Andreas Weigend, Social Data Revolution | MS&E 237, Stanford University, Spring 2011 | Course Wiki

Class_09: Identity and Privacy

Date: April 26, 2011
Audio: weigend_stanford2011.09_2011.04.26.mp3

Initial authors: Lucas Duplan, [Shinjini Kundu,], [Derek Lim,]


  •, QR Codes, and Rio Akasaka
  • BranchOut and Rick Marini
  • Overview of HW 3


  • Make sure you get a shirt that fits!
  • Everyone must wear their shirts in class - go change in the bathroom if you're not comfortable changing in class
  • Each shirt has a unique QRcode that must be registered on
Hello. I am a QR code.

== and QR Codes

  • Rio Akasaka came to class today. He is a master's student is CS who works on Human-Computer Interaction
  • First off, what is a QR code?
    • Rio explains that a QR code is like a 2D bar code. They can be scanned to reveal information.
    • A blog suggested by Rio for ideas and thoughts on QR codes Go here
  • We will be using QR codes for DF4 and for HW4.
  • More information about & the QR code project is under DF4.

An Introduction to Bar Code scanning ( a short 4 mins video)

Three steps to activate your QR

  1. Sign up on
    For DF4 and HW4, we have to register the QR codes on our shirts on this website.
  2. Once logged in, click on the "make" tab, select "Interaction", fill in the title and main body text, and hit "create".
  3. Scan the barcode on your shirt, and link it to the code you just made.

Fun aside: Check out this video to see how creative you can get with a simple QR code!
How to spice up your resume.

Another interesting use of QR Codes:

DNA Ancestry Portraits is a service that encodes a link to your identity (your DNA) into a shortened URL on a QR code that is sent as a full-sized portrait for you to hang on a wall and have people take pictures of and find out more about you. The intersection of art, biology, identity, and augmented reality all in one.


Rick Marini is founder and CEO of BranchOut. He came to class today to give a short demo on BranchOut and how it works
The overview for the talk is as follows:

The core team at BranchOut. Rick Marini (top) came to class
1. How does someone who actually has half a million people deal with pulling things off someone's facebook profile?
2. Rules of the game: Game dynamics!
3. What does the future look like?
4. What other people want to say
First, Rick Marini offers a background on BranchOut. He addresses the following questions:

What is it?

  • Largest professional networking service on the Facebook platform. LinkedIn is the largest professional networking service outside the Facebook platform.
  • BranchOut allows users to leverage their extended friend network on Facebook to identify all of his or her inside connections for great opportunities. For example, suppose you are seeking a job at Google. BranchOut will show you all your friends who have worked with Google, as well as all the extended connections of friends of your friends who have worked at Google.
  • There are four target audience members:
    • (1) job seekers,
    • (2) job recruiters,
    • (3) sales professionals, and
    • (4) those looking for career networking.
  • Key idea: Leverages a user's extended friend network to locate relevant opportunities.

How Does BranchOut Work?

  • First, you sign up!
  • BranchOut displays personal profiles, a person's work history, and their education and endorsements. It does not display facebook pictures.
  • When you install BranchOut, all of your friends' data is migrated to the site as well. This is the origin of some privacy pushbacks that BranchOut has gotten. More information on privacy is presented in the section on Privacy Concerns.

The Story of How BranchOut Came To Be

The story begins in a mythical time when Facebook did not exist. Along came a bright young entrepreneur by the name of Zuckerberg who started this website where people could voluntarily make public information about themselves and post pictures. No one at the time thought that Facebook would grow to become the largest personal social networking utility.

To continue the story, LinkedIn, that started at around the same time, took the niche position in the social networking world of being the largest professional networking utility. People everywhere recited the mantra that "facebook is for personal, LinkedIn is for professional."

To sum up in three words, BranchOut is "LinkedIn on Facebook." The exceedingly simple business proposition had VCs sold and BranchOut was able to raise 6 million dollars in venture capital in 2 weeks. Marini says, "If LinkedIn is Coke, then BranchOut is Pepsi. It's not a bad place to be when you're starting up."

Marini continues to say that BranchOut does not gain as many customers through PR as one would think. Then how does he attract new users to BranchOut? The one-word answer is: gamification. That seemed to be the buzzword for the rest of the talk.

Comparison to LinkedIn

  • The comparison to LinkedIn helped raise venture capital when BranchOut started - venture capitalists and the press understood the concept of "LinkedIn on Facebook".
  • Others may have had the idea first, but BranchOut executed first - as soon as Facebook opened the right API functions. It is this move, Marini believes, that gave BranchOut a competitive advantage
  • The advantage to BranchOut is that it gives users a professional presence, while allowing most of them to still have their fun on Facebook. Marini says that the people you interact with on Facebook are your true friends and family; also people who would be willing to help you. The unique facet of BranchOut as a professional networking site is that it gives users the opportunity to assert a professional presence (just like LinkedIn); though, unlike LinkedIn, BranchOut allows a user to leverage all the personal things that Facebook brings.
  • Additionally, the Facebook platform has other advantages. Zynga created 15 billion dollars of market capital in 3 years on Facebook's back. The benefits are not just a one-way street, though. Facebook also benefits because more advertising dollars will follow the company.
  • BranchOut's competitors are Jibe and Identify. BranchOut currently dominates the market of professional networking on the Facebook platform.

Okay, so, uh, What's this "Gamification" Thing?

  • Let's take a lesson from big social companies like Zynga, who are gathering great data from a system from elements of gaming.
  • Let's tap into users' ego-driven, competitive
Gamification is the phenomenon of adding game applications to a non-game core functionality. In BranchOut's case, it attracts more users.
nature. Marini jokes that it's like the 7 deadly sins, and ego is one of them.
  • BranchOut purposely puts "games" on their site as a way to attract users and gather data
  • Some games "endorse" other users - the player's friends, in and out of BranchOut - and encourage them to join.
  • Other games show you how well-connected you are and offer up e-prizes that you can brag about on your Facebook profile. For example, one game offers "ribbons" and have 40 different levels
  • Yet other games display progress bars that show how much more "gaming" you must do on BranchOut to increase your score. Some of these tasks include bringing your friends over to BranchOut.
  • For example, there is a game that lets you rate which of your friends better possesses a certain quality. All of these data are aggregated by BranchOut.
  • BranchOut does not own all its communication channels; it is no facebook. This is the way you they are able to get initial data.
  • Crowdsourced data ultimately should be read with a grain of salt; consider it "another datapoint" rather than a be-all, end-all.
  • There are two important elements that lead to BranchOut's success in gamification, as Prof. Weigend points out:
    • 1. The game tells you exactly how much progress you have made in quantifiable terms - specifically, by way of a progress bar. This is how BranchOut gives you self-metrics.
    • 2. The game tells you exactly what you should do next. For example, a real task on BranchOut was to "like" BranchOut to increase your progress score. "Like"ing BranchOut gives them the ability to send things into your stream on Facebook.
  • But, when the gamification was becoming very popular and even slightly spammy, Marini decided to dial back on the gamification after initial expansion of the site. He now plans to ramp up the "core utility" part of the function
  • The bottom line: reel in new users by tapping their ego through gamification techniques. Then, dial back the games and offer them the core utility.
  • The key is to motivate people while rewarding them.
  • An Encyclopedia on Gamification:

Privacy Concerns

  • Showcases the professional side of a user's Facebook profile. The line between work and play nonetheless not clear cut.
  • BranchOut requires access to a user's friends' friends' to work properly, but users initially hesitant to allow access.
  • Facebook users should review the privacy options available to them.
  • Requires giving access to your friends, something some people are uncomfortable with


  • Facebook isn't going to kick anyone off their platform if they don't violate the ToS.
  • Copycats like Identified, Jibe, still far too small.

Marini's mantra: "First get the people, then give them value."

Homework 3

  • Two Parts:
    • Scraping the class Facebook data
    • Making sense of and interpreting the data (much more difficult)
  • End goal is to submit a 54 x 54 table recommending students to each other. Note that this is asymmetric.
  • Students will then be given their top 6 friends as recommended by the class as well 4 random ones.
  • Students will rank these ten peers, essentially creating an assignment that "grades itself". It will be interesting if people fare better, worse, or equal to chance.