Friday, July 24, 2009

Preferential Attachment at SIGIR 2009

Waiting for my plane yesterday at Boston Logan airport I found myself starting out the window and reflecting on scale-free networks rather than attending to my e-mail as I should have been. The reflections were, of course, inspired by the keynote of Albert László Barabási entitled "From Networks to Human Behavior" and consisted mostly of wondering why the properties of scale-free structure are perceived as unintuitive or unnatural. A conspiracy is improbable, but can it be that we are subtly taught to expect behaviors characteristic of random connections? Barabási used the word "democratic" in describing random networks and one of the audience questions afterwards dealt with how to overcome potential isolation between nodes in scale free configurations. Yes, they are out there, but how do we fix them? The answer was, to paraphrase, know it's there and work with it. I'd been standing in line with an audience question of my own, but I resumed my seat, deciding that it was basically covering the same ground: "Are the scale-free networks in and around us inherently irreconcilable with our notions of democratic forms of organization?"

Later that evening, in a semi-conscious effort not to always hang with exactly the same crowd, I fell in with group of bloggers for an interval that would, unknown to me as it was happening, later be referred to as Day 2 post banquet. Face-to-face discussion with bloggers seems to have helped to counter my conviction that I am almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a blogger myself. Except for my apparently innate repugnance for preferential attachment. Work with it.