Social networks, data mining, and intelligence


The uproar over the phone calls records collected by the National Security Agency to search for terrorist activity is actually a network phenomenon. Supposedly the numbers called by tens of millions of Americans have been provided by AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon to the NSA. I have no doubt that the analysis techniques used on this data were primarily network mapping, using software such as Netmap, which I described in an earlier article on social networks and intelligence applications. Searching for patterns in this data is a network analysis application, and the state of the art is pretty good now. So as long as the government (or whoever) can get sufficient data, the patterns and anomalies of your life will be evident.

Speaking at the Network Roundtable


Last Wednesday was the Network Roundtable conference at Babson College in Boston, continuing the great work since the consortium was established almost two years ago. A little while ago I wrote that organizational network analysis is going mainstream, and the conference indeed showed the maturity of this management discipline. The presentations will be available soon at the Network Roundtable website.

One of the key themes of the event was knowledge worker productivity. Both Tom Davenport of Babson College and Marshall van Alstyne of MIT discussed recent compelling research which shows unequivocally that a person’s social networks is the single most important determinant of both personal career success, and productivity inside the organization. Organizations such as Raytheon, Hill & Knowlton, and Accenture shared some of their recent advances in the field. I spoke about applying networks to sales and relationships, looking from both supplier and client perspectives, tag-teaming with Ted Smith, Senior Vice President at CNET, who went into more depth on the study which I recently completed for them on technology purchase influence networks, and how this has uncovered a whole range of new, actionable insights not possible through more traditional research processes. I also discussed some of the other studies I’m doing on client-supplier connectivity, including current work on a very large technology outsourcing relationship, which shows in detail how a large financial services organization and its primary technology services firm are connected. The day rounded out with some fun and valuable views on networks from Tiziana Casciaro on the work featured in her recent Harvard Business Review article, showing the organizational implications of the people we can recognize so readily, such as the “competent jerk”, and “lovable fool”. It’s great to see the power of the network view of organizations beginning to reach its potential.

Exploring new models for creating content


This in from Shannon Clark of MeshForum fame: A Swarm of Angels is an experiment for a new model for content creation, well worth a look. Its objective is to raise a £1 million pound movie from contributions, and freely distribute the resulting movie to 1 million people, all within one year. This creates collaborative effort, bypassing Hollywood, and allowing the outputs to be shared and remixed, by issuing it on a Creative Commons license. There’s a good chance that they’ll create something worthwhile, with their explicit intent to make a cult movie. The fund-raising model here is difficult to scale, but it can carve out a niche. The point is we need to explore new models for content creation and ownership – the experiment with this new model may uncover new possibilities that will indicate some of the many paths forward media creation will take.

Video goggles will unleash mobile video


A year or so ago I was looking around to see what was available in the way of wearable video displays (video glasses) so I could use my laptop in privacy with a massive display while I’m flying. After checking out the field (see for example this recent review) I decided to wait until there was something better available. One of the big issues has been with both head and eye comfort – these will not be used unless they really are completely comfortable and immersive. The field is now evolving quickly, including a just-announced wearable video display from an Israeli start-up Mirage Innovations, unfortunately not yet commercially available. However other offerings are coming out, including the single-eye EyeBud 800, intended for watching iPod video. I think the offerings will have to improve a little further until I’m ready to wear one for extended periods, but they should reach the right quality in the next year or two. At that point, expect to see plenty of people around wearing video goggles. Once this is commonplace, mobile video and content will be unleashed. An iPod video screen certainly has its limitations. However if you can get the equivalent of big-screen viewing wherever you go, that’s a different story. This is definitely a transformational technology in content delivery and more.

Six Facets of the Future of PR


I recently wrote an article on the future of PR that appeared in the premier March edition of Marketing magazine. The piece, titled Six Facets of the Future of PR (pdf), gives a quick view of what is driving PR today. The six facets I identify are:

1. Clients expect more

2. Media is transformed

3. Business is a conversation

4. Information flows in every dimension

5. Transparency is a given

6. Influence networks are at the heart

The article then goes on to discuss emerging opportunities for the PR profession.

The full text of the article is posted below here.

Read more

Monitoring the future


Last week I caught up with Michael Hopkins of Monitor Group. Chris Meyer, author of books such as It’s Alive, and previously Director of the Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation (CBI), came to the Monitor Group after Cap Gemini closed down the CBI, to establish Monitor Networks. Its very interesting business model includes acting as a talent broker, a rather unusual activity for a top-tier strategy consulting firm. Monitor Networks has recently set up FutureMonitor, which is an online community that brings together many people’s insights to gain perspectives on the future. There are a lot of directions this could go, including providing decision-relevant prediction markets for clients. Certainly FutureMonitor is well worth a look to gain some of the distilled perspectives from its participants – very interesting stuff.

Windows Live Launch May 10 (?) and Microsoft as an advertising company


A very reliable source tells me that Microsoft is summoning journalists from around the globe to Redmond for an announcement on Windows Live on May 10. This is clearly a significant launch, quite possibly the shift from Beta to full release products of some of the Windows Live suite of products. I strongly suspect that the launch, whatever it entails, will position Microsoft yet further as an advertising company. There have been a range of signs recently that Microsoft is reconceiving itself, and much of that shift is around advertising. Consider the following:

1. In a press release dated March 15 titled Microsoft Developing Web’s Largest Advertising Network, Microsoft describes how it is now placing advertising across not just MSN Live Search and MSN Spaces, but also Office Live (the online version of Microsoft Office). It also says it will exploit advertising opportunities in Xbox Live, IP TV, and its mobile properties.

2. After launching AdCenter, Microsoft is expected to launch ContentAds this year, which will allow its advertisers to place their ads not just on Microsoft properties, but on an array of independent sites (i.e. “contextual advertising”). The best way of understanding Google in its current form is as an advertising aggregator, placing the ads they sell on a wide variety of online and offline properties, increasingly ones they don’t own. Microsoft now seeks to be an ad aggregator too.

3. Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft is acquiring Massive, a company that inserts advertising into games, for up to $400 million. The intent is clear – Microsoft sees embedding advertising into its users’ activities as central to its strategy.

4. Within the Windows Live suite, Windows Live Expo is a classifieds site that seeks to overlay all of MSN’s functionality to create communities. The direct comparison here is with eBay, whose acquisition of Skype, nominally to provide connectivity between buyers and sellers, is mimicked by how Microsoft provides instant messaging, voice, and video connectivity to enable communities to connect and transact business.

Clearly part of all this is copying Google’s – and to a certain extent Yahoo’s – positioning. Google’s acquisition of Writely has firmly established its intentions of providing web-based office utilities, undoubtedly advertising-supported. Microsoft’s moves suggest it is considering meeting them front-on, with the possibility of some configurations of Office Live being available in free advertising-supported models. This could cannibalize its existing market, but if it doesn’t do it, others will do it. This time it is seeking to be ahead of the game. Following Google’s footsteps in much of the development of the Windows Live suite doesn’t mean Microsoft doesn’t have a bigger vision here. Microsoft could be an extremely different animal in just a year or two from now.

[Update May 5] This has now been announced as the official launch of Microsoft AdCenter, moving out of pilot mode. AdCenter is said to

“provide advertisers with a one-stop-shop experience, whether buying search, contextual or display ads across a number of Microsoft properties…. Contextual advertising testing begins on MSN in the U.S. market this summer. In addition, the following Microsoft properties are preparing to launch ads in the near future: Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Spaces, Windows Live Safety Center, Windows Live for Mobile, Office Live and Office Online, and the Xbox® Web site”

Launching Future Exploration Network


I have just established a new organization, Future Exploration Network, which will be the home for a lot of the work I do from now on. This is very exciting for me – the culmination of over 10 years of developing my thinking on business models and creating value for clients. The firm will focus on helping clients think about the long-term future, and what that means for strategy and actions today – this has been a significant piece of my work over the last eight years, particularly applying scenario planning methodologies in new ways. For this venture I’ve teamed up with Richard Watson, who is a fabulous trend-watcher and thinker. While a lot of his work is in driving the trend-watching group Now and Next, he’s also established organizations such as Global Innovation Network and Free Thinking. We’ve worked together on a number of projects, including a major scenario planning project for a large bank, and found that our skills are very complementary. Richard helps people stretch their thinking into new places, while I help take the insights we uncover to build pragmatic strategies. However the core of the model is moving beyond us and our support team to draw on global best-of-breed thinkers to deliver projects for clients. Together we can access many of the top people around the world, tapping our networks to create unique services. Rather than trying to cover all issues, we are focusing on four key themes: the future of global business, the future of technology, the future of media, and the future of financial services. Obviously meaty topics, but ones we have spent a lot of time on over the years. I’ll act as chairman of the new organization, as we build it over time, and continue to use my existing firm Advanced Human Technologies for some of my more traditional consulting work. We intend to generate a lot of interesting content along the way, so a fair bit of our work will be visible – I’ll keep you posted. Content includes a Future Exploration blog that includes posts from myself, Richard, and others, so this is likely to become a good one-stop shop for views on the future, especially – for now – on media. I’ll post about our initial venture on the future of media soon.

The raw data of the global network economy


For some time now I (and quite a few others) have been talking about the “global network economy”. The best way to understand the way the global economy is in considering the global networks of flows of goods, services, money, people, entertainment, aid, and ideas. Now Professor Miguel Centeno of Princeton University has taken the concept deeper, using network analysis methodologies to study globalization. He has set up the International Networks Archive, which has a fabulous array of data on globalization from a network perspective, much of it in Excel format for those who like going to source for their data and analysis. This is a fantastic resource, and I certainly intend to play around with some of the data available here. Prof Centeno is now using the network analysis and visualization software Netmap (which I’ve previously written about in its intelligence applications) to bring the data to life. Part of the things that you can pick out far more easily in this network-centric view of the world is the interdependencies of the world. Simplistic views of say US and China relationships dissolve in the far more complex global networks in which single relationships are set. These are great tools for politicians, activists, and anyone else seeking to really understand the nature of our inextricably interrelated economic existence.

MeshForum 2006: Connecting networks


If you’re interested in any aspects of networks, definitely check out the MeshForum 2006 conference, which is coming up on May 7-9 in San Francisco. I ran a Living Networks Forum session at the inaugural MeshForum last year in Chicago. It ws a fabulous event, with great people who are involved in many aspects of networks, and lots of interaction, including of course my Living Networks session. During the conference I discovered a whole range of very exciting work being done in networks. MeshForum is driven by Shannon Clark, a highly energetic believer in networks, who has recently made the shift to the Bay Area from Chicago, and a group of other kindred spirits. MeshForum is described as “a conference on Networks – bringing together an interdisciplinary mix of academics, artists, business leaders and government experts for three days of learning and collaboration. Our mission is to foster the overall study of networks – across fields of industry and academia.” Some of the highlights of the conference are a focus on visualization, presentations by bloggers (and now authors) extraordinaire Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, and an array of content on networks political, social, transportational, technological, philanthropic, artistic, and more. Highly recommended.