Computing Applications

In the Virtual Extension

To ensure the timely publication of articles, Communications created the Virtual Extension (VE) to expand the page limitations of the print edition by bringing readers the same high-quality articles in an online-only format. VE articles undergo the same rigorous review process as those in the print edition and are accepted for publication on merit. The following synopses are from articles now available in their entirety to ACM members via the Digital Library.
  1. Contributed article — DOI: 10.1145/1953122.1953154
    Viscous Democracy for Social Networks
  2. contributed article — DOI: 10.1145/1953122.1953155
    Wireless on the Precipice
  3. Footnotes

Contributed article — DOI: 10.1145/1953122.1953154
Viscous Democracy for Social Networks

Paolo Boldi, Francesco Bonchi, Carlos Castillo, and Sebastiano Vigna

On April 23, 2009, Facebook announced preliminary results of a vote in which users were asked about a change in the terms of use of the network. The vote was the result of a petition by thousands of users criticizing the site for claiming too many rights over user-generated content. Attempting to justify the change, Facebook let users vote, saying that if 30% of the then roughly 200 million "active" users would vote the decision would be binding on Facebook management. The outcome was 74.4% of the voters preferred the new rules. And while only 600,000 users voted (1/100th of the prefixed quorum of 60,000,000) the change in the terms of use were officially adopted.

The global privacy watchdog, Privacy International, called the vote a "massive confidence trick." The low voting turnout was largely foreseeable. Only a small fraction of Facebook users have the time, patience, or dedication or take the service seriously enough to actively participate in its governance.

Whether to decide on a motion (such as pick one option among a set of alternatives) or elect representatives (such as constitute a senate), voting is a collaborative decision-making process, seeking a result that reflects as much as possible the opinion of the community as a whole.

Viewed this way, the failure of the 2009 Facebook voting experiment is explained by the kind of voting system Facebook adopted. Attempting this kind of direct democracy voting in large online communities is not necessarily the best choice; when public decisions reach a certain level of complexity, it is unrealistic to assume every participant is engaged and informed enough to contribute to the decision.

This opinion is shared by other authors observing that the degree of commitment of participants in online communities and collaboration systems varies greatly. Nielsen’s "90-9-1 Rule for Social Design" says: "In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action."

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contributed article — DOI: 10.1145/1953122.1953155
Wireless on the Precipice

Denise McManus, Benjamin Adams, and Houston Carr

Effective communication is the cornerstone of a successful business continuity plan. Any cataclysmic event that causes the failure of communication and associated technologies will have a devastating impact on the global economy.

Today, a significant amount of global communication and business transactions are conducted electronically; a major part handled wirelessly. Almost all technology that controls our life requires electrical power, so just imagine the simultaneous loss of wireless and wired devices. Even a regional loss covering North America, Europe, or Asia could have catastrophic consequences in a global environment.

One event that can be a significant threat to wireless and electrical power is the occurrence of geomagnetic disturbances due to solar activity. These disturbances have historically presented the risk of power disruption as well as infrastructure outages. Current potential disruptions include all services that rely on satellite navigation data, such as aircraft navigation, emergency location systems, global positioning systems, and cellular services. Organizations that have worldwide locations have increased risk to solar activities.

While there are a number of dystrophic predictions about the year 2012, they do not include what may be the most significant—the potential disruption of global communications and electrical power by geomagnetic radiation as a result of increased cyclic sunspot activity. We are currently approaching a period of maximum solar storm activity (2012–2013) that is certainly the first since the explosive growth in wireless technologies. The solar activity, at its highest, can produce powerful electrical surges that can disrupt any exposed wired or wireless technology. The very infrastructure of our society could be at risk.

How real is the threat from solar storms? What are the associated risks? How might we mitigate these risks? This article addresses the vulnerabilities of this threat and present actions that seem warranted. The authors warn organizations to prepare for geomagnetic disturbances in the upcoming period of high solar activity. Moreover, business continuity plans for the wireless world must address solar activity at all stages of the solar cycle.

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