Tag Archive | "networks"

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IBM Knows How To Monetize Your Friends


IBM researcher Ching Yun Lin gave an interesting talk about the monetary value of having friends today at Web 2.0 Expo in New York. IBM is a gigantic company with thousands of people – mobile, global, and moving around. How do you find the right person to answer a unique question or problem? How does one unlock the power of existing social networks? Where within networks does knowledge actually reside?

I can’t hope to summarize the talk, injected with math and graphics and jargon as it was. But here’s the big takeaway: Your friends are worth money to your organization. Somehow, IBM scientists have not only determined that network size is positively correlated with performance, they also somehow know that every email in an address book is worth 948 dollars!

Researchers also found that stuctural diverse networks within which few people are connected are correlated with higher performance, and that having strong social links to managers also was positively correlated with performance. Some of the research information should be available here: http://smallblue.research.ibm.com

To me, this is really cool because I am an advocate of social networking as a positive influence on the workplace, even if such networking is not strictly work-related. IBM seems to have data that back up my more anecdotal and street-smart notions about this, which I’ve been speaking about lately under the guide of “Social Networking: The Two Dirtiest Words in Government 2.0” – and I will continue to do so!

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The Latest Twitter Charity-For-Followers Scam


Ben Parr, a co-editor of Mashable, tonight became the latest in a series of indistinguished charity-for-followers scam artists on Twitter. Here’s a recent tweet of his:

“I’ve decided that I’m going to donate 10,000 pennies ($100) to charity, one chosen by whoever is my 10,000th follower.”

This charity scam is disingenuous for three reasons. First, why develop a person marketing campaign in order to get $100 into a charity’s hands? Give privately and thoughtfully like so many others. There’s no useful need to advertise. Second, why benefit personally? The notion of not giving $100 to charity without getting something (followers) in return is selfish. Why not just give money to the best crowdsourced charity idea from current followers?

Third, why not get others involved? Rather than follow Ben Parr, why not have them follow the benefiting charity? Then, money is given and new followers are involved in the charity’s story – not Ben Parr’s. Selfish social scams suck. And there are enough bad actors giving social media tools a bad name without getting charities all wrapped up in a nice story that amounts to just another way to inflate influence scores. People may argue that this is just hunky-dory – at least a charity is getting money! – but style points count too. Ben Parr and your social media charity scam brethren: Get off the charity runway.

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Georgetown Professor Mike Nelson on Government Collective Intelligence at the ELC09 Conference


At the ACT/IAC Executive Leadership Conference (ELC) in Williamsburg, VA today, I got to hear from Mike Nelson, who’s a Visiting Professor of Internet Studies at Georgetown University. He spoke on a panel within the ELC “Innovation” track, and made what I thought was a great case for government innovating with social networking tools. [You may recall that I've previously written about how social networking is the underlying key to collaboration.]  The following is paraphrasing of Prof. Nelson’s thoughts.

We are drowning in a sea of information. In the future we will be encountering 50X as much information as we have now, and we’re already maxed out. How do we find the right piece of information, quickly, in any given future situation? The solution is, in essence, taking advantage of collective intelligence and using social tools to help share the best information with the people that need it. Working together helps to form a “group brain” that is a different paradigm than how we normally think about individualism and workflow. [My side note: How do we individually incentivize group thought?]

What’s the killer app for collective intelligence? This will change in the future, but right now it’s basically Facebook and Twitter, which can act as a powerful aggregation and filtering mechanism for finding the right information at the right time. Self-organizing systems of collective intelligence, as evidenced by organizations like IBM, are one part of solving the “collective intelligence problem.”

This quick post oversimplifies but hits the main points. It should also put Mike Nelson on your radar if he’s not already. Find out more about him here.

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The Five-Minute Citizen Engagement Plan


Ben Huh is an expert on audience engagement who’s best known for creating a platform where people can post photos of cute cats and funny captions. If you’re wondering what this has to do with the government and information technology, don’t worry — until recently, I didn’t understand either. But as I’ve spent time thinking about what citizen engagement means, I’ve become convinced that Huh might be on to something.

Huh’s company is named Cheezburger Networks, and its goal is to “make people happy for five minutes a day.” Not only does its Web sites have more than 11 million monthly visitors and more than 10,000 daily submissions, the commentary level in some cases rivals the number of votes cast in congressional elections. People undeniably enjoy participating because it’s fun and engaging.

So why doesn’t a federal agency have the informal goal of, say, “helping students learn for five minutes a day” or “teaching Americans about foreign policy for five minutes a day” by creating something equally fun and engaging?

Cheezburger Networks makes participation simple. There is a low barrier to entry for participation on its sites, and indeed, when prompted at a question-and-answer session held recently at Google’s Washington offices, Huh suggested that combining participation with humor could make the government more engaging. However, there’s definitely resistance to that idea.

When chatting with another attendee immediately after the event, I received feedback to the effect of “that’s not the government’s job.” What, being interesting? I’d like someone to show me the rule that says the government can’t use some engaging, tasteful humor to engage citizens and, in the process, convey information. The Forest Service still has SmokeyBear.com, after all.

True, a Web site like ICanHasCheezburger.com might be too far outside the box for the government. But what about another popular Cheezburger Networks site, GraphJam.com? GraphJam is a fascinating Web site that consists entirely of user-generated graphs like you’d make using data in Microsoft Excel — except they’re hilarious. The site lets you upload your own files and even has a proprietary chart builder for pie charts, Venn diagrams and so forth. Some graphs certainly take liberties with the facts, but they’re primarily fun and informative.

The government has so much data that it often can’t see novel applications for it. Engaging Web sites where people could create simple visual interpretations of government data and submit them for others to learn from, discuss and, yes, even be amused would be valuable. Why does all government data have to be treated so seriously? Does portraying it in a boring fashion somehow make it seem more important?

The key to building big, fun communities that can accomplish something useful is making it simple to belong and get involved. Narrowing the number of variables involved in the decision process to initially getting involved is critical to drawing people in. I wonder what people could collectively accomplish if they voluntarily engaged with government data for five minutes a day.

This post originally appeared at Federal Computer Week.

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Why Posterous Is a Smart Tool For Informal Government Blogging


For a few weeks, I’ve been testing a tool called Posterous, and I’ve come to like it a lot. You can see my account here. If you’re not familiar with Posterous, it is essentially a very simple blogging platform. It may in fact be the most simple one; yet it is very feature-laden. And it has one relatively unique feature that could make it the most powerful tool for informal blogging by government employees.

That simple, amazing, singular feature is email as a primary interface. In other words, you can post blogs simply by emailing post@posterous.com or a similar address – you don’t even need an “account” or a “login” or a “password.” Even in the private sector, this is considered a cool feature. But for government employees, it could be a breath of life in an otherwise locked-down state of cybersecurity affairs.

You see, many government computer systems block domains like YouTube.com, Facebook.com, Twitter.com, and so forth. There’s a current debate about the degree to which government employees can access such sites because of cybersecurity and other reasonable concerns – after all, there have been some very recent instances of bad things being passed through these social media tools and onto your computer. But when you can interact with a blogging platform through email – and in principle even through your official government email account accessed through a traditional program like Microsoft Outlook – you can get the functionality without the risk, and without needing permission from the IT shop.

As information is more decentralized and as more computing is done on mobile devices, quickly communicating information will be more commonplace – and more in demand by consumers of it. So to citizens, government content will still be king, but the speed at which it travels to them may be queen. And being able to blog on-the-go can increase that speed. Recently I’ve experimented with blogging while walking eight blocks to a date, blogging incredibly fast in reaction to breaking news, and blogging during a conference and posting my “journalism-style” article precisely at the end of a talk. There are innumerable other tactical applications of this tool.

Posterous has a lot of great features that I like. Perhaps most important among them is that links to the content you post can be instantly pushed to other social services like Twitter and Facebook – even if they’re blocked in your office. Another great feature is that if you attach photos, videos, or documents to your email, Posterous automatically embeds them in your blog – and will also push them to services like Flickr, YouTube, and Scribd (which may also be blocked in your government office). Still another great feature is that multiple people from multiple email addresses can contribute to one Posterous page (say, for an office), and conversely one email can be associated with multiple Posterous pages (say, a formal public affairs page, and an informal tech thoughts page). In brief, you can be very powerful from your BlackBerry.

Posterous has been described by a Mashable writer as “unremarkable,” but frankly, that’s what a lot of government employees are interested in. The government has a lot of outstanding content, and their primary mission in many cases is to get it out; customizing the blog theme is definitely secondary. A standardized, simple blog platform controlled through email sounds like just what the doctor ordered, and it offers numerous advantages over something more complicated like WordPress; for example, it’s easier to teach people how to use! Oh, and did I mention it’s free?

Posterous would probably love it if people in the government wanted to jump on this bandwagon in a more official manner, too. If I understand the numbers correctly, Posterous currently only has about one million unique visitors a month – total. The U.S. Government has more employees than that. I’m not picking on Posterous – it’s only been available since June 2008 and has some tough competition in the blog platform world – but my guess is that they’d be very willing to work with the General Services Administration and other appropriate people (as have companies like YouTube) to make Posterous work with official government interests and missions. And the same goes for local and state government employees too, who often deal with IT situations similar to those of their Fed counterparts.

Many agencies are working on social media policies and guidelines for employees, and education and training are no doubt part of successful use of tools like blogs by government employees. But assuming that people are trained and empowered to create online content, can you imagine if even 5% of Postal Service or FEMA or Army employees had a Posterous blog, and citizens and journalists could mine that information about what was happening in the country, or the world? It would be amazing.

So, for the 99% of government employees that can blog in their private lives and informally talk about their careers and more generally about their lives, I recommend getting a personal Posterous account. And because many of the things I said about the government also apply to large corporations, I think there’s a huge opportunity there, too. Everyone’s workplace has different rules about what you can and cannot use your computer and mobile devices for, and you shouldn’t break them. But if you can interface with Posterous via email and help to achieve workplace goals by mobile live-blogging of conferences you attend, or posting photos of critical emergency situations, or provoking discussion over the issue-of-the-day, I say: Go for it.

(If you work in government or closely with it and use Posterous, I’d especially like to listen to your feedback as I help prepare content for the upcoming Gov 2.0 Expo in May 2010.)

This post originally appeared on O’Reilly Radar.

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Happy Birthday, Dear…Somebody


I use Facebook a lot for networking these days.  There’s over 100 million users, which means a lot of old friends, new friends, work contacts, local acquaintances, and more are on there posting information about what they’re doing and where.

It’s certainly impossible to keep track of what all your contacts are doing. Just on Facebook, I have about 2,000 “friends.” But there’s a bunch of people you don’t talk to very much that are still very important from time to time…if you’re on their radar.

One “trick” I use is to scan the list of who’s having a birthday every morning. If there are people having a birthday whose names I recognize, but haven’t talked to in a while, I definitely go to their Wall and post a “Happy Birthday” and maybe add a little extra. Seems small, but a little bit of meaningful interaction is better than zero. And who’s going to complain??

Everyone wants to see who wished them a happy birthday. Use it as a small gesture to keep the small pieces of your social graph loosely joined.

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Making Whuffie With Julia Allison


You can’t eat whuffie, but it’s getting harder to eat without it, as Tara Hunt says in The Whuffie Factor.  For the uninitiated, think of whuffie as an alternative to money – a reputation-based currency that started as a concept in a science fiction novel, now being applied to online business. Hunt’s interesting central thesis is that in order to successfully change social capital into market capital, company employees need to be authentic community members engaging in meaningful participation where their contributions often outweigh personal gains.

Typically, someone can raise whuffie by promoting something bigger than one’s own self-interests. This kind of community participation, as Solis and Breakenridge write in Putting the Public Back in Public Relations has become certral to marketing, branding, and influence: “Social media enables one to aggregate and promote your online brand while nurturing and managing important relationships.”

When I think of using online tools for public relations I often think of Julia Allison, who one year ago graced the cover of Wired ostensibly for her mastery of so-called “internet fame” and possibly translating it into real fame, and a profitable business. Since reading her relationships advice column in AM New York when I lived in Manhattan circa 2003, I’ve been familiar with Julia for a long time. More recently, with each of us shifting our interests to social technology, I’ve had the opportunity to hear her speak and meet with her. (Stealing a page from the fameball playbook, I even got the requisite photo with her and her dog during Internet Week 2008 – almost the same week of the Wired cover story.)

She is nothing if not a fascinating enigma; I believe we talked about the neuroscience of dating. So when pondering what I might write as a PR 2.0 guest column, I thought it would be interesting and instructive to look at the rise of Julia Allison as a “case study” in personal branding, and compare and contrast her career path with the tenets of raising whuffie.

Read the rest of this article at Brian Solis’ PR 2.0 blog.

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Make a Meaningful List and Take a Stand


There are so many lists.  Top 100 this, top 50 that, top 150 must-read blogs in this sector.  How can there be this many people that I “must” pay attention to?  Truth is, there aren’t.

People are so afraid to take a stand, to have a strong opinion, to leave someone “important” out, that they put anyone and everyone on their lists.  And large organizations are afraid, too.  For example, some blogs on the AdAge Power 150 are pathetic choices – they are frequently off topic, or have no real influence (of course, they are mainly designated without human interference, automatically).  I’ll consider them important when the pigs eat my brother (thanks, Brando).  Or how about the Foreign Policy’s Twitterati 100?  I cannot sum this one up better than NYU professor Jay Rosen“The 100 most famous foreign policy names we could find who have [Twitter] accounts.” It’s frankly amazing that well-respected brands put their reputations behind such pathetic lists.

Here’s one good, haphazardly chosen example.  I hate to critique just one person making one list, but this one was on my radar, and this isn’t an academic study.  It is a new list of “Top 50 PR Professionals You Should Be Following on Twitter.”  Let’s break this down.  First, some of them are simply not PR professionals (interesting though they may be), or if they are, the definition has been fairly diluted.  Second, on Twitter, many of the actual PR professionals are tweeting very similar things, so it’s complete overkill if one follows all 50.  Third, many of the people on the list are obvious follows (so having them on the list adds nothing), and many have such bland descriptions of why you should follow them as to be useless (so having them on the list adds nothing). And finally, blog comments like this and this suggest that some very obvious people were far down the list, or entirely left off [a list of 50], and it’s not clear why that reasoning was, either.

Moreover, perhaps the most important point is that all the (1) obvious and (2) bland choices serve to drown out anyone on the list who may be truly undiscovered and interesting!  I know they exist to some degree, but more lists of “Top 10 People You’re Not Watching” would be very useful, in all topics of interest.

I’m really happy for everyone living in the Web 2.0 world who thinks that they can make sloppy lists and do incomplete research for blog articles and that everything will just get “sorted out” in the comments section (the author of the above Top 50 list suggested that there were so many comments after the post that she might make a Top 500 list! Thanks!).  Thoughtful comments are nice, but are they nice enough to reward sloppy writing with the hopes of getting thoughtful comments to round out their own incomplete thought process?  I don’t think so.  I write everything pretending that there will be no comments.  Then, if there are useful comments, it’s a pleasant surprise – not a recipe for completeness.

When I made a list of the 10 most “influential” people using Twitter in Washington, DC, I kept it simple.  I used somewhat unique criteria. I listed 10 people and explained in detail why I chose each of them. And largely, they were different than people on similar lists. So different, in fact, that NationalJournal.com ran a story about how my list differed from others in the LA Times and other publications, with a Twitalyzer quantification chart. Turns out my list has certain qualities, and theirs had certain other qualities – mine was unique if you were looking for this sort of thing, and theirs for a different sort of thing. Great, we can all reasonably coexist. It’s not about right or wrong – It’s about having a strong opinion, arguing for it, and sticking with it.

If you’re going to make a list, of anything, make it short and to the point. Make it stand out from other similar lists. Have some reasons for choosing what is on your list. Have some guts. Be willing to be different. And take a stand when people disagree. Otherwise your list is meaningless – to you, and to anyone that comes across it.

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The Efficiency of Celebrity Obituaries


Are celebrities dying at a higher velocity these days, or am I just discovering information about their deaths more efficiently?

I think the latter. This is information I didn’t know I needed to know, until I found out about it. With online software platforms like social bookmarking and microsharing increasing in popularity, you no longer have to spend lots of time finding information – the information finds you.

Obituaries are interesting, because  they are generally sudden, unanticipated news events. You could not possibly be looking to see if your average celebrity has passed away the minute before it happens. Today director John Hughes is being reported as deceased, and I was not thinking about this before this afternoon.

One could think of real-time celebrity obituaries as a metaphor for natural disasters or other sudden events of large impact – so-called Black Swans, in Taleb’s terminology. These are events that impact many people that cannot be anticipated or forecasted with much certainty, if any. The social web makes this information known to you in nearly real-time, however, which is about the best you can expect.

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Government 2.0 Expo Showcase: Women By the Numbers


While I was traveling the last few days, a minor controversy seemed to flame up about a lack of women in some of the Gov 2.0 events being planned by Tim O’Reilly and associated crew.   They’re welcome to comment below, but I see no reason to call out individual people and their various comments.   Here, I want to  personally comment on an event I’ve been involved with planning for Tim during the last few months, and how women have intersected with it in interesting ways.

I’m a scientist and I tend to deal with quantifying data as a mechanism for seeing patterns, and that’s what I intend to do in this brief post.  As many of you know I’m the program committee co-chair for the Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase that is happening the day before the Gov 2.0 Summit (everyone, men and women, are able to register, incidentally).  Anyone could submit any proposal for a five minute talk for the Showcase, and on Monday, July 20, we chose 25 fantastic proposals to become talks (as I write, notices are being sent out by O’Reilly Media).  I believe this data, previously not publicly known, bears on some of the issues being discussed.

We received 189 valid proposals for talks at Expo Showcase.  A few people, men and women, submitted two proposals, but the vast majority submitted just one.  Of these 189, only 41 (or 22% of the total) were from women, with 147 proposals submitted by men.  I have no reason in particular to offer for this. Perhaps women would like to comment on this blog about why a two month open call for proposals for anyone with a good idea for a five minute talk about Government 2.0 was dominated by 78% men.  Whatever the explanation, I don’t think it had very much to do with the organizers of the event, who did quite a lot of outreach to tell people about what was happening.

Nevertheless, despite a minority of women submitting talk ideas, those relatively few ideas generally fared well as the program committee voted and discussed the agenda for Expo Showcase.  Of the 25 talks chosen, 8 of them, or 32% of the total, were submitted by women, and the remaining 17 were from men.  Note that, perhaps counter-intuitively to those protesting the lack of women presenters at events like this, the percent of women being accepted for talks is higher than the percent of women who submitted.  I think that few women would have a problem with this outcome.

Further, this means that the “rate of success” for a female proposal to Expo Showcase was approximately twice as high as a male proposal (20% chance of being chosen if female vs. 11% if male).   Now, I should point out that at no time am I aware of gender being explicitly discussed, in particular on the final conference call where we decided the 25 talks.  We talked about the merits of the projects, the proposals, and the speakers.  So, we didn’t choose women at twice the rate because they were women, but rather on average twice as many female proposals (vs. male) tended to rate extremely well by our criteria.  Bravo.

Singling out Tim O’Reilly for critique is a bit narrow, and approaches what I’d call a low blow.  I should point out that the Expo Showcase program committee is 38% women, and while Tim certainly knows what we’re up to, he didn’t directly play a role in deciding which proposals became talks.  It is also worth noting that my co-chair for the Showcase is Laurel Ruma, a woman.  It is additionally noteworthy that the event chiefs for O’Reilly Media and TechWeb that head up planning for the Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase and Summit are Gina Blaber and Jen Pahlka, both women.  There are lots of women involved at all points in the decisionmaking process with these events, so if shotgun-style critics want to “blame” people for perceived problems, they may as well accuse the entire crew of people, men and women. Not that I necessarily think anyone should be “blamed.”

I only speak for myself and don’t want to discuss Gov 2.0 Summit and Web 2.0 Summit too deeply as I’ve been involved less with those events, but I think the notion that Tim O’Reilly and anyone else involved in planning these events is trying to do anything but find the best possible people and have influential events is silly.  Summits are high level events as Tim points out in his post here, and attendees want to see high level, influential people; many of them happen to be male.

Everyone can always strive to be better.  Intelligent suggestions are always welcome.  But the way in which some people approached lobbying for more women to be involved in these Gov 2.0 events was not only tasteless and somewhat misinformed, it may have been counterproductive.  No one likes being publicly blindsided with baseless accusations.

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