Medina is a social-networking site based around the idea of exchanging knowledge. The project explores new interfaces for visualizing connections between people and ideas. Knowledge and interests are valuable in and of themselves, but also provide useful structures for traversing the network. The site constantly measures the interactions between people and their interests in order to provide a more accurate picture of what relationships and information are important. The goal is to build an interface that more accurately represents the state of the network.
The word Medina, literally meaning "city" in arabic, is commonly used to describe the original historic part of a Moroccan city. These old historic centers are still extremely active marketplaces.
The goal of the website is to provide a marketplace of knowledge for an organization like the MIT Media Lab. The users are professors, graduate and undergraduate students, administrators and potentially alumni. In such an environment, each person has a very broad range of interests and expertise. In the physical realm there are many problems with the access to this knowledge: it is hard to keep track of who is good at what, people are inevitably too busy, there is no permanent record of a question getting answered etc... However, simply moving to the online realm doesn't solve many of our most important problems. For example, who is the best person to ask a question, the person who claims to be an expert, my friends who might not know the answer? It is not always the person with the most knowledge that will be the most helpful. Also, the traditional interfaces for social networking sites can make the social space hard to navigate. If I have a question on a particular topic I can visit the associated group and search through a knowledge base for an answer, or look through the list of members to find someone to ask. It is difficult to gleam the real relationships between the knowledge and the users.
The basic approach in Medina was to build a system which infers the activity between "foci" as a measure of relevance. A focus is a suitcase word which represents people, ideas, and knowledge. Interactions among users and between users and groups are constantly being measured by the website. The system continuously updates the score between elements. For example, each time a user answers a question in a message board for a given topic, his score is increased by a fixed amount. However, if he doesn't participate in the group for a couple of weeks his score is docked. Just like in the offline world, relationships take energy to maintain and will decay if not properly cared for.
The activity scores that are measured by the system are shown back to the user using a visualization. For a given person or focus, its activity with respect to the other elements in the network is presented within a small Flash application. The visualization is meant to be the main mode of navigation through the network: when viewing a focus you are presented with the elements that are the most relevant. It has a zoom functionality which allows the user to see the highest ranked elements in details. At the highest zoom level, the arrangement of nodes provides an aerial view of the state of the foci's network. Finnaly, a history feature allows us to see how activity between elements has evolved over time.