EPSRC COMNET Workshop report, February 9-10, QMUL

Report for EPSRC Workshop on Social Networks and Communications


9-10 February, Queen Mary University of London

Organisers: Hamed Haddadi, Laurissa Tokarchuk, Mirco Musolesi, Tristan Henderson

The COMNET workshop was aimed at bringing leading researchers and
academics working within the Digital Economy and Networking research
in UK together. Over the two days, over 50 people from academic and
industrial institutions attended the workshop. The workshop was very
interactive, with a very low number of engaging talks, a number of
“proposal writing” and “challenge solving sessions, and a high number
of informal introductions and project bootstrapping. The high number
of emails, messages and interactions on social networks afterwards was
indicative of the success of the workshop, a program for which can be
found on http://www.commnet.ac.uk/node/42 .

The keynote talk was delivered by Professor Yvonne Rogers (UCL), expert in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). She highlighted the need for designing equipment and websites, which are also suitable for elderly, disabled or less educated members of the society. She also demonstrated a range of simple products and ideas enabling shoppers to understand the healthiness of their products. The talk was followed by an individual introduction by every participant, where research interests and industrial relevance were discussed.

The afternoon session of the first day was followed by talks from Dr Abhijit Sengupta, (Unilever) and Dr Stuart Battersby, (Chatterbox Analytics) who both discussed the new use of digital media and social media for advertising and brand marketing. They highlighted the strong need for collaboration between graph theorists, complex network researchers and NLP experts in order to understand the large volume of data. This is also in line with EPSRC Big Data research focus area.

Cecilia Mascolo (Uni. of Cambridge) delivered the Friday morning talk on different aspects of research on social networks and challenges, which are to be solved. This talk was followed immediately by the second break out group exercise, which aimed to solve some of the challenges in making social networks more secure for users and useful for different organisations, being friendship recommendation websites or crowd control scenarios.


Professor Derek McAuley (Horizon Digital Economy) concluded the workshop with an overview of the discussions, challenges and ideas presented and brought up in the workshop, discussing possible potential avenues for research into digital economy. Some of which are listed below.
Overall, the participants discussed a number of ethical, securities, scalability issues around digital economy themed projects such as green networking, human-computer interaction, Online Social Networks and personal data.

The researchers highlighted a number of strategic areas where more
cooperation and collaboration between academia, industry and
governments is required:
i) Scaling up social science and scaling down complex systems
research: Currently, there is a big gap between social networks
researchers, focusing on long term monitoring and study of a very low
number of subjects, and complex systems researchers, trying to crunch
data about millions of users without focusing on individual
interactions. This gap needs to be narrowed.
ii) Clear ethics: researchers should take more responsibility towards
collection, storage and sharing of publicly available data, especially
since aggregation fo such data can ease correlations and inferences.
We can also drive this forward via innovative systems.
iii) Formation of incentives: experiments should aim to bring out
right incentives, and to include a diverse range of participants.
iv) Think Globally: Currently, The law is always lagging behind
technology and usually Technology designed in a single country and
deployed everywhere, so researchers must take into account ethical,
cultural and moral implications.
v) Digital inclusion: There is need for more work on HCI and easier
access technology for inclusion of older generation to the Internet
As one researcher puts it, “ At some points I even felt like suggesting to the others that we should write a grant proposal about our ideas”, and another” a
very interesting and insightful workshop. I enjoyed the discussions immensely.” And some personal blog post:


We acknowledge the EPSRC COMNET program for providing funding for this
exciting workshop and hope to be able to organize further future
events regularly.