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University of Washington student wins Facebook Fellowship

A University of Washington student is one of just a dozen from across the country to be chosen for a very coveted “Facebook Fellowship.”

Jeff Huang is a 26-year-old PhD student with just over a year left to earn the degree. His thesis relates to using mouse movements to improve online search results.

It is an idea that has Facebook so excited they are going to pay for his next year at the university and give him some cash to put in the bank.

Jeff says there has been a lot of research on the best way to set up a search engine, so he thinks the Google model is here to stay. What can be improved is the list of results that pop up.

“I’m going beyond just click data and I’m looking at how people are moving their mouse, how they’re scrolling on the page, what they hover over, what they open in new tabs or how they highlight the text on the page. All that information can also be fed back into the search engine to make it better,” says Jeff.

Even your absent-minded hovering can tell them a lot about what you meant when you searched for “Justin Bieber.”

Jeff says, “It depends on what rank it is. So, if it’s actually, like, first or second ranked results if they hover over it and then they leave…that actually means they’re not interested in it. But the ones on the bottom of the page if they hovered over it and they move away then, actually, it is a signal that they were interested in it.”

All this clearly applies to search engines, but you might be wondering why Facebook is taking an interest. Well, just like every web business they want to improve your experience so you keep coming back.

Jeff has been using Facebook since it was first introduced. He has watched the evolution of the site from a phone directory to a way of keeping tabs on friends. Now, he says, they are facing a new evolution and a new dilemma: how to deal with the blurring line between work and home life online.

“A lot of social networks are trying to address this problem, like with Google-Plus they implemented circles. So, you can have circles that show different things to different people. I think Facebook blurs it a little, though, because now there are people that might be your schoolmates that might also be your friends that might become your employer later,” Jeff says.

As far as technology in general, Jeff expects the next big leap to be toward voice technology. He says it will never completely replace your keyboard, but when your hands are busy being able to speak your commands is an idea already being adopted through applications like Dragon.

And, Jeff has a little advice for you. Whether you are looking for a job or just trying to keep your name top of mind in your industry, being on Linked-In and posting your resume to Career Builder just isn’t enough anymore. Jeff says he and most other PhD students have their own websites.

“It makes you a lot more marketable when people are searching for a specific topic. They can find your work, or they find projects you’ve been working on, and it links back to your page,” Jeff says.

It’s all about marketing yourself and making your own brand identity. And when you’re creating that brand don’t forget to use the right key words that will ensure your web page pops up the next time somebody in the corner office Google’s for the industry’s next rising star.

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