I had an interesting discussion with Deborah Grove about the ways social media impacts the costs of computing and the efforts to “green” IT by making servers and networks more power efficient. Social media is a growing segment of all the data stored and processed on earth. But social media has different properties than previous classes of data like transactions and documents. Some social media is more resource intensive than others (a YouTube video consumes more energy to store, transmit and view than a Twitter tweet) but even light weight social media can cause heavier media types to be suddenly accessed in a high spike of demand, for example when a brief tweet points to a video that then drawn thousands of viewers.
More efficient IT is clearly important as computing consumes a growing slice of our power consumption. Social media is both a new source of demand for compute resources (and by extension, power) and a possible method for gaining new efficiency as server farms are better tuned and maintained. I would like to see major resource consuming services like YouTube and Google surface the costs of computing more. While google, for example, reports how many fractions of a second it takes for them to return your search results, it would be useful to see how many shot glasses of diesel fuel were needed to power the servers that generated those results. PCs and server farms do no have tailpipes spewing emissions but they are not carbon neutral: lots of coal, oil, gas, and uranium (and not nearly as much wind, hydo, and solar) are needed to keep the net alive. Making the energy costs of computing more visible would be a good step toward IT conservation. I know I have too many computers running all the time (short boot up times would help!) and should think more about the energy consumption impact of my information diet.
I would have been smarter in the interview if I read How Green is my Blog on Slate by Jacob Leibenluft which does a good job of digging into the real costs of moving a gigabyte around the net. Still I wonder if all costs are being accounted for. Storage and transmission are one set of computing energy costs, how much computation do different classes of data require? The weather report takes more computation to deliver than the comics page. A web crawl and index may cost more than a hosted data set that is only minimally analyzed or recalculated. Some bytes change more often than others. Not every byte has the same amount of energy expended to get it into its current state.
Increasingly, technical conferences are featuring topics that make them look like sociology conferences! The upcoming Conference on Information and Knowledge Management describes itself as targeted at the “database, information retrieval, and knowledge management communities. The purpose of the conference is to identify challenging problems facing the development of future knowledge and information systems.” But the conference has a number of topics that focus on sociological themes:
Link analysis and community discovery
Information visualization and exploration
A good example of the increasing integration of the information and social sciences.
Deadlines for the conference are coming fast: abstracts due: May 27, 2008, papers due: June 3, 2008.
Welcome to all those Interested in sociology, technology, social media, mobile social software, or any and all forms of online communication. This blog is intended as a repository for information about research on computer-mediated collective action from a sociological perspective. Many people, from marketing, research and development, engineering, academic research, to managers of e-business are increasingly finding social science has methods and concepts that can help us understand the Internet-connected world we live in. We are fascinated by the changes these tools are making possible and hope to shed some light on ideas and research that can help you productively navigate the changes.
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