Social Networks and Operations Research

Until recently, I pretty well had a handle on my use of social networks.   Rather than try to use a single social networking system in multiple ways, I have used different systems in different ways and for different networks.

  • I have a blog, of course, and I use that to pontificate on various aspects of operations research.  While the communication is primarily one-way, I see this as a network since 1) I have enough regular commentators that I feel there is some two-way conversation, and 2) there is a network of OR bloggers (the “blogORsphere”) and our various posts often riff off each other, particularly now that INFORMS provides a monthly topic for us to use in common (this post is part of the July challenge on OR and social networks).    You can get a feed of all the OR blogs either in the sidebar at my page or through a Google Reader site. If you have an operations research blog and are not included, please let me know!Feedburner and my log files suggest that each post is read about 3000 times in the first week of posting (after that, each post gets a regular trickle of readers through search).
  • I have a twitter account (@miketrick) where 90% of my tweets have some operations research content (denoted by an “#orms” hash tag).  About 10% of the time, I am griping about some failure in customer service or something similar on non-operations research aspects.   When I post on my blog, a tweet automatically goes out through my twitter account. I follow 183 other twitter users and am followed by just over 700 others, most presumably for the #orms content.
  • I have a facebook account (michael.trick).  Again, a post on my blog generates a facebook entry, but I primarily use facebook for my real-life friends and family, and rarely post on operations research (except the blog entries).

And that seemed enough!  But recently, there have been more social networks that I have had to integrate in to my life, and the existing ones have changed.

  • LinkedIn remains a mystery to me.  I certainly have done a fair amount of linking, with 365 direct connections.  Many of these are former students who want to stay connected to me, and I am happy to be connected.  It has even been useful when getting a request like “Do you know anyone at X who can help me with Y”.  And somehow I am getting emails on conversations that are going on at LinkedIn that actually look pretty good.  But when I go to the site, I can never find where those conversations are coming from, and I am just generally overwhelmed with minutia about who has changed their picture and commented on what.  My blog and twitter feed gets mirrored at LinkedIn, but otherwise this is just not something I have been active in.
  • OR-Exchange is  a Question and Answer site that focuses on operations research and analytics.  In many ways, this was a response to the death (or near death: there are some diehards holding on) of the Usenet group sci.op-research.  That group died under the weight of “solution key sellers”, ersatz conference announcements, mean-spirited responses from curmudgeonly long-timers, and general lack of interest.  So I registered the site at a Q&A site, and started things off.  Since then, the system has taken a life of its own.  INFORMS now hosts it, and there are a dozen or so very active participants along with a larger number of regulars.  I am not sure the system has really reached critical mass, but I am very hopeful for it.
  • Facebook is moving in a direction that might make it more relevant for my professional life.  Bjarni Kristjansson has put together a group “I like operations research” that is getting some traction.  I put together a page that provides the feed to all of the operations research blogs that I can find (this is the same group of entries that is in the sidebar of my blog).
  • is a very popular way to point out links, and “cavedave” has done a great job in putting together a “sysor” subreddit.  With a couple thousand readers, a post there gets a noticeable bump in readership.
  • Google Plus simply baffles me at the moment.  I have an account, but I don’t know how to treat it.  It seems silly to just recreate a twitter feed in plus, but there doesn’t seem to be a hole in my personal social networking activities  that requires plus.  I had already done the “circles” thing by my different uses of facebook, twitter, and my blog, so it is not a great addition.  But I hate to think I am missing out on something big.  On the other hand, I did spend a couple of days on Google Wave, so I am a little hesitant to simply leap on this bandwagon.

As I look through all of this, I can’t help but reflect on how fragmented this all is.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a real community site where all of us in operations research can get together to share thoughts, papers, links, and more?  Bjarni is working hard at pushing INFORMS in the direction of providing such a community site.  But the sad thing is that we had such a site more than ten years ago, when social networking was in its infancy.  ILOG, through people like Irv Lustig, created a site  It lasted a couple of years, but could not survive the pressures of the dot-com crash.  INFORMS keeps a snapshot of the site (with limited functionality), and it is still impressive long after it shuttered its doors.

And, as I look closer to all of the activity, I am amazed that there is not more.  Why are there not hundreds of operations research blogs, instead of the couple of dozen that I list?  Why doesn’t every doctoral student in operations research have a twitter account?  Is there a social networking world I am missing?  If not, where is everybody?

Of course, if you are reading this, then you are in my social network, and I am very grateful that you are.


16 thoughts on “Social Networks and Operations Research”

  1. Quora is another up-and-coming Q&A social network (very similar to or-exchange/stackexchange, but possibly easier for cross-posting across multiple topics and OR exposure).

    Here’s the OR topic with a few familiar faces answering questions:

    Of course this further fragments things, so no help there!

  2. I think the blog + twitter combination is the best mix for professional social interaction. As for community website, INFORMS can be a more connected professional community by being more social i.e. by allowing commenting with twitter or FB account, liking the posts, poll and etc. There are many ways that current social utilities can be leveraged into INFORMS website and I think INFORMS is getting better in utilizing them, as it is a more social site than it was a year ago.

    I believe a lot of people in OR community have twitter or LinkedIn … accounts. They just have not figured out how to use them effectively as these tools are relatively new. As you mentioned, social networks are not created equal and should be used in a unique way. In the other words, they are baffled with them the way you are baffled with Google+ now 🙂

    You are doing a great job in leveraging social networks in the OR space and are setting a good example for effective use of them. OR-exchange is a great site and I hope I can contribute to it.

  3. The “networking” aspect is only one side of the coin – namely the “keeping in touch” side.

    But: you can’t actually connect to people you haven’t “crowded” first.

    Looking at other fields, one can identify several quite obvious factors:

    First: OR is missing popular (scientific) media coverage like economics has, e.g.

    Second: Right now, it doesn’t extensively use the “cool” tools that give you impressive visualizations of your data and results. To reach a broader audience, it should. (You eat with your eyes, first.)

    Third: Research and advances in the field should be way more open… e.g., is nice, a discussion feature (as demonstrated here: would make it considerably more useful. Also: more recorded presentations, demonstrations, a.s.o.

    Fourthly: People interested or working in OR have [too] many playgrounds – next to vendor-specific forums, sci.op-research or OR-Exchange there are still,,, a.s.o. – or even

    Since other fields like statistics, algorithmics, ML/AI have established vibrant (online) communities, there should be a way for OR, too.

  4. There is no “constitutive” difference between G+ and the rest of the “social network zoo”, in the sense that G+ is not designed to meet the demand of any potential “user sector” (as, e.g., Linkdin was). It’s a target-free system (in principle, at least) with general purpose functionalities which, according to many (but also according to me), are superior to those offered by Facebook. For instance, the possibility to follows a profile, even if the profile owner is not following your own, allows for a more Twitter-like fruition of what is posted. It might seem a minor improvement, but it has a dramatic impact.

    Indeed, it’s behind the current difference between G+ and Facebook, that is: the community. The initial subscribers to G+ where, mainly, techcruncing “opinion leaders” (see Robert Scoble or Tom Andersen as an example). The second, massive wave of subscribers comprised tech-interested people who began to follow the first wave guys, resharing their content. The quality of the writing, the blog-style content that was shared contributed to forming the G+ community as it is: insightful posts, lengthy comments with positive ideas and a general degree of maturity that is more than superior to the average Facebook one (to me, at least: maybe I should reconsider my Facebook friends list).

    As to circles: grouping contacts allowed me to identify many OR people of whom I had no knowledge before. Being all grouped up as they are, I can get their names, their positions, their pictures, and, most importantly, all their posts at a glance. The consequence is perceptive. I do feel more of a member of the community in everyday’s life, too –that is, besides socialiyzing opportunities that are offered at a conference.

  5. Thanks for the shout-out, Mike.

    I’m a member of LinkedIn so I can know more about people that I interact with in the business context. If I’m meeting some customer, it’s useful to know his position in the company, etc.

    On the social networking side, I really have no time to read all of these blogs, tweets, or-exchange, etc. Way back when, I used to be active in sci.op-research . I found that I just didn’t have the time to keep reading all of the posts, so I stopped. This is the first blog entry from you that I’ve read in a while. Why this one? I saw the headline in Google+. So maybe that’s a good thing for G+, as I probably would have not read this article had you not put something there.

    Now back to my real work!

  6. As a PhD student in O.R. I find the burden of classes, qualifying exams, and publishing to be more than enough. If I had to choose between updating a twitter account regularly and setting up one more experiment, I would always choose the later.

    Many of the young professionals in my age group are trying to minimize their time on social networking sites. I personally can only take the time for at most one Facebook-like service. This means little-to-no time for google+, twitter, etc.

    All that said, I do agree that the O.R. community is surprisingly dispersed and could benefit from a more central hub. I think the OR-Exchange site has great potential. However, if your goal is pulling in the young O.R. professionals, a site that had high quality tutorials on basic O.R. would surely do it. From my experience, good explanations of techniques such as column generation, branch and price, and benders decomposition are lacking (or google just can’t find them).

    Thanks for the thought provoking post!

  7. Responding to Carleton’s comment (and, as a faculty member, being firmly in the camp that doctoral candidates should have no life outside their office), I’d like to note one oft-overlooked point: you can have a Twitter account with tweeting frequently (or, indeed, at all). The value of a read-only (or read-mostly) account is that you can follow people who tend to tweet meaningful things (to me, that mainly means links to interesting articles or web sites). It does eat a little time to read tweets, but I’ve gotten pretty good at skimming them (and they are, after all, intrinsically short).

    You can also follow selected twits (er, twitterers) using something like Google Reader, which I did for a while. The virtue of a Twitter account is that it lets you respond if, on rare occasions, you feel the compulsion to do so.

    Carleton’s point about tutorials is spot-on. We just need someone with copious free time on her/his hands to do a Khan Academy for OR.

  8. One thing is missing from this list. If I can reiterate on what vice president Biden has emphasized, we need a social networking site for that 3 letter word “JOBS” 🙂

    Right now I do not really know where I should look for a job in OR, should I try LinkedIN? should I look inside craigslist? It would be great if we could have a website for OR-JOBS

  9. @Siah: Also the INFORMS Job Placement Service This service matches employers and job-seekers for short interviews at the INFORMS Annual Meetings.

    There are job postings on LinkedIn OR groups, too, but that doesn’t seem to be as big a deal, at least not yet.

    INFORMS community mailing lists also sometimes post job announcements. They are generally free or almost free for students to join, so join ones that match your interests. (They will probably start developing more social networking services now that that’s an INFORMS strategic goal, too.)

  10. I think our efficient nature would prefer one entry point to social media. One password, one widget on our phones, and such. Google+ will now fight against the inertia of the other social media tools and will try to be all things to all people. I for one am rooting for Google+ because I think it will help me stay sane. Got to go now, have to check Facebook, Twitter, and my email.

  11. Regarding the exposure of OR, I can contribute from my own experience here:
    I have recently invented a new algorithm, which in my opinion sheds a new light on the classical multiple-string-match problem (applicable to Intrusion Prevention, Anti-Viruses, Deep-Packet-Inspection etc.). It suggests “stateless” string-match, as opposed to the existing solutions based on state-machines. The paper is called “Bouma2 – A High-Performance Input-Aware Multiple String-Match Algorithm”.
    For the preprocessing phase I first implemented a brute-force heuristic, but it became very slow when scaling to hundreds of strings. At that point I was first introduced to Linear Programming, following an advice from a friend.
    After a little research, I managed to formulate the preprocessing phase as an ILP. Using the Branch-and-Cut implementation from the COIN-OR package, I am now able to preprocess thousands of strings in less than a minute. The preprocessing time still needs to be improved, and this is the point where I need to become more qualified in OR.
    Most of the resources I’ve been able to find are academic in nature. Maybe a concentration of real-life case-studies, similar to mine, would be helpful for OR exposure. At least in my case it could be very beneficial.
    It seems that linking between these two fields – pattern-match and OR – is a pretty challenging task, yet I think it could do good for both.

  12. I’m a member of LinkedIn so I can know more about people that I interact with in the business context. If I’m meeting some customer, it’s useful to know his position in the company, etc.

    On the social networking side, I really have no time to read all of these blogs, tweets, or-exchange, etc. Way back when, I used to be active in sci.op-research . I found that I just didn’t have the time to keep reading all of the posts, so I stopped. This is the first blog entry from you that I’ve read in a while. Why this one? I saw the headline in Google+. So maybe that’s a good thing for G+, as I probably would have not read this article had you not put something there.

    Now back to my real work!

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