Reputation computation: reputable or Socialbomb

I believe myself to be generally immune from Technoworship. I love gadgets, as long as they stay in the background and wait to be called on to use their digital brains to serve me. A recent item in Make Mag Online introduced a gadget that really got my imagination going.

It comes from New York University’s Interactive Telecommunication Program (ITP) – a world class, jealousy inducing learning hub. For almost 20 years, ITP has been an acknowledged incubator and developer of creative ideas and processes related to multimedia and interactivity. ITP post-grads Michael Dory, Adam Simon, and Scott Varland created Socialbomb, a “game about social circles and quantified reputation scores”; they say, and add that “Socialbomb is designed to be played in real-world social environments.”

Up to 30 players can participate in Socialbomb. They wear a device comprising of a microcontroller, a radio transceiver, and a numeric display around their neck and, as they interact with other players (that is, standing in proximity of a few meters of each other), the devices detect each other and compute the ‘reputation scores’ of each of the players, which is then displayed on the device. Players can therefore either aspure to shine – or gfear to stink, socially.

Not having seen the algorithm behind the program or any paper on the project (I’m trying to get to see it, watch this space), I can only surmise, from the sparse notes they published, and the short Vlog video, that data from the devices is assessed according to rules like these:

  1. Standing close to someone is worth more points than standing far away from each other.
  2. Talking to many people is better to talking to a few, but
  3. Talking to many people at the same time is promiscuous
  4. Talking to one or two people gets better scores the longer the chat goes on [maybe if it’s too long we lose points for being boring or for hogging the interaction?]
  5. If a single player interacts with many other players (or they interact with him) – he is more popular, his ‘reputation’ is better.

The notes mention score averaging, one can therefore ascertain the average for length of discussion, distance between players, optimal number of players per discussion, etc. We can then award or penalise players accordingly.

Each player gets point for being near players with higher reputations, and loses points for ‘associating’ with disreputable players. Since the score is available on a public display, one can imagine traffic congestion, as players try to stand closer to reputable players, while avoiding players with an electronic BO. “The player[s] with the worst reputation score [are] the ‘Socialbomb.’ Their score will have the most negative impact on a social circle.”

All general scores are available on a public leader board and can also be displayed on websites, computer screens and mobile phones. (A video demonstration of the game is available here, , and here). Players are given small devices that house a microcontroller, a radio transceiver, and a numeric display. When two players come within conversation distance, their scores are averaged. This is reflected on the devices’ numeric displays as a constant reminder of the social pecking order in the game.

At this point, my imagination took off — devices like these can be unbelievably useful in studying social networks at micro level (as it was done here in the students’ project) as well as in macro studies of large networks, such as urban relationships (the devices could have a built-in GPS facility, they could also be embedded in people’s personal items, for example – cellphone, car, running shoes, cigarette lighter, dog collar, cufflinks, and wallet.

The information will be sent via WAP or wireless connection to computers who will calculate people’s associative networks, answering questions like – what do people who associate with each other have in common? Or, conversely, do people who have things in common associate with each other? What role do these similarities play in people’s lives?

Socialbomb offer a huge avenue for entertainment, as well. The devices can be set to seek specific similarities and reject differences, then link, by agreement, to dating websites, for example. People could roam the streets and ‘ping’ to their digital soul mates, while avoiding mismatches.

I believe that, in days to come, locative relationships, that is, relations (physical, spiritual, political etc.) that are linked to location,  as well as proximity and distance) will form the base to many of our social networks.

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh!” he whispered. “Yes, Piglet?” “Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.” ~A.A. Milne

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