Curation and Crisis: Curated Crisis Content


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In a networked world, we are increasingly inundated with information from online data streams especially from the social web. Curation has increasingly become the buzzword for managing this problem of information overload in the digital age. However, the applications and interpretations of curation by social web users are varied and often stray away from traditional curator roles. I present seven types of curatorial activities (i.e. collecting, organizing, preserving, filtering, crafting a story, displaying, and facilitating discussions) based on the analysis of 100 web artifacts. I introduce the concept, socially-distributed curation, to emphasize the distributed nature of this curatorial process emerging from the social web. Lastly, I present seven case studies to illustrate preliminary examples of curated crisis content for four crises. These findings are to inform future designs and developments of crisis management tools that could benefit from curated crisis content.

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  • My name is Sophia B. Liu and I am a PhD Candidate at University of Colorado at Boulder in an interdisciplinary program called Technology, Media and Society. This presentation is about crisis and curation and how the world of social media and the web has new changes afoot. We know people are generating a lot more information now but we also know that we are having trouble figuring out what to do with all of this information. I am going to look at that problem of information inundation, I am looking at where we are going in the future in terms of that interaction and how that relates to the things we care about at this conference and that is crises
  • We all tend to think about crises as they are happening in the present and how to solve these problems right now. This is important but I look at crises with a long view by considering both the past and the future. So I focus on how we can learn from the past while also considering our future generations, which means taking a perspective that goes beyond just one single lifespan. Future of the past: curation of past events for the benefit of future generations To strengthen posterity’s resilience to future crises
  • How many of you know about the Titanic disaster that happened in 1912? So this one of the deadliest transportation accidents in history that happened almost a century ago. And we cannot deny that the Titanic has made a strong imprint in our culture. There is now a popular traveling exhibit showcasing the relics from the Titanic and there was a movie made about it in 1997.
  • Now let’s look at a more recent historical crisis that happened a quarter of a century ago. Who here remembers what happened in Bhopal, India on Dec 2-3, 1984? 40 tons of a lethal gas leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. This was the worst industrial disaster in history killing 8,000 people instantly and affecting > ½ million people to this date. Even though it happened 25 years ago, it is actually an ongoing crisis because of the long-term health effects from the gas leak affecting multiple generations and the chemicals at this plant are still contaminating the Bhopal water supply. But more importantly the message from Bhopal survivors and social activists is there should be “No More Bhopals” Meaning we cannot allow this to happen again in the future. How can we learn from past events to strengthen our resilience to future crises.
  • As another example, we are closing in on a decade from when the September 11 attacks occurred. We all know that this was a significant event in US history. But there is a tendency to only focus on what happened on September 11, 2001. But some people explain how events like the Soviet War in Afghanistan are relevant pre-911 events as well as what has happened since the attacks such as the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. So how can we learn from not only just what happened on this day but rather the larger historical context of the 9/11 attacks to inform the design of future information systems for crisis response.
  • And just as one last example of a more slow onset crisis that has not affected some people yet but will likely affect all of us and other generations in the future is the climate change crisis. We now have access to a lot of information about the effects of climate change like the melting of glaciers the causes of climate change, the solutions to climate change, and examples of social actions around climate change. What is interesting about climate change as a crisis is that many people know that this is a crisis that we must face in our future and the only way to mitigate its effects is to learn from our past knowledge. So how can we aggregate, filter, and present information related to climate change in a way that is compelling enough to actively engage people to mitigate the effects of climate change. Because ultimately this is what we pass on to future generations to strengthen their resilience to potential crises that they may face in their lifetime.
  • All of this speaks to a curation issue and determining what part of history is worth preserving for future generations as well as learning from this history in the present. This quote from a September 11 curator at the Smithsonian speaks to the heart of why curation is an important part of our culture and society. This is a pretty powerful statement of what role curation plays in our society
  • Here is the classic and very traditional way of thinking about curation as professional curators who manage, administer and organize collections as well as who authenticate, evaluate and categorize artifacts in a collection. BUT this is changing as we increasingly live in a more networked world, the artifacts that are worth preserving are increasingly becoming more digital and distributed across the internet making them more publicly accessible. So the point I want to make for the rest of this presentation is that the notion of curation is becoming more relevant but it also means something different today.
  • There are now about 1.8 billion Internet users around the world
  • And many people are using these ubiquitous information and communication technologies to generate information.
  • For example, over 50 million tweets are being generated every day, what does this mean?
  • It means we are at a point of information overload and our attention span is shrinking, and many call this a curatorial dilemma that all of us are facing not only in our personal lives but also as a society as a global community. What do we want to preserve for future generations as well as what do we want to learn from these past crises right now. ====== Stats to know but will not mention in talk 1.73 billion Internet users worldwide as of September 2009 1.4 billion email users worldwide, on average we collectively send 247 billion emails per day, but 200 billion are spam emails 234 million websites as of December 2009 Facebook gets 260 billion pageviews per month, which equals 6 million page views per minute and 37.4 trillion pageviews in a year
  • The first part of my research aim is to develop the curation construct in a networked world. I unpacked the meaning of “curation” used in the social web world as a starting point. Then I developed a theoretical construct on the notion of socially-distributed curation. I did both of these by searching for blog posts that talk about curation and interviewed professional and everyday curators.
  • Specifically, I searched for the tag “curation” within Delicious and found more blog posts related to curation issues in the social web context. The links within the blog posts that I had already collected led me to other relevant posts online about curation. Influential social web users and professional curators wrote many of these web posts. Their interpretations and applications of curation seem to be authentic, credible, and representative resources for this study because they discussed the notion of curation within the context of the social web and based on their own experience and knowledge as participants in the social web.
  • People have been increasingly talking about curation in the social web world over the past few years, as indicated by the increase in Delicious bookmarks tagged curation.
  • Here is a sample of some of the blog posts that talk about curation.
  • The Web Trend Map site mentions how Twitter users are in some ways micro-curators who filter content online.
  • People also are using the word “curate” to refer to people who create Twitter lists.
  • I explain “curation” based on a distillation and collation of how social web users and professional curators explain the term curation in the online context. For this study, I collected and analyzed 100 web artifacts pertaining to curation issues in the social web world (i.e. blog posts, online news articles, and videos including the comments in these posts as well as examples of web services that claim to support curation). You can find all of these blog posts about curation on my Delicious account tagged curation:
  • After reading through the 100 blog posts, I created this complex mind map and found themes that emerged about curation in the social web world.
  • Curation has become a constructive model and metaphor for offering a solution to the information overload issue online. This paper moves away from a role-based definition of a curator and instead focuses more on the activities and interactions that take place within the curatorial process. HereI describe seven different types of curatorial activities based on distinct roles often associated with curators found in cultural institutions. Many of these activities occur concurrently, feed into one another, and are carried out by multiple people simultaneously.
  • I explain the socially-distributed curation concept by breaking down the different curatorial activities that often arise from these 7 archetypes. The Archivist : Curation consists of finding , collecting , and aggregating artifacts to create a collection. The goal here is to pull together a diverse set of artifacts from different sources in order to obtain suitable coverage on a particular topic. The Librarian : Curation consists of organizing , classifying , and categorizing each item in the collection. The goal here is to catalog each artifact in order to create a taxonomy or a metadata structure using keywords and tags so that each item is easily searchable. The Preservationist : Curation consists of caring for , preserving , and maintaining the collection through stewardship. The goal here is to engage in preservation activities that engender long-term maintenance of and access to the collection for posterity’s sake. The Editor : Curation consists of selecting , filtering , and verifying the items in the collection that will later be exhibited. The goal here is to sift through, prioritize, and assess the artifacts in the collection and then choose the most relevant, reputable, and meaningful artifact to share. The Storyteller : Curation consists of weaving together the selected artifacts and then crafting a story that provides explanatory text or commentary . The goal is to communicate a message by explaining the value and relevance of the artifact in the context of the other artifacts that were chosen. The Exhibitor : Curation consists of displaying , arranging , and presenting a set of artifacts in an exhibition often by juxtaposing the artifacts in a purposeful way. The goal is to choose a particular medium or method for communicating the story in order to create a compelling experience and evoke a response. The Docent : Curation consists of community members teaching and guiding visitors through an exhibit as well as facilitating relevant discussions, reflections, and critiques . The goal here is to be the interlocutor between the artifacts in the exhibit and the viewers of the artifacts. The purpose of categorizing these curatorial activities based on these seven roles is to make the diverse activities associated with curation more distinct.
  • In the social web world, these curatorial activities are increasingly taking place in a socially-distributed way. This means that a crowd of people might engage in some of these activities based on their expertise but they may not engage in all of these activities in any particular order. The goal is to ultimately keep the artifacts and other forms of cultural heritage moving from one activity to another with the purpose of keeping it alive and having it be remembered and valued by present and future generations. The curation process explained above has primarily taken place through institutions. However, there is a tension between the existing practice of institutionally-driven curation and emerging curatorial practices taking place through online networks. I call the latter socially-distributed curation , which is an adaptation of the “socially-distributed cognition” theory (Hollan, Hutchins, and Kirsh, 2000) often used to analyze collaborative work practices by examining the interactions between people and artifacts in their work environment. I anticipate the need for a suite of tools to facilitate the seven different types of curatorial activities mentioned above but in a more socially-distributed way. Instead of one professional carrying out these seven curatorial duties, such duties could be crowdsourced through online social networks. A user may have ad hoc expertise on a particular curatorial activity, depending on their skill set and/or knowledge of the topic or event, and become one of the many users participating in the curatorial process. Furthermore, curation is an active process of engaging with and making sense of artifacts. However, many of us are passive preservers since organizing, filtering, and deleting often take too much time and effort (Van House and Churchill, 2008, p. 303). Social web services are beginning to support active participation in curatorial activities.
  • So in a networked world, we need to think about how curation is happening in new ways online. For example, with regards to the curatorial activities of a preservationist, I want to share this quote with you, which is from one of my participants…
  • So preserving digital artifacts from social media sites like Twitter might not just mean having the Library of Congress archive every tweet, which they are actually doing now. Instead, the preservation of digital information and their value is taking place by sharing it through our online social networks, such as posting it on Facebook, sharing it via email, having it indexed by Google, or socially bookmarking it. Also much of curation is about recommending what to look at and this happening more so through social applications like Twitter such as through the action of retweeting which is a way of forwarding a tweet on Twitter. So the point I want to make here is that the more digital traces there are of a particular artifact, the more likely it will stay alive and be preserved for present and future generations.
  • As I mentioned, the Library of Congress announced on April 14, 2010 that they will be archiving every public tweet from Twitter. This is in part because, “Over the years, tweets have become part of significant global events around the world – from historic elections to devastating disasters,” explains Twitter. Many of us now recognize the cultural significance of Twitter for crisis events like the protests after the Iran Elections and after the Mumbai terrorist attacks. However the problem that we all now face is helping to curate this digital content and determine what is meaningful about this large corpus of information. We are left with wondering whether it will take a historian 50 years from now to comb through all the tweets to find the significant artifacts that relate to such historical events or rather if we are the ones determining which artifacts are worthy of passing on to future generations by sharing them online right now. Over the years, tweets have become part of significant global events around the world—from historic elections to devastating disasters. The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact. This is something we firmly believe and it has driven many of our decisions regarding openness. Today we are also excited to share the news that Google has created a wonderful new way to revisit tweets related to historic events. They call it Google Replay because it lets you relive a real time search from specific moments in time. Google Replay currently only goes back a few months but eventually it will reach back to the very first Tweets ever created. Feel free to give Replay a try—if you want to understand the popular contemporaneous reaction to the retirement of Justice Stevens, the health care bill, or Justin Bieber's latest album, you can virtually time travel and replay the Tweets. The future seems bright for innovation on the Twitter platform and so it seems, does the past!
  • The second part of my research aim is to provide examples of socially-distributed curation in crises. First, I chose 7 historically significant crises that spread out over the past 40 years as case studies for my dissertation research. I present examples of social media artifacts that show socially-distributed curation in action. For this qualitative research study, I conducted document-based research by analyzing what some ethnomethodologists call “natural documents,” which “refer to various kinds of documents – texts, photographs, drawings, graffiti, whatever – that are produced as part of current societal processes...[that] are not ‘research- provoked’” (Have, 2004, p. 88). These web artifacts are documentary evidence and resources for understanding real-world curatorial issues arising from the social web. I also interviewed as well as probed (a technology design technique called cultural probes) relevant participants for this study.
  • For this presentation, I focus on examples of socially-distributed curation for three crises.
  • No computers, digital cameras, or the web when this disaster happened On the evening of December 2-3, 1984, 40 tons of lethal Methyl Isocyanate gas leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. This was the worst industrial disaster in history killing 8,000 people instantly. At least 22,000 people have since died from gas-related diseases and more than half a million are permanently injured. Although many civil and criminal lawsuits have been filed, no one has been successfully prosecuted.
  • People are increasingly learning more about historical events through sites like Wikipedia. For the 24 th and 25 th Bhopal disaster anniversary, many people began working on editing the article knowing that people often go to Wikipedia to learn about the general story about the Bhopal disaster. The Wikipedia statistics show that there are over 1000 unique contributors for the Bhopal Disaster Wikipedia article. The curatorial activity happening here is a very distributed process of crafting the story and weaving together artifacts from multiple sources. ============== Wikipedia articles are created through a collaborative process of finding credible sources and editing them into the article to explain a specific topic from multiple perspectives. For example, one participant actively involved in the Bhopal social justice campaign explains how the “Bhopal disaster” Wikipedia article currently provides a well-balanced story, particularly about what happened before the gas leak and the resulting health effects in the aftermath of the gas leak caused by Union Carbide, which is now owned by Dow Chemical. This part of the Wikipedia article was more thoroughly edited just before the 25th anniversary on December 3, 2009, when many people began revisiting this historic event. Having a representative account of this historic tragedy was particularly meaningful to social justice activists, especially when the WikiScanner site revealed in 2007 evidence that a computer linked to an IP address registered to the Dow Chemical Company deleted information in Wikipedia about the Bhopal disaster. The collaborative editing structure of wikis allows the wider public to more accurately rewrite the history of the Bhopal gas tragedy by engaging in certain types of socially-distributed curatorial activities, depending on one’s expertise (e.g., finding trusted sources discussing the health effects of the crisis, weaving together these different sources to present a more coherent story, etc.). This case study focuses on the curatorial activities of collecting, filtering, verifying, and crafting a story.
  • Focusing on the health effects draws attention to how this is still an ongoing disaster and that it is important that we have No More Bhopals by learning how to prevent these health effects from exposure to pesticides and other harmful chemicals.
  • In North America, Students for Bhopal is a network of students, professionals, activists, and partners working in solidarity with the survivors of the Bhopal disaster in their struggle for justice. An important purpose of curation is its educational component. On the Students for Bhopal site, they have an extensive section called “Learn” that brings together different sources of information and tells a more comprehensive story of the Bhopal disaster. One of the strong voices that have emerged from the disaster is the International Campaign for Justice for Bhopal (ICJB), which is a coalition of disaster survivors and environmental, social justice, progressive Indian, and human rights groups that have joined forces to hold the Indian Government and Dow Chemical Corporation accountable for the ongoing chemical disaster in Bhopal, India.
  • They are beginning to incorporate social media sites like Facebook and YouTube, which in some ways facilitates the curatorial activities of a docent, facilitating discussions about Bhopal in ways that relate to the present day.
  • Remember in 2001 email, the web, and cell phoe was beginning to be more widely used in the US. The September 11, 2001 attacks were a series of coordinated suicide attacks by 19 al-Qaeda members. Four commercial passenger jet airliners were highjacked: two planes crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, one plane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and one plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. These attacks led to the death of 2,973 people. In response to these attacks, the United States launched the War on Terrorism leading to the invasion of Afghanistan where the al-Qaeda terrorists were thought to be located.
  • Now there is this idea of a living history and discovering what some of the first events were that relate to this historical crisis. For example, this is a site called History Commons and they do not just record what happened on September 11, 2001 day. It is an attempt to collectively create a historical record of 9/11 from a wider swath of society. So this timeline contains over 6200 events related to 9/11 that look place as far back as 40 years ago. This is one of the most comprehensive timelines providing information about events proceeding, during, and after the 2001 attacks from vetted sources through a three-step peer-review process.
  • For example, what was interesting to me was that the first event that appears in the 9/11 Timeline goes as far back as 1968, which is an advert by a civic group warning that the new buildings will be too tall that a commercial airliner might crash into them.
  • Now here is one of the most recent events that appear in the 9/11 timeline on December 8, 2009. This is a TIME magazine article of an interview conducted with a CIA officer who’s job was to hunt down Osama Bin Laden and claims that Bin Laden must be dead by now.
  • So here is a screenshot of some of the ways in which History Commons categorizes the events in the 9/11 timeline. It is specifically grouping the events by time as well as by major themes related to 9/11. A History Commons staff member explained that they are curating information by putting a wide variety of vetted sources of information into a broader temporal context. So this speaks to the curatorial activities related to collecting (archivist), categorize (librarian), filtering and verifying (editor), arranging (exhibitor)
  • Lastly, I will talk about the Climate Change Crisis. I find this crisis to be particularly valuable to look at because people who talk about climate change often consider how this crisis will effect future generations, essentially our children’s lifetime. So a long-term view is increasingly a part of the climate change discussion. The climate change crisis has become a global environmental issue. Some natural hazards phenomena that are being attributed to the climate change crisis are atypical temperature changes and an increasing amount of heat waves, warm spells, droughts, heavy precipitation events, hurricanes, storm surges, and sea level rise. Although the effects are an increase in natural hazards, many claim that climate change is a human-caused disaster. People are increasingly using social technologies to make sense of climate change by working out the causes, effects, and solutions to this crisis.
  • For example, the “Global Climate Change” Flickr group administrator explains how the pool of Flickr images in the group creates a graphic story of how people interpret climate change through digital pictures. The collection of photos portrays the range of interpretations that people are making between their photos and the climate change phenomenon.
  • Here is the description of the Global Climate Change Flickr group. The admin pointed out that she was surprised at the diverse ways in which people interpreted her description of the group based on the photos that were added to this group. Some group members even told her to delete some photos that they thought did not relate to the group; however, she chose to keep most of the photos because she wanted to show the diverse ways in which people interpreted the climate change phenomenon. So in this group, there were photos of the effects of climate change like the melting of glaciers and the increase in droughts, the causes of climate changes like CO2 pollution from cars, the solutions to climate change such as renewable energy like wind power, global events around climate change like the COP 15 conference, a spoof Coca-cola advert with the CO2 statistics to promote the Network of Climate Action grassroots organization, and pictures from climate actions like the 350 movement.
  • There are also 187 discussions with topics entitled “Profiting from Climate Change,” “Putting to Sleep the Myth of Nuclear,” and “Solutions.” So this Flickr group points to the curatorial activities of collecting climate change images, preserving the pool of images online through a virtual social group, categorizing the photos via tags/keywords, and facilitating discussions.
  • So I want to reiterate here why I believe curation is a valuable concept for us right now in a networked world. Curation helps us reduce the noise and provide context. Curation helps us find important, relevant, and reliable information. Also, curation help us be a steward of our history to derive cultural meaning. Lastly, curation help us learn from history in order to strengthen our resilience to future crises.
  • What does this mean for people who care about designing technology in the crisis context There is a deliberate need for curatorial tools since such tools can help us make sense of a crisis in the immediate term as well as over time. However, the technologies we develop today for whatever parts of crises we care about could have unintended impacts. All those digital traces that get produced from the crisis technologies that you design could potentially become a part of this long-term accounting of that crisis. Everything that we are doing at this conference as it relates to digital technologies could have an impact on how we remember that crisis in the future. So, what I am trying to do is encourage you to think about the role your technologies play in crisis situations through a long-term perspective. What I hope you take away from this presentation is to think about the long-term consequences of the technologies you are designing today that effect crisis response and management in the future.
  • Questions from the Audience at the ISCRAM 2010 Conference: Q1: Jim Riley (US Air Force) – Difference between long-term curation and short-term processing for situational awareness of crisis response. Q2: (GeorgiaTech) – How accurate the information is as it gets shared and passed around. Q3: Gisli Olsoon (Microsoft) – How this model could be applied to the real-time information crisis management. Paradox of too little information and too much information. Splitting the roles up in the real-time crisis. Q4: Jeannette (consultant) – When information is taken out of the context, does that change the interpretation of that content? What privacy issues have emerged from the study of social media?
  • Curation and Crisis: Curated Crisis Content

    1. 1. Crisis and Curation: The Rise of Curated Crisis Content Sophia B. Liu Technology, Media and Society Program University of Colorado at Boulder
    2. 3. Titanic April 15, 1912
    3. 7. <ul><li>William Yeingst, September 11 Collecting Curator, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History </li></ul><ul><li>“ As curators we have great power to help shape our national memory. It’s a power that we use judiciously and openly. We have the power to determine which objects are saved and whose stories are told.” </li></ul>
    4. 8. Curation as a Profession <ul><li>“ A person who manages, administers or organizes a collection , either independently or employed by a museum, library, archive or zoo… A content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Wikipedia and Wiktionary for “curator” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ Curators direct the acquisition, storage, and exhibition of collections , including negotiating and authorizing the purchase, sale, exchange, or loan of collections. They are also responsible for authenticating, evaluating, and categorizing the specimens in a collection.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Archivists, Curators, and Museum Technicians, on the Internet at (visited April 26, 2010). </li></ul></ul>
    5. 12. Information Overload + Attention Shortage  Curatorial Dilemma
    6. 13. Research Aims in Two Parts
    7. 14. Part 1: Developing the Curation Construct in a Networked World <ul><li>Unpacked the meaning of “curation” used in the social web world as a starting point </li></ul><ul><li>Developed a theoretical construct on the notion of socially-distributed curation </li></ul><ul><li>Searched for blog posts about curation and interviewed professional and everyday curators </li></ul>
    8. 22. Working Model of Today’s Curatorial Activities
    9. 23. Find Aggregate Organize Categorize Preserve Maintain Filter Verify Weave artifacts Craft story Present Arrange Guide Discuss Store Socially-Distributed Curation Select Juxtapose Care for
    10. 24. Find Aggregate Organize Categorize Preserve Maintain Filter Verify Weave artifacts Craft story Present Arrange Guide Discuss Store Juxtapose Care for
    11. 25. <ul><li>Nate Schoman Admin for the 9/11 Truth Facebook Group </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Immediately after the WTC towers were hit, people began videotaping the news footage of the buildings falling and eyewitness accounts. It got archived and distributed and hosted in several locations. Because it was replicated thousands of times over the internet , that means you cannot erase the truth , which proved to be invaluable. Preservation of information is built into the internet as they get circulated and duplicated, quoted, reworked and formed elsewhere …they tend to take on a life of their own, they can’t disappear, can’t be erased… this archival aspect is the important part.” </li></ul></ul>
    12. 27. “ Over the years, tweets have become part of significant global events around the world— from historic elections to devastating disasters.” - Twitter
    13. 28. Part 2: Examples of Socially-Distributed Curation in Crises <ul><li>Chose 7 historically significant events over the past 40 years as case studies for my dissertation </li></ul><ul><li>Present examples of social media artifacts that show socially-distributed curation in action </li></ul><ul><li>Qualitatively analyzed ‘natural documents’ online and interviewed as well as probed relevant participants </li></ul>
    14. 29. Examples of Distributed Curation for 3 Crises
    15. 30. 1984 Bhopal Gas Leak
    16. 35. 2001 September 11 Attacks
    17. 40. Climate Change Crisis
    18. 44. The Value of Curation in the Crisis Context <ul><li>Reduce the noise and provide context </li></ul><ul><li>Find important, relevant, and reliable information </li></ul><ul><li>Be a steward of our history to derive cultural meaning </li></ul><ul><li>Learn from history in order to strengthen our resilience to future crises </li></ul>
    19. 45. Why Curation Matters to You… <ul><li>Deliberate : Need curatorial tools to help with the immediate and long-term effects of a crisis situation </li></ul><ul><li>Accidental : Be aware of the potential unintended long-term impacts and consequences of your technologies </li></ul>
    20. 46. Thank You [email_address] @sophiabliu Acknowledgements U.S. National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and Grants IIS-0546315 and IIS-0910586