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CACM Reports: Analyzing Online Social Networks

November Issue Remembers Computing Legend Jim Gray and His Research Contributions

The Association for Computing Machinery
Advancing Computing as a Science & Profession

Contact: Virginia Gold

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NEW YORK, NY, November 24, 2008 – As the phenomenon of online social networking explodes, the November 2008 issue of Communications of the ACM (CACM) looks at why some sites succeed and other fail, and how social and technological networks converge.  The issue also pays tribute to Jim Gray, one of the world’s most distinguished computer scientists, and offers a technical perspective submitted by Gray on Polaris, a visual query language that unifies the strengths of visualization and database communities. CACM, the flagship publication of ACM, recently launched its expanded editorial scope and redesigned format, offering readers access to this generation’s most significant leaders and innovators in computing and information technology. It is available online in the new digital format at


            In a news article about online social network analysis and its ability to explain why some sites succeed, technology writer Bill Howard notes that the first major social network site,, launched in 1997.  He reports that the recent rapid growth in social networking sites was propelled in part by the ubiquity of broadband and cellular-messaging connections. Pointing to the differences and similarities between physical and online social networks, he observes that while six degrees of separation may be true offline, less than three degrees is more likely online. 


            A related review article by Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University describes the convergence of the technological networks that connect computers on the Internet and the social networks that have linked humans for millennia. He says that most of the high-profile Internet applications to emerge over the past five years are governed not just by technological considerations but also by recurring and quantifiable principles of human social interaction.  The resulting availability of rich and plentiful data on human interaction, he concludes, enables us to design new computing applications that link us all. 


            In a moving tribute to Jim Gray, Michael Stonebraker of MIT and David J. Dewitt of Microsoft describe him as "an unmanageable free spirit in the workplace who could write prodigious amounts of code and even more prodigious research reports."  They acknowledge his profound impact as a scholar and friend as well as a mentor to many younger people, and recognize his pioneering research on transactions that is the foundation for today’s world of e-commerce. Gray received ACM's Turing Award, considered the "Nobel Prize of computing," in 1998.


            Another colleague, Alexander S. Szalay of Johns Hopkins University, relates Gray’s interest in astronomy.  He offers a poignant personal account of his own collaboration with Gray, whose contributions to the SkyServer project delivered computations directly to the terabytes of astronomical data that characterize today’s astronomy research.


            Gray’s pioneering work inspired the research in an article on Polaris, a system of query, analysis, and visualization of multidimensional databases.  The authors, Chris Stolte of Tableau Software, Diane Tang of Google, Inc., and Pat Hanrahan of Stanford University, detail their work with Polaris to build an interactive interface that analysts can use to rapidly and incrementally build an express range of views of their data.  Gray wrote the original Technical Perspective to accompany this article, crediting the research for allowing users to visualize relationships between data using shape, size, orientation, color, and texture in all kinds of graphs.  He concluded that this combination lets users interactively explore the raw data or perform data analysis, a major improvement over how analysis is currently done.


            Other November CACM articles:

·   A Viewpoints essay by Joanna Goode of the University of Oregon on reprogramming college preparatory computer science education to address the crisis confronting the field. 

·   A roundtable forum of CTOs, overseen by ACM’s Professions Board, tackled the issue of how to manage large numbers of virtualized servers and create an integral IT architecture that is extensible, scalable, and meets reasonable criteria.

·   A news article by Leah Hoffman, science and technology writer, on U.S. patent law, which is frequently thought to be “out of sync” with modern business practices.


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About ACM

ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, uniting computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges. ACM strengthens the computing profession’s collective voice through strong leadership, promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. ACM supports the professional growth of its members by providing opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional networking.  


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