"Friending" your way thin

If you want to lose pounds using an online weight management program, don’t be a wallflower. A new Northwestern University study shows that online dieters with high social embeddedness — who logged in regularly, recorded their weigh-ins and ‘friended’ other members — lost more than 8 percent of their body weight in six months.

The less users interacted in the community, the less weight they lost, the study found.

“Our findings suggest that people can do very well at losing weight with minimal professional help when they become centrally connected to others on the same weight loss journey,” said Bonnie Spring, an author of the study and professor in preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The study, published January 28th in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, is the first to use data from an online weight management program to investigate social network variables and reveal which aspects of online social connectedness most strongly promote weight loss.


Assessing the significance of cultural works

Don’t rely on the Academy Awards next month if you are seeking to know whether the movies deemed great today will survive the test of time.

According to a new Northwestern University study, the best predictor of a movie’s significance is how often a movie is referenced by other movies. In other words, a movie’s significance is decided by today’s and tomorrow’s film directors — not the critics.

“Movie critics can be overconfident in spotting important works, and they have bias,” said Luís Amaral, the leader of the study and co-director the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems. “Our method is as objective as it gets.”


Peer-to-Peer User Behavior

Peer-to-peer file sharing of movies, television shows, music, books and other files over the Internet has grown rapidly worldwide as an alternative approach for people to get the digital content they want—often illicitly. But, unlike the users of Amazon, Netflix and other commercial providers, little is known about users of peer-to-peer (P2P) systems because data is lacking.

Now, armed with an unprecedented amount of data on users of BitTorrent, a popular file-sharing system, a Northwestern University research team has discovered two interesting behavior patterns: most BitTorrent users are content specialists—sharing music but not movies, for example; and users in countries with similar economies tend to download similar types of content—those living in poorer countries such as Lithuania and Spain, for example, download primarily large files, such as movies.