IU team named winners of LinkedIn economic data contest

Guest post courtesy of IU News and Media Specialist Kevin Fryling

Yong-Yeol (Y.Y.) Ahn, an assistant professor in Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing, has made a name for himself developing mathematical and computational methods to understand complex systems such as cells, the brain, society and culture.

Some of his most well-known projects include tracking the national mood with Twitter and creating a method to forecast information’s potential to “go viral,” a phenomenon often regarded as impossible to predict despite its tremendous value to companies and nonprofits trying to raise awareness about their products and causes. His work has been featured in Scientific American, MIT Technology Review and The New York Times.

IU LinkedIn Team

Azadeh Nematzadeh, Michael Conover, Jaehyuk Park, Yong-Yeol (Y.Y.) Ahn, Yizhi Jing and Ian Wood at the LinkedIn Headquarters.

Now, Ahn’s expertise has taken him to the heart of Silicon Valley as a winner of the LinkedIn’s Economic Graph Challenge, a contest from the business networking giant launched last year to uncover new uses for the company’s vast trove of information on professional and business connections across the globe. The award includes $25,000 as well as access to some of this data.

As one of 11 teams selected for the prize, Ahn and four IU Ph.D. students – Yizhi Jing, Azadeh Nematzadeh, Jaehyuk Park and Ian Wood – traveled to LinkedIn’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., on May 11 for a two-day orientation session, during which they received a tour of the headquarters and met with their mentor, Michael Conover, an IU Bloomington alum and LinkedIn engineer who will devote his professional time to collaborating with the IU team on their project.

As befits an event at a business networking company, the IU team also got the chance to meet with LinkedIn employees and members of other winning teams, who were selected from a pool of over 200 applicants across the world.

The IU team’s project aims to understand the “macro-evolution” of industries, helping professionals adapt to an ever-changing economic landscape. “Our goal is to predict large-scale evolutions of industries and emerging skills, allowing us to forecast economic trends and guide professionals towards promising future career paths,” said Ahn in a synopsis of the project. “We will analyze the flow of professionals between companies to identify emerging industries and associated skills.”

Anticipation over the contest’s potential is clear from LinkedIn’s contribution of company resources to the project as well as coverage in media outlets such as re/code, an influential technology news site. According to LinkedIn’s vice president of engineering, Igor Perisic, the company expanded the number of funded projects from three to 11 due to their excitement over the ideas proposed.

“We were blown away by the quality and quantity of submissions, and were excited by the strong desire of the community to address some of the most pressing economic issues of our times,” he said in the company’s blog. “Each team submitted a compelling proposal to utilize LinkedIn data to create economic opportunity… Their results could potentially positively impact millions of people.”

LinkedIn hopes the project will also generate new peer-reviewed academic research or even go on for potential development as new online services from the company, according to a spokesperson.

After their departure from Mountain View, the IU researchers’ real work will begin. Everyone’s eager to see what they come up with next.

In addition to the LinkedIn challenge, Ahn is also the recipient of a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship, which recognizes emerging leaders in computer science with exceptional talent for research and innovation.