The Rise of Social Networking Technologies: video and references

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I recently gave a brief, casual presentation on The Rise of Social Networking Technologies to a very interesting group of technology innovation professionals in Sydney called Innovation Bay. A video of my presentation is at http://www.viocorp.com/clients/innovationbay.

I prepared a crib sheet for those attending the talk, as below, giving a few references and thoughts on this space….

What defines this space is that it taps existing connections between people – our “six degrees of separation” – to form new, useful direct connections.

Selected Social Networking Technologies

Social/ dating/ politics

Friendster

Tribe.net

Orkut

I Stand For

Professional

LinkedIn

Ecademy

Ryze

ZeroDegrees.com

Corporate

Spoke

Visible Path

Matcheroo

Related applications

Jobs: Monster.com

CRM: Interaction

Search: Eurekster

Content: LinkSV

Microsoft Research: Wallop

Event technologies

nTag

SpotMe

PowerMingle

CRG

Intro

Business models

Subscription

Subscription for higher-level functionality

Pay per request

Link to classifieds

Targeted advertising

Enterprise implementation

Suggested references

Stanford Business School Alumni Social Networking Panel video

Stowe Boyd’s weblog (see especially under Recent Publications)

Friend of a Friend (FOAF)

Later I’ll post some thoughts on where this whole space is going, including industry consolidation, user growth, business models, reputation systems, collaborative filtering, learning on demand, and more. Plenty has already been said on the current primary issues of privacy and extending trust through networks, not that these are close to being resolved…

Media jamming in the presidential election

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Howard Dean’s post-Iowa primary “yeagh!” is now famous. This has provided the opportunity for musicians (and geeks) to rework and remix his speech to music. At last count there were 45 remixes available for discerning political pundits. All it took was one person to come up with the idea to do a remix of Dean’s speech, plenty more jumped on board, and it became a media phenomenon.

This is a fantastic illustration of what I call “media jamming”: taking media and playing with it, improvising variations and twists, then feeding it back into the media system. We can now all participate in the whole media infrastructure by how we rework and reinterpret what flows, building it into a ever-evolving feedback loop instead of simply a one-to-many broadcast system.

The other great example of this recently was when Cherie Blair sang the Beatles tune “When I’m 64” in response to demands for a song at a Chinese press conference, and it was remixed as an Ibizadance hit. Her song was also rumored to be available as a mobile ringtone.

These are some early and evident examples of what will develop into an entire world of media jamming. This promises lots of fun in store!

Living Networks Forum debrief

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The Living Networks Forum in New York the other day was great fun and went extremely well. Both anecdotal and formal feedback was excellent. The official commentary on the event is here. When you’re trying something new, you never know quite how it will work until it happens, but the reality was a very good match with my original vision. The core concept was creating connections between people and ideas at the event, and that’s exactly what happened in a very rich fashion. In the end the way in which we created serendipitous connections at this event was more based on innovative facilitation processes than technology, however in future events the technology will gradually be integrated to take this “enhanced serendipity” to the next levels.

The major sectors respresented at the Forum—because of the location and the representation of both my and Business Development Institute’s core communities—were professional services, financial services, and technology. All these sectors are grappling with similar issues in the event’s core themes of developing client relationships, enhancing collaboration, and creating partnerships, so the cross-pollination was invaluable for participants. We began the session with a space-based facilitation process, in which people position themselves in a room according to their relative interests in key themes, enabling immediate connections with people with similar profiles. For each of the themes we had a brief presentation of core material, and then demonstrations, syndicate group discussions, and break-out exercises. All of the groups for both syndicate discussions and exploring potential partnerships were carefully designed around participants’ profiles. In this way the connections were not “engineered,” but facilitated. Before lunch we played a game between teams based on game theory, which was used to explore some of the dynamics of trust development over time. Much hilarity and some confusion here—it went well but perhaps a little redesign required for next time.

The overriding theme of how technology can enhance personal and organizational networks drove much of the very tangible excitement at the event. While by this time most attendees had come across the concept of social software and some of its implications, being able to see and experience the technologies helped to bring to life how these can be applied in business. Earlier in the week I’d been to the Christmas party of SDForum—the leading Silicon Valley technology networking organization—where the interest in social software was immense.

The social software space is hot, Hot, HOT! I frame what is currently happening as phase two. Phase one began with the now defunct sixdegrees.com and a couple of similar initiatives. After a lull and some nascent initiatives last year, this year has seen the space take off big time. Living Networks Forum gold sponsor Spoke Software has recently secured another $11.7 million in funding. Business is waking up to the fact that not only is this a new technology sector with strong promise—because of its ability to create value—but also that these technologies could transform how businesspeople communicate, form relationships, and develop trust. I’ll be writing a lot more about this later—this is a seriously important topic.

Perhaps not surprisingly, both Business Development Institute and myself have had numerous enquiries since the Forum about designing and running innovative events. There is an increasing recognition that it really is possible to create conferences and events that are far more valuable to participants than what we usually experience, by carefully designing for rich sharing of knowledge and ideas and forming connections in valuable ways, fully integrated with novel and useful content. We’ll probably run at least one other public Living Networks Forum somewhere in the US next year, however it seems as if more of the demand will be for creating similar events for professional associations, user groups, vendors, and inside organizations that need to create richer connections and exchanges between divisions and locations.

Microsoft toys with social software

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Avid watchers of the “social software” scene have been galvanized by Microsoft’s recent announcement that one of its research teams has developed the core of a product called “MyWallop”. Screenshots show that the software would allow people to map their social networks and personal similarities between people in their network, as well as to blog.

In the last 18 months a multitude of social software applications have blossomed, including Ryze, LinkedIn, ZeroDegrees, Spoke Software, and many others. If Microsoft entered this market, it’s an open question whether it would swamp or stimulate existing efforts. Either way, there’s no question that its imprimatur on this type of software – and its distribution power – would mean that there would be massive uptake and usage. This in turn would allow the true potential of social software to emerge. The more people that are connected with this software, the more it allows the networks to become visible, and for people to become connected in new and useful ways. In short, it would be a massive boost in bringing the networks to life.

All the hype aside, this is one of many dozens of research projects that Microsoft runs, all vying for attention and resources, so there’s no guarantee anything will happen with this. However the attention this is getting – at least with the people I speak with – may well prompt Microsoft to put this higher up their list of priorities.

Experience the Living Networks in New York!

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Since I wrote Living Networks, I’ve dreamed of creating an event that would literally bring the book to life, to allow people to experience personally the power of the networks and the implications for business. The first of what I hope will be a whole series of events – the BDI Living Networks Forum – will be held in New York City on December 4th, 2003. I have the perfect partner for this – the Business Development Institute, which combines a fantastic network of network-minded individuals and organizations with innovative business development services.

In the agenda you’ll see that the event is focused on creating interaction and what I call “enhanced serendipity” between participants. Using Spoke Software we will show participants their “relationship path strength” with all other attendees, and with any other individual, who they know in common. Litéra collaboration software will be used as a platform for showing participants how to implement collaboration effectively in and across organizations.

We have some great supporters, and there’ll be some awesome people along. Nothing like this has been done before, so I’ll let you know some of what we learn at the event. Or of course would be fantastic to meet you there!

I believe that events that use emerging social network technologies and effective design of participant interaction will over time become the norm. Hopefully “talking-head” conferences will die a natural death very soon. Events that apply living networks ideas will create immense value in bringing the right people together to create and share knowlege, ideas, and relationships. Be there at the birth of something big!

Help me find the music I like!

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Apologies to all my readers – it’s been way too long since I posted here. I’ve been frantically busy and on the road, but these are no excuses. I resolve to do better, and have no shortage of interesting stuff to write after my recent travels, so here we go…

“Collaborative filtering” – systems that allow us to collaborate with others to find what is relevant to us in a world awash with information – will rapidly become central to our lives, whether or not this is visible to us. One of the best single implementations I’ve seen is Last.FM, a personalized online radio station. It builds a profile of your preferences based on your nomination of your favorite artists, albums, tracks, and music labels, as well as what you choose to listen to. When Last.FM is playing on your desktop, you can either let it run if you like what it’s playing, or if you don’t like the song you can press skip to go immediately to the next one, or let the system know you love or hate a particular song if you wish. As it builds an increasingly accurate profile of what you like and don’t like, it can identify other individuals with similar musical taste to you, and play you what they like. In this way you both hear what the music you like, and get to hear new music you like that you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. There’s an article on Last.FM on Wired News that got it a lot of attention at the time.

Investment banks lead the charge on Instant Messaging

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I opened Living Networks with the examples of Macromedia using blogging to get messages out to its developer community, and the institutional bond market on Wall Street using instant messaging to enhance information flows. Stowe Boyd has written a very interesting piece on financial markets instant messaging (IM) in his publication Message, looking at some of the drivers of adoption, and incorporating an interview with the co-chair of the Financial Services Instant Messaging Association (FIMA).

There are a whole suite of interesting issues here. One is simply how the investment banks have become enormously more collaborative over the last five years, largely as a result of technology drivers. When I speak about how very high levels of collaboration are becoming mainstream in business today—even in intensely competitive industries—one of the most convincing examples to many is how the notoriously aggressive investment banking community is now working closely together on a whole variety of issues.

A key interest for me in the adoption of instant messaging is how it changes buy-side – sell-side (client-supplier) relationships. The commoditization of information and research means that increasingly the value to fund managers of interacting with financial market salespeople is in “knowledge-based” interactions, in which they gain highly relevant knoweldge and perspectives that integrate into their portfolio decision-making, rather than generic information. A good example of this is CSFB’s Locus product, that enables salespeople and fund managers to look at the same analytics screen on possible trades, and to jointly play with assumptions to make them relevant to the client’s portfolios, and provide a basis for useful discussion of risk and return parameters. Thomson Financial—having bought WorldStreet just in time for me to update the coverage in my book—has integrated it into its Connect product, which provides a peer-to-peer XML-based platform for customization and filtering of content delivery. All of these new tools shift the client-supplier relationship, and force the development of new skills, processes, and strategies for the investment banks.

Another interesting angle is that while SMS has played a major role in changing interpersonal communication in Europe and Asia, IM has played a similar role in the US. IM still has low adoption outside the US, just as SMS is only picking up in America now. Different levels of familiarity with these emerging communication technologies affect how they are being integrated into business applications. However all around the world, it’s good to see that investment bankers are leading the charge in taking instant messaging out from teenage girls’ bedrooms into the world of business.

Distributed souls

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For something completely different (or is it?), I’ve had an extraordinary confluence of conversations lately about where to live and where we belong. I am Australian, the city which I love the most and where I feel most at home is certainly Sydney, yet I’ve lived overseas for over half my life in a wide variety of countries, speak five languages, feel at home many cities and cultures, and travel a large proportion of the time. Many of the people I know and interact with live similarly distributed lives, with affiliations in many places. Like me, wherever they are in the world, the majority of their friends are in a distant country.

One of the key questions as you grow older is where to live. If there is a conflict between what career and personal relationships suggest, how do you play it? It’s a nice idea to split your time between countries, but the reality is it means you are not settled anywhere. Somehow it seems that almost the majority of conversations I’ve had for the last months (not coincidentally which I’ve spent largely on the road) have been about where we choose to live. I’ve decided that in many cases there is no possible resolution – we remain torn as people.

In his latest book Pattern Recognition, William Gibson describes jetlag as moving so fast that our souls are left behind, and we must wait until they can catch up with us. Perhaps those that have created deep connections in many parts of the planet have distributed souls. Wherever they are, part of their soul is somewhere else. We are moving swiftly forward into an intensely mobile, networked world. As humans adapt to living in the living networks, I believe that powerful existential issues will emerge further into our shared consciousness. The landscape will evolve as increasing bandwidth allows richer communication, but there will never be a substitute for being in the same place as people we care for, and we must make choices about where we live. More and more people will find themselves grappling with living with a distributed soul.

The evolution of legal services

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I gave the keynote address at LegalTech LA on Tuesday, conveying to the delegates my vision of “Leading Your Clients in the Connected Economy,” in the delightful retro-kitsch setting of the Westin Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles. The legal community—at least recently—has being fairly good on implementing information technologies, which is only natural given how information and knowledge-centric they are. However it is another substantial leap for them to extend these kinds of systems to their clients. Encouragingly, several of the leading software platforms being touted at the exhibition offer capabilities to create client extranets easily and simply. These are often just ways of making documents and billing visible to clients—which is an important step—but are well shy of allowing workflow to be integrated into the clients’ processes—which is where this is all going. Ready-to-roll customized client extranets are now available in a number of firms. The Chief Technology Officer of one of the leading West Coast law firms told me he asked at an internal conference of all their litigation attorneys how many had created extranets for clients, and was amazed to find out that 85% had done so. No arm twisting involved.

One of the key questions is to what degree clients will drive the shift to providing online legal services and transparency. At the moment these demands are coming primarily from the most sophisticated Fortune 100 companies, however the scope is gradually broadening. There is a widely held view in the global legal community that the UK law firms—and in some cases even Australian ones—are ahead of US firms in implementing knowledge management and online services. My perception is that this is not because clients in these regions are more demanding, but that the law firms are being more innovative, and arguably the benefits of this can already be seen. Law is one of the most conservative professions, not least because the partnership structure (especially as implemented in law firms as opposed to the slightly more corporatized large audit firms) is very difficult to shift. I believe that the next 5-10 years will bring substantial change in the legal industry, and what clients expect in terms of service delivery. Those firms that do not fundamentally shift how they work with their clients will find it increasingly tough going.

Creating the infrastructure for the trusted networks

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I had lunch earlier this week with Stuart Henshall in San Francisco, and we had a delightful wide-ranging discussion on topics of common interest. We’ve known each other for a good few years through scenario planning, and have a similar vision for the future of personal online networks. Stuart focuses on—among many other very interesting issues including consumer rights—trust in building networks. His vision is of a world in which everyone has their profile online, and shares both their profile and their personal connections selectively with trusted contacts. Sixdegrees.com was the first major online player in this space. I intended to write about it in Living Networks, but it went the way of all things in January 2001. The current top players in this space are Ryze.com and ecademy. However effective trust systems are essential for these public online networks to work. In the first instance we need to be able to create layers around how much of the information about our personal contacts we want to share. Intermediating software can help, for example by identifying in a secure system the contacts we share. For example, Stuart and I estimated we would share 20-30 people in our email address books, but we don’t know who all of those people are. On the next level, if we can create software that enables people to draw on their personal contacts’ perception of others’ trustworthiness, this will enable us to more readily expand our own personal networks in useful ways. These kinds of systems can be implemented either in a global context, or inside or across organisations.

One of the key issues which comes up for me is how we are going to get there. Creating a highly functional system that enables us to see and expand our global personal networks is a fabulous vision, which I dearly hope will come to fruition, but it is likely to take a long time and there is a risk it will never happen. In the first instance, as I write in Living Networks, people need to build evolutionary business models, that can make money in creating the first steps of this vision, and easily morph into new models as the context moves on. The other key issue is standards. As in many domains, whoever “controls” this extraordinarly valuable space of personal connections can create—and extract—enormous value, and thus there will be plenty of competition to be the winner. If there are standard information definitions and interfaces between competing systems, this fragmentation can be avoided. Ultimately, if the vision is realized, it will most likely be driven by an open source initiative, which means there is usually less commercial value to be extracted. There’s a long way to go yet in creating a system that will allow everyone to see exactly how they are connected in the global networks. I’ll try keep you posted along the way.