NYU-Poly Scientist Gets Google Grant for Social Networks Research

Google has awarded Oded Nov, an assistant professor at Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly), a multiyear grant to support a research project that will examine the role of design in shaping online behavior.

Nov, from the Department of Technology Management and Innovation at NYU-Poly, will collaborate on the two-year research project with Mor Naaman, an assistant professor at the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information. The duo will study what factors sway user interactions with—and contributions to—social media.

Google’s Focused Research Award is granted to scientists who work on research the company is interested in that also has broader research value.

Nov tells Xconomy via e-mail that he and Naaman study how insights from social sciences such as psychology and sociology can inform the design of social media platforms. That includes decisions made on which features to incorporate in user interfaces, the types of interactions that make sense in these contexts, and the types of information about other users of social media platforms that might be included in the content.

“Using this approach—which brings together insights from social science, computer science, and engineering—we can make social media more effective and informative, and enhance interaction between people,” Nov says.

Their project, he says, will examine the effect of “social traces” left when users post feedback, as well as the “social cues” stemming from the attributes of prior visitors to a page. Nov says social sites may display hints about its participants such as their gender, profile pictures, likes, and dislikes. “In this research project we explore how these social traces influence visitors to social pages,” he says.

The project, he believes, can reveal how behavior relates to the online social world. “There’s a lot that social science can teach us about making social media better,” he points out. For example, he believes that developing user interfaces that take into account the motivations of contributors to open content systems such as Wikipedia can improve their effectiveness and drive ongoing participation. The way social media is designed, from its content and features for users to the opportunities to interact with others, can have far-reaching effects, Nov says.

“All of these influence how social media users behave both online and offline,” he adds.

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