The topic of the moment seems to be where Google is going, with many touting it as a Microsoft-killer. (See Robert Cringely’s recent article as an interesting take on this and broader issues…). Given my interests, it is particulary interesting to see that Google is buying Dodgeball. This very interesting social software company came out of a class run by Clay Shirky at New York University. Clay’s take on the deal is here. In short, Dodgeball is a mobile service that allows friends and friends of friends to meet up at bars and parties on the move, finding where the action is at any particular time. Google has already tried its hand in the social software space with Orkut. Now it is moving into the mobile social software (sometimes called MoSoSo) space, which is absolutely a step beyond its web-based core. On one level, Google clearly is not averse to picking up lots of interesting companies and ideas and seeing what happens with them, and Dodgeball is hardly a big acquisition for them. However if Google continues to develop these strands of its business, then its increasing propensity to social software and networks could represent the emergence of what may be something far beyond a glorified search engine
In one of those cases in which there is a whole world of implications behind a seemingly small news item, an article in the Financial Times recently stated that banks are in danger of insider trading by sharing information inside the bank on credit derivatives. Trading in credit default swaps (which are essentially financial instruments that represent the credit risk of corporate borrowers) has always being done based on the privileged knowledge that banks have of their clients. Now banks are being told that if they want to trade these instruments, the parts of the bank that know their corporate debt clients well, can’t talk to the parts of the bank that trade these instruments. In the first instance, given that this development represents a broad, long-term trend to regulation on similar issues, this suggests that diversified financial institutions – which are based substantially on sharing knowledge between their operating divisions – may have far less justification for existence than in the past.
In the context of the issues addressed by the Collaboration in Financial Services Europe conference I am chairing in London this June, this has crystallized some of my thinking about the future of collaboration. In a nutshell… Every organization is experiencing the imperative of collaboration. To survive, we must enable information flows and collaborative work. At the same time, there are many ways in which we must disable communication and information flows, inside and outside the company. This is particularly pointed in financial services, with old and new regulations constraining who can share information, from investment banking and research, to lending and trading. However similar dynamics apply to companies in every industry in that they both have to actively share information, and also have constraints from intellectual property, privacy, regulation etc., in how they work both internally, as well as with suppliers, clients, and other external partners. This tension between encouraging and constraining collaboration and information flows will be central to the evolution of organizations over the next years and decades. More on the Collaboration in Financial Services conference soon – this will be drilling down into detail on some of the leading initiatives in collaboration the financial services sector in Europe – there are some very exciting developments.
Continuing the live conference blog…Valdis Krebs of Inflow talked about the many types of real-life networks that can be analyzed, including studying cow disease contagion by which cows tend to hang out together as they eat, and the vast array of companies that Apple has brought together to create the iPod. His colleague Eszter Hargittai has researched liberal and conservative blogs in the US, and found – unsurprisingly – that they are as deeply divided as the US population seems to be. I then ran a Living Networks Forum, in which I first presented the ideas of the living networks, how we participate in the emerging global brain, and how collaborative filtering is enabling us to access the most stimulating, top-of-mind information and ideas of our collective consciousness. We then used a live Wiki, so everyone in the audience could contribute to the screen what they wanted to discuss with others at the conference. This led onto us selecting four topics – finding expertise, collaboration, identity and mobility, and network science – that groups gathered to discuss, explore, and create valuable connections between people and ideas. This is being followed by a conversation (as I write) between Esther Dyson, Edward Vielmetti of SocialText on social networks, looking at Flickr, which allows us to share photos with our friends, and many other spaces. A key theme being discussed is the evolving nature of personal networks. Esther believes that the technology is reducing friction in our relationships with our friends. However it also reduces friction in our relationships with those who are not our friends, so we need to create new conventions to contain our online relationships. This is a critical aspect of how our identities will evolve as social software enables us to relate more richly with those we choose to.
Some live impressions as I sit in the extremely interesting MeshForum 2005, blogging on the local WiFi network. Currently watching a video by the founder of the Yellow Arrow Project – an extremely cool global project that is a kind of collaborative filtering – people use yellow arrows to point out what’s worth looking at, and the arrows have codes that allow people to share their comments via mobile networks. Counts Media, the company behind the project, among many other interesting things does “mixed reality” gaming, which brings together real-life and online worlds. The conference kicked off with Dr Anna Nagurney, who works at UMass on Supernetworks, which is the science of how different types of networks relate at a higher level. An example is the choices that people make on telecommuting or physical commuting, that bring together both communication networks and transportation networks. These approaches are being applied across digital, transport, social, financial, migration and many other kinds of networks.