RIT is First Academic Institution to Establish Social Computing Lab




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With the onslaught of e-mail, instant messaging and blogs, social interaction has taken on new meaning. According to a recent New York Times article, “Blogs have gone from obscurity to ubiquity in a blink. Bloggers were selected as 'People of the Year' by ABC News, and Merriam-Webster declared 'blog' as its 'word of the year.'”

Rochester Institute of Technology, internationally recognized as a leader in computing education, recognizes the need for more research into cyber interaction and has established a groundbreaking lab for “social computing.” RIT is the first academic institution to offer research of this kind at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

The social computing lab is part of RIT's B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences' new research initiative—Center for Advancing the Study of Cyberinfrastructure (CASCI). Elizabeth Lane Lawley, associate professor of information technology at RIT, is the lab's director.

Social computing, or social software, is a term that has emerged over the past three years to describe the use of networked computing tools for facilitating interpersonal and organizational interactions.

“Social computing is an area of increasing importance in the technology industry—Microsoft, IBM, PARC, FX/Palo Alto all have social computing research groups, and companies building social computing tools are among the fastest growing in the technology sector,” says Lawley. “We feel that RIT brings a unique set of skills to research and development in this field, given our combination of technological and social science expertise.”

Lawley has invited top industry experts to serve on the lab's advisory board. The board members are Stewart Butterfield, president and founder of Ludicorp—the makers of Flickr; Elizabeth Churchill, senior research scientist at PARC; Joichi Ito, vice president of international and mobility for Technorati; Simon Phipps, Chief Technology Evangelist at Sun Microsystems; Howard Rheingold, consultant and author of Smart Mobs, The Virtual Community, Virtual Reality, and Tools for Thought; Linda Stone, former Apple and Microsoft executive; and Mena Trott, co-founder and president of Six Apart—the creators of the Typepad service and Movable Type software.

“Considering the importance of the forms of social software that are altering the way people organize political campaigns, report the news and form social networks, it is particularly important to put together a research group of experienced scholars who are versed in both the academic disciplines and personally immersed in social software practices,” explains board member Rheingold.

“RIT realizes industry will benefit not only from strong research activities in this field, but also from our commitment to preparing our students to work in this field,” adds Lawley.

“Social computing is resonating more with the public than the printed press because information can be disseminated quickly to a wide audience,” says Jorge Diaz-Herrera, dean of the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. “ Because of its national impact, we believe this lab will foster research and tools, utilizing RIT students, faculty members, and industry experts.”

Rochester Institute of Technology is internationally recognized as a leader in computing, engineering, imaging technology, fine and applied arts, and education of the deaf. More than 15,300 full- and part-time students are enrolled in RIT's 340 career-oriented and professional programs, and its cooperative education program is one of the oldest and largest in the nation.

For well over a decade, U.S. News and World Report has ranked RIT among the nation's leading comprehensive universities. The Princeton Review recognizes RIT as one of America's “Most Wired Campuses,” and the university is also featured in The Fiske Guide to Colleges and Barron's Best Buys in Education.