ALBERTO PEPE

I am the co-founder of Authorea, a collaborative word processor and repository for scientists. I am also a data consultant and a Research Associate at Harvard University, where I recently completed a Postdoc in Astrophysics. At Harvard, I was also a fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and an affiliate of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science. I hold a Ph.D. in Information Science from the University of California, Los Angeles with a dissertation on scientific collaboration networks. I live in Brooklyn, NY. I was born and raised in the small wine-making town of Manduria, in Puglia, Southern Italy. Contact me at alberto.pepe@gmail.com.
Bring Your Own: Voices of the Contemporary is an open workshop which takes place at the Carpenter Center of Harvard University. BYO fosters discussion and debate about pressing issues in contemporary culture across Harvard and Boston area communities by bringing to campus emerging figures in contemporary art for informal evening conversations. In April 2012, the topic of BYO was Locating Media:

Advanced computer generated mapping and data visualization techniques often abstract the tangible effects of the information they compile and display. Bringing together artists and scholars working in the disparate fields of cartography, musicology, and astrophysics, this panel investigates contemporary efforts to short-circuit data’s sometimes distancing effects and create a more direct, participatory relationship between data, media, bodies, and environments.

I was invited, together with NYU artist Wafaa Bilal and Columbia University musicologist Beau Bothwell to talk about airports. The full transcript and slides of my presentation are available here.

Bring Your Own: Voices of the Contemporary is an open workshop which takes place at the Carpenter Center of Harvard University. BYO fosters discussion and debate about pressing issues in contemporary culture across Harvard and Boston area communities by bringing to campus emerging figures in contemporary art for informal evening conversations. In April 2012, the topic of BYO was Locating Media:

Advanced computer generated mapping and data visualization techniques often abstract the tangible effects of the information they compile and display. Bringing together artists and scholars working in the disparate fields of cartography, musicology, and astrophysics, this panel investigates contemporary efforts to short-circuit data’s sometimes distancing effects and create a more direct, participatory relationship between data, media, bodies, and environments.

I was invited, together with NYU artist Wafaa Bilal and Columbia University musicologist Beau Bothwell to talk about airports. The full transcript and slides of my presentation are available here.

— 2 years ago with 1 note
During an interview last year, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, stated that:

You have one identity. […] The days of you having a different image for your co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly. […] Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity. 

Luigi Pirandello, an Italian novelist and playwright of last century, would have had a different opinion. His 1925 classic novel Uno, Nessuno, Centomila (“One, No One and One Hundred Thousand”) recounts the tragedy of Vitangelo Moscarda, a man who struggles to reclaim a coherent and unitary identity for himself upon realizing that he inhabits one hundred thousand identities: one identity for each one of his 100,000 acquaintances. In order to “see clearly and be truly himself”, Moscarda embarks on a series of carefully crafted social experiments with his own identity. 
What would Moscarda’s identity tragedy look like if he had a Facebook account?
This week I am presenting/performing an abridged version of a working paper I coauthored with Spencer Wolff and Karen Van Godtsenhoven titled One, None and One Hundred Thousand Profiles: Re-imagining the Pirandellian Identity Dilemma in the Era of Online Social Networks. In the article, we transplant Moscarda’s identity play from its offline setting (a small town in Northern Italy at the beginning of last century) to the contemporary arena of online social networks, imagining how Moscarda would go about defending the integrity of his selfhood in the face of the discountenancing influences of the online world. 
The preprint of the article is available on arXiv and the published version on First Monday. The presentation/performance is part of a Symposium for the Dynamics of the Internet and Society hosted by the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford in September 2011. 

During an interview last year, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, stated that:

You have one identity. […] The days of you having a different image for your co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly. […] Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity. 

Luigi Pirandello, an Italian novelist and playwright of last century, would have had a different opinion. His 1925 classic novel Uno, Nessuno, Centomila (“One, No One and One Hundred Thousand”) recounts the tragedy of Vitangelo Moscarda, a man who struggles to reclaim a coherent and unitary identity for himself upon realizing that he inhabits one hundred thousand identities: one identity for each one of his 100,000 acquaintances. In order to “see clearly and be truly himself”, Moscarda embarks on a series of carefully crafted social experiments with his own identity. 

What would Moscarda’s identity tragedy look like if he had a Facebook account?

This week I am presenting/performing an abridged version of a working paper I coauthored with Spencer Wolff and Karen Van Godtsenhoven titled One, None and One Hundred Thousand Profiles: Re-imagining the Pirandellian Identity Dilemma in the Era of Online Social NetworksIn the article, we transplant Moscarda’s identity play from its offline setting (a small town in Northern Italy at the beginning of last century) to the contemporary arena of online social networks, imagining how Moscarda would go about defending the integrity of his selfhood in the face of the discountenancing influences of the online world. 

The preprint of the article is available on arXiv and the published version on First Monday. The presentation/performance is part of a Symposium for the Dynamics of the Internet and Society hosted by the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford in September 2011. 

— 2 years ago
Regardless of their content and intended use, tweets (Twitter posts) often convey pertinent information about their author’s mood status. As such, tweets can be regarded as temporally-authentic microscopic instantiations of public mood state. The image above shows how the public mood, measured along six different emotional indicators using aggregate Twitter data, changed before, during and after the US presidential election on November 4, 2008.  
In this article - Modeling public mood and emotion: Twitter sentiment and socio-economic phenomena -  I coauthored with Johan Bollen and Huina Mao, we perform a sentiment analysis of all public tweets broadcasted by Twitter users between August 1 and December 20, 2008. For every day in the timeline, we extract six dimensions of mood (tension, depression, anger, vigor, fatigue, confusion) using an extended version of the Profile of Mood States (POMS), a well-established psychometric instrument. We compare our results to fluctuations recorded by stock market and crude oil price indices and major events in media and popular culture, such as the U.S. Presidential Election of November 4, 2008 and Thanksgiving Day.
We find that events in the social, political, cultural and economic sphere do have a significant, immediate and highly specific effect on the various dimensions of public mood. We speculate that large scale analyses of mood can provide a solid platform to model collective emotive trends in terms of their predictive value with regards to existing social as well as economic indicators.

Regardless of their content and intended use, tweets (Twitter posts) often convey pertinent information about their author’s mood status. As such, tweets can be regarded as temporally-authentic microscopic instantiations of public mood state. The image above shows how the public mood, measured along six different emotional indicators using aggregate Twitter data, changed before, during and after the US presidential election on November 4, 2008.  

In this article - Modeling public mood and emotion: Twitter sentiment and socio-economic phenomena -  I coauthored with Johan Bollen and Huina Mao, we perform a sentiment analysis of all public tweets broadcasted by Twitter users between August 1 and December 20, 2008. For every day in the timeline, we extract six dimensions of mood (tension, depression, anger, vigor, fatigue, confusion) using an extended version of the Profile of Mood States (POMS), a well-established psychometric instrument. We compare our results to fluctuations recorded by stock market and crude oil price indices and major events in media and popular culture, such as the U.S. Presidential Election of November 4, 2008 and Thanksgiving Day.

We find that events in the social, political, cultural and economic sphere do have a significant, immediate and highly specific effect on the various dimensions of public mood. We speculate that large scale analyses of mood can provide a solid platform to model collective emotive trends in terms of their predictive value with regards to existing social as well as economic indicators.

— 3 years ago
Italy just turned 150. UNA VITA is a tribute to the Italians who lived half of its history.Loosely, two lifetimes fit in 150 years. The first one extends from Italy’s unification in 1861 to the 1930s. The second from the mid-1930s to today. A person living in the second period has experienced a profoundly different Italy than one living in the first.In the past 75 years Italy has changed radically. One of the biggest drivers of this change has been the heavy and ongoing migration from small rural towns to large urban centers. The Apennine mountain range that runs through the backbone of the Italian peninsula is sprinkled with beautiful historical towns that used to be the lifeblood of the country. Today no one wants to live there anymore. In July 2011, my friend Veronica and I traveled across Italy to collect photos and stories from the last inhabitants of these endangered towns. We drove for two weeks, from Piedmont to Apulia, intentionally avoiding big cities, highways, and popular itineraries. We took backroads and country lanes, visiting towns that are rarely, if ever, included in tourist guidebooks. In these towns we came across the elderly of Italy.We met a generation whose age roughly corresponds to that of Italy’s ruling elite but whose stories are profoundly different. We met ordinary people with extraordinary life stories. Stories of suffering and longing, daring and thriving. UNA VITA is a tribute to their lives and memories.

Italy just turned 150. UNA VITA is a tribute to the Italians who lived half of its history.

Loosely, two lifetimes fit in 150 years. The first one extends from Italy’s unification in 1861 to the 1930s. The second from the mid-1930s to today. A person living in the second period has experienced a profoundly different Italy than one living in the first.

In the past 75 years Italy has changed radically. One of the biggest drivers of this change has been the heavy and ongoing migration from small rural towns to large urban centers. The Apennine mountain range that runs through the backbone of the Italian peninsula is sprinkled with beautiful historical towns that used to be the lifeblood of the country. Today no one wants to live there anymore. 

In July 2011, my friend Veronica and I traveled across Italy to collect photos and stories from the last inhabitants of these endangered towns. We drove for two weeks, from Piedmont to Apulia, intentionally avoiding big cities, highways, and popular itineraries. We took backroads and country lanes, visiting towns that are rarely, if ever, included in tourist guidebooks. In these towns we came across the elderly of Italy.

We met a generation whose age roughly corresponds to that of Italy’s ruling elite but whose stories are profoundly different. We met ordinary people with extraordinary life stories. Stories of suffering and longing, daring and thriving. UNA VITA is a tribute to their lives and memories.

— 3 years ago
A  set of (slightly overexposed) pictures taken on the islands of Japan and Sicily. Click here to see the entire set.

A  set of (slightly overexposed) pictures taken on the islands of Japan and Sicily. Click here to see the entire set.

— 3 years ago
Chase is an installation by Liz Magic Laser on display at Derek Eller Gallery (615 West 27th Street, New York) from May 21 to June 26, 2010. With chase, Liz Magic Laser reinterprets Bertolt Brecht’s 1926 play Man equals Man. The project includes a feature-length video, an installation of ephemera from the production of chase as well as a theatrical set that serves as a backdrop for a live performance.
Working in collaboration with nine actors, Laser staged Brecht’s play in the ATM vestibules of banks throughout New York City. Videotaping each actor’s performance separately, she edited the scenes, creating a complete version of the narrative. The element of estrangement in the original play is heightened through jump cuts and spatiotemporal shifts. 
I was fortunate to be part of this project (in a very small way)! Inspired by a paper I wrote on the non-placeness of airports, Spencer Wolff and Liz Magic Laser asked me some questions about non-places. The text of the interview is on display at the Derek Eller Gallery.

Chase is an installation by Liz Magic Laser on display at Derek Eller Gallery (615 West 27th Street, New York) from May 21 to June 26, 2010. With chase, Liz Magic Laser reinterprets Bertolt Brecht’s 1926 play Man equals Man. The project includes a feature-length video, an installation of ephemera from the production of chase as well as a theatrical set that serves as a backdrop for a live performance.

Working in collaboration with nine actors, Laser staged Brecht’s play in the ATM vestibules of banks throughout New York City. Videotaping each actor’s performance separately, she edited the scenes, creating a complete version of the narrative. The element of estrangement in the original play is heightened through jump cuts and spatiotemporal shifts. 

I was fortunate to be part of this project (in a very small way)! Inspired by a paper I wrote on the non-placeness of airportsSpencer Wolff and Liz Magic Laser asked me some questions about non-places. The text of the interview is on display at the Derek Eller Gallery.

— 4 years ago
In this article - Political protest Italian–style: The blogosphere and mainstream media in the promotion and coverage of Beppe Grillo’s V–day - Corinna Di Gennaro and I study user engagement in political discourse, the network properties of the Italian blogosphere, and its potential to act as a platform for social organization and political mobilization without the influence of mainstream media. 
We analyze the organization, promotion and public perception of “V–day”, a political rally that took place on 8 September 2007, to protest against corruption in the Italian Parliament. Launched by blogger Beppe Grillo, and promoted via a word–of–mouth mobilization on the Italian blogosphere, V–day brought close to one million Italians in the streets on a single day, but was mostly ignored by mainstream media.
This article is divided into two parts. In the first part, we analyze the volume and content of online articles published by both bloggers and mainstream news sources from 14 June (the day V–day was announced) until 15 September 2007 (one week after it took place). We find that the success of V–day can be attributed to the coverage of bloggers and small–scale local news outlets only, suggesting a strong grassroots component in the organization of the rally. We also find a dissonant thematic relationship between content published by blogs and mainstream media: while the majority of blogs analyzed promote V–day, major mainstream media sources critique the methods of information production and dissemination employed by Grillo.
Based on this finding, in the second part of the study, we explore the role of Grillo in the organization of the rally from a network analysis perspective. We study the interlinking structure of the V–day blogosphere network, to determine its structure, its levels of heterogeneity, and resilience. Our analysis contradicts the hypothesis that Grillo served as a top–down, broadcast–like source of information. Rather, we find that information about V–day was transferred across heterogeneous nodes in a moderately robust and resilient core network of blogs. We speculate that the organization of V–day represents the very first case, in Italian history, of a political demonstration developed and promoted primarily via the use of social media on the Web.

In this article - Political protest Italian–style: The blogosphere and mainstream media in the promotion and coverage of Beppe Grillo’s V–day - Corinna Di Gennaro and I study user engagement in political discourse, the network properties of the Italian blogosphere, and its potential to act as a platform for social organization and political mobilization without the influence of mainstream media. 

We analyze the organization, promotion and public perception of “V–day”, a political rally that took place on 8 September 2007, to protest against corruption in the Italian Parliament. Launched by blogger Beppe Grillo, and promoted via a word–of–mouth mobilization on the Italian blogosphere, V–day brought close to one million Italians in the streets on a single day, but was mostly ignored by mainstream media.

This article is divided into two parts. In the first part, we analyze the volume and content of online articles published by both bloggers and mainstream news sources from 14 June (the day V–day was announced) until 15 September 2007 (one week after it took place). We find that the success of V–day can be attributed to the coverage of bloggers and small–scale local news outlets only, suggesting a strong grassroots component in the organization of the rally. We also find a dissonant thematic relationship between content published by blogs and mainstream media: while the majority of blogs analyzed promote V–day, major mainstream media sources critique the methods of information production and dissemination employed by Grillo.

Based on this finding, in the second part of the study, we explore the role of Grillo in the organization of the rally from a network analysis perspective. We study the interlinking structure of the V–day blogosphere network, to determine its structure, its levels of heterogeneity, and resilience. Our analysis contradicts the hypothesis that Grillo served as a top–down, broadcast–like source of information. Rather, we find that information about V–day was transferred across heterogeneous nodes in a moderately robust and resilient core network of blogs. We speculate that the organization of V–day represents the very first case, in Italian history, of a political demonstration developed and promoted primarily via the use of social media on the Web.

— 4 years ago
Twitflick is a multi-modal platform / installation that I developed in 2009 with Sasank Reddy, Lilly Nguyen, Mark Hansen in collaboration with Digital Kitchen. It blends a continuous stream of real-time text tweets from Twitter with related user-uploaded images hosted on Flickr.
Twitflick relies on the expressiveness and narrative nature of tweets and in turn acts as a digital space in which distributed, temporally-authentic personal narratives, in the form of photographs and text, intersect. As such, Twitflick captures the quotidian rhythms of online social exchange and draws attention to the poetic potential of the web.
Unfortunately, the production version of Twitflick is currently offline, but you can check out the following article for more info: Twitflick: visualizing the rhythm and narrative of micro-blogging activity (published in Proceedings of the Digital Arts and Culture Conference 2009)

Twitflick is a multi-modal platform / installation that I developed in 2009 with Sasank Reddy, Lilly Nguyen, Mark Hansen in collaboration with Digital Kitchen. It blends a continuous stream of real-time text tweets from Twitter with related user-uploaded images hosted on Flickr.

Twitflick relies on the expressiveness and narrative nature of tweets and in turn acts as a digital space in which distributed, temporally-authentic personal narratives, in the form of photographs and text, intersect. As such, Twitflick captures the quotidian rhythms of online social exchange and draws attention to the poetic potential of the web.

Unfortunately, the production version of Twitflick is currently offline, but you can check out the following article for more info: Twitflick: visualizing the rhythm and narrative of micro-blogging activity (published in Proceedings of the Digital Arts and Culture Conference 2009)

— 4 years ago
Memorabilia californiano (california ghost towns, deserts and leftovers). Click here to see the entire set.

Memorabilia californiano (california ghost towns, deserts and leftovers). Click here to see the entire set.

— 4 years ago
The Grateful Dead were an American band that was born out of the San Francisco, California psychedelic movement of the 1960s. The band played music together from 1965 to 1995 and is well known for concert performances containing extended improvisations and long and unique set lists.
This article - A Grateful Dead Analysis: The Relationship Between Concert and Listening Behavior - I coauthored with Marko Rodriguez and Vadas Gintautas presents a comparative analysis between 1,590 of the Grateful Dead’s concert set lists from 1972 to 1995 and 2,616,990 last.fm Grateful Dead listening events from August 2005 to October 2007. While there is a strong correlation between how songs were played in concert and how they are listened to by last.fm members, the outlying songs in this trend identify interesting aspects of the band and their fans 10 years after the band’s dissolution.

The Grateful Dead were an American band that was born out of the San Francisco, California psychedelic movement of the 1960s. The band played music together from 1965 to 1995 and is well known for concert performances containing extended improvisations and long and unique set lists.

This article - A Grateful Dead Analysis: The Relationship Between Concert and Listening Behavior - I coauthored with Marko Rodriguez and Vadas Gintautas presents a comparative analysis between 1,590 of the Grateful Dead’s concert set lists from 1972 to 1995 and 2,616,990 last.fm Grateful Dead listening events from August 2005 to October 2007. While there is a strong correlation between how songs were played in concert and how they are listened to by last.fm members, the outlying songs in this trend identify interesting aspects of the band and their fans 10 years after the band’s dissolution.

— 5 years ago
Since the Turing test was first proposed by Alan Turing in 1950, the primary goal of artificial intelligence has been predicated on the ability for computers to imitate human behavior. However, the majority of uses for the computer can be said to fall outside the domain of human abilities and it is exactly outside of this domain where computers have demonstrated their greatest contribution to intelligence. Another goal for artificial intelligence is one that is not predicated on human mimicry, but instead, on human amplification. This article - Faith in the Algorithm, Part 1: Beyond the Turing Test - surveys various systems that contribute to the advancement of human and social intelligence.

Since the Turing test was first proposed by Alan Turing in 1950, the primary goal of artificial intelligence has been predicated on the ability for computers to imitate human behavior. However, the majority of uses for the computer can be said to fall outside the domain of human abilities and it is exactly outside of this domain where computers have demonstrated their greatest contribution to intelligence. Another goal for artificial intelligence is one that is not predicated on human mimicry, but instead, on human amplification. This article - Faith in the Algorithm, Part 1: Beyond the Turing Test - surveys various systems that contribute to the advancement of human and social intelligence.

— 5 years ago
The essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) is not an essay about Las Vegas. The “fun thing” Wallace refers to is a 1-week trip on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Yet, reading the essay, I cannot help but notice the “(nearly lethal)” analogies between his adventure on the luxury cruise and my perception of Vegas.

The essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) is not an essay about Las Vegas. The “fun thing” Wallace refers to is a 1-week trip on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Yet, reading the essay, I cannot help but notice the “(nearly lethal)” analogies between his adventure on the luxury cruise and my perception of Vegas.

— 5 years ago
Futureme is a web service that allows you to write a letter (email) to yourself that gets  delivered at a later date. In June 2007, we (a team of UCLA students) fetched 7,000 emails to the future which contained terms such as remember, remind, forget and forgot. We used this data to perform a live visualization of the mood towards the future, extracted from the futureme emails. (I used a similar dataset to perform a more quantitative study of the public collective perception of the future.)
The installation was up for a day on Tuesday (June 12, 2007) outside the Design|Media Broad Art Center at UCLA. The visualization was performed using data from all the available 7,000 emails. Emails were sorted by time lag (the time between authoring and delivery of the email) and divided in 99 batches. For each batch, the general “mood” was computed based on the recurrence of selected keywords. Color was used to represent mood: four shades of air balloons, from light pink (sadder) to dark red (happier).  The balloons were hanged from the 4th floor of the Broad Art Center creating a histogram-like pattern, one that would (supposedly) represent time lag across space.
The whole idea behind the project was to capture manifestations of remembering|forgetting contained in the emails, so for every batch of balloons (i.e. time lag) a representative textual email snippet was also presentedPhotos of the installation can be found at this flickr page. The entire project was meant to be ephemeral, so it was meant to be destroyed and… forgotten. Balloons went down by noon:

Futureme is a web service that allows you to write a letter (email) to yourself that gets  delivered at a later date. In June 2007, we (a team of UCLA students) fetched 7,000 emails to the future which contained terms such as rememberremindforget and forgot. We used this data to perform a live visualization of the mood towards the future, extracted from the futureme emails. (I used a similar dataset to perform a more quantitative study of the public collective perception of the future.)

The installation was up for a day on Tuesday (June 12, 2007) outside the Design|Media Broad Art Center at UCLA. The visualization was performed using data from all the available 7,000 emails. Emails were sorted by time lag (the time between authoring and delivery of the email) and divided in 99 batches. For each batch, the general “mood” was computed based on the recurrence of selected keywords. Color was used to represent mood: four shades of air balloons, from light pink (sadder) to dark red (happier).  The balloons were hanged from the 4th floor of the Broad Art Center creating a histogram-like pattern, one that would (supposedly) represent time lag across space.

The whole idea behind the project was to capture manifestations of remembering|forgetting contained in the emails, so for every batch of balloons (i.e. time lag) a representative textual email snippet was also presentedPhotos of the installation can be found at this flickr page. The entire project was meant to be ephemeral, so it was meant to be destroyed and… forgotten. Balloons went down by noon:

— 7 years ago with 1 note