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Microsoft has begun a new effort to understand how people interact and spread information online—and how such social interactions could be valuable to the company. 

A new research lab that opens in New York City today brings together researchers studying such questions as how to identify the most influential users of a social network and how to measure the sway they hold over other users.

The lab will not be tasked with solving the problems facing Microsoft as a business. However, the program of research in New York could help the company come up with ways to extract revenue from a vast, largely untapped resource—the large quantities of data generated by people as they use Microsoft products to interact with others.

“We have all these implicit social networks in Hotmail, Outlook, Xbox Live [Microsoft’s service that connects users of its games console], and Skype,” says Jennifer Chayes, who is managing director of the new lab and was already in charge of Microsoft’s New England research lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Chayes says that Microsoft is not alone in wanting to better understand and potentially build products around the interactions and information flow in their data. “There is such a large potential for this research to have an impact on many technology companies,” she says. Other companies making notable investment in such research are LinkedIn and Facebook (read our interview with the leader of Facebook’s effort to understand behavior captured in its data).

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Tagged: Computing, Facebook, Microsoft, social networking

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