "Ecommerce has evolved to the point where we can find anything we want in seconds using search," said Liu, "But what if you don't know what you want?"

Enter social shopping: a merger of online commerce, personal endorsements, and user-generated content. Clicks (browsing traffic) and "likes" are part of this world, as are sites like Polyvore, which Liu studied. According to its website, "Polyvore is a new way to discover and shop for things you love. Polyvore's global community has created over 100 million collage-like 'sets' that are shared across the web." Users of sites like Polyvore create collections of products and styles, expressing themselves and endorsing items.

Liu's ongoing work in this area examines how social shopping endorsements affect the endorser's network of friends, the crowd, and online pre-purchase behaviors like product browsing.

Urban Bias in Social Media Analytics

Brent Hecht joined the University of Minnesota faculty in 2013 and teaches courses in computer science. Hecht also researches a variety of questions at the intersection of social computing, big data, and geography. Part of his work concerns differences in how urban and rural populations use social media. Historically, people in rural areas have adopted and used new technologies differently than in urban centers. Hecht cites the introduction of the telephone as an example. Use of social media is more prevalent in urban centers, where residents are 3.5 times more likely to use Twitter, for example. For Hecht, this raises a number of questions about the possible effects of such differences. 

Some of the questions that interest Hecht include: If rural residents aren't participating as much in social media, what will the costs be? Will they be less able to make beneficial social connections? Will rural perspectives on important issues go uncounted? Will developers of artificial intelligence and other systems miss valuable inputs that might come from rural areas?

Social media is often cited as a great equalizing force, but a bias toward urban areas has the potential to skew social media analytics in numerous ways.

Photos from the October 2nd Event 


Svetlana "Lana" Yarosh (pictured) and Brent Hecht are assistant professors in the University of Minnesota Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Jason Chan and De Liu are faculty members in the Information and Decision Sciences Department at the Carlson School of Management.