Thursday, January 23. 2014
Water, Sunset, Elephants....and Social Business
As some of you may know, we've been working on various Social Tech projects and putting on Social Business events for a while with two old Tuttle regulars, David Terrar and Janet Parkinson. Well, after the last event (see here) we decided to make this a bit more permanent and "structured", and so the Agile Elephant was born as a place where we could do our stuff and work with the many people who had expressed an interest in the same space. (It was interesting - we started it off conceptually as a .org NFP, but to do some of the stuff we want to do it's easier - read: more legally secure and insurable - to be a Limited Liability Company in this day and age).
Anyway, as one does these days, we set up a website, wrote a Manifesto (its quicker than writing a book....) and started a blog on matters Social Business.
Why Agile Elephants? Well, the conferences we did were called the "Patchwork Elephant" conferences, as we saw the emerging social business arena as one where everyone was seeing a different bit of a far larger thing and declaring the bit they were seeing was "Social Business". But the Elephant motif also has a number of other interesting resonances in business:
- Elephant in the Room - things that one could no longer ignore, but still was ignored or not being taken seriously. We thought this described social business perfectly today.
As to Agile - well, a dancing elephant is agile (and anyone who thinks a real elephant is not agile has never seen the real thing, in the wild*) and that ties in with what we think the major business impact of Social Business will be - helping existing as well as emerging businesses to become more agile, lean and responsive.
Hence, the Agile Elephant.
Broadsight continues as ever, its focus is on cutting edge technology consultancy and systems design, and will provide back end networking and integration technology for Agile Elephant projects where and when required (you knew that Broadsight built its first social media monitoring device in 2007, in the Days Before Twitter right?). Nothing like building your own social media technology to get to know how it all works...
The Broadstuff Blog will continue of course, with its somewhat sceptical look at the passing Tech parade - there are just too many large, and not very nimble Elephants still around to take pot shots at
(* Or in my case, in the South African game reserves in my youth - got charged by one once. By the way - did you know that the Elephant's nearest relative is the Dassie, or Rock Rabbit - which I can assure you is extremely nimble too. And bites!)
Friday, January 17. 2014
In the days of yore when I was doing my MSc, before Inter-Networks were called the Internet, and we were trying to get a grip on what this new New Thing was, I studied a lot of Information Theory. And a hot off the presses at the time was a book was written by MiT's Prof Thomas Allen, that talked about the Allen Curve (above). In essence, it says that the further apart people are physically, the less they communicvate - even over telephones and so on. In essnce, physical contact drives electronic contact.
(Incidentally, Allen also discovered Information Gatekeepers, those people who connected and conveyed vital knowledge from just the right people to just the right other people in the organization, decades before Malcolm Gladwell rebottled them)
Anyway, the neuron in my brain that had this fact was rudely wakened today when I came across his latest book (from 2006), which looks at the impact of Social Meedja on the Allen Curve. Given the massive reduction in comms transactions costs over the 30 years (good lord - is it really...) since the Allen Curve was first plotted and the ubiquity of agressively gamified inclusive social network architectures, you'd think the curve would have been attenuated somewhat, in multi-degrees of freedom, no?
He found that:
"rather than finding that the probability of telephone communication increases with distances, as face-to-face probability decays, our data show a decay in the use of all communication media with distance (following a near field rise)".
In other words, face to face still drives social contact.
Except, I know of an exception. Since the days of the textnet, I know I have reached further, wider etc etc in one area - my "communities of interest" - the other sad sacks who are interested in the more esoteric things things that I am. There, it was the other way around. I found them because they were interested in the stuff I am, and the digital comms were flowing thick and fast long befire the (inevitable) face to face meetings occurred.
So, I have formulated Alan's Corollary to the Allen Curve, on a whim, in this post. It states that the attractiveness of the topic being communicated can over-ride the "physical drives digital comms" formula. The power of content trumps the power of comms, for this case. For day to day dross (the content of the lions share of any Social Network content), the Allen Curve is correct, but when you're talking about, say, the music of cult geek bands of the 70's then we're all in the same place, sitting together - and this town ain't big enough*...
*Look at the spelling on the synth. Cool hey?
Monday, December 2. 2013
McKinsey 7S model - annoying alliterations and all
Ever since our last Patchwork Elephant conference, I've been playing around with an overall framework to think about Social Business, and have found the old McKinsey 7S model quite useful, as it forces thought about both the "soft" and "hard" areas I see in SB. Bad news it was somewhat shot down after its failure in "In Search of Excellence" but I think that was due to the authors looking only at the past, not seeing businesses as dynamic systems (a separate but probably related discussion for another post). Anyway, the model is shown above, some thoughts are below:
Strategy: What is the organization’s strategy seeking to accomplish, and how does the organization plan to use its resources and capabilities to deliver that?
Structure: How is the organization organized, and what are the reporting and working relationships? How are decisions made? How is information shared (formal and informal channels) across the organization?
Social tools/methods can potentially move information more quickly through an organisation than previous tools, and can connect to and from both formal and informal channels
Systems: What are the primary business and technical systems that drive the organization?
Social technologies are emerging, at present they tend to be “point of use” – the challenge is to integrate them to each other
Style: What is the management/leadership style like? Are there real teams functioning within the organization or are they just nominal groups? What behaviours, tasks and deliverables does management/leadership reward?
Social technologies/methods force a real change in behaviour, both from the managers – and the managed.
Staff: What is the size of the organization? Are there gaps in required capabilities or resources? What is the plan to address those needs?
Economics of modern work mean attention to multi skilling, multi location working, associates not employees etc
Skills: What skills are required to deliver the core products and/or services? Are these skills sufficiently present and available? How are skills monitored, assessed, and improved?
There is increasing evidence that Social skills are desired by customers, and can create competitive advantage
Cornerstone - Shared Values
Shared Values – What is the mission of the organization, and what is the vision to get there? What are the ideal versus real values and how do the values play out in daily life? How deeply rooted is this culture, and what real impact does it have?
Shared Values help to synchronise decisions, ensure that everything is “pointing in the same direction”/”on the same page” – they improve operating efficiency
We also see the benefit in Social Business in solving the following issues
Global versus local company culture, ensuring common understanding is key as the culture of global organisations may be interpreted differently by employees based internationally
A business that doesn’t “walk the talk” however, will soon lose any benefits the above accrues. The culture has to be ingrained, not grafted on for convenience.
Monday, October 14. 2013
Very interesting Chinwag "Psych" event last week, with 2 talks:
The first was on some research into prediction of people's actions from social media data. Social Media marketing company iProspect worked witrh Cambridge University to do a piece of research on the impact of Facebook Likes. They created a fake brand on Facebook (so hopefully no existing influence to skew results). They kept everything else the same, but varied the number of "likes" on the site and then tested it on a large sample (mechanical turk uers, as it happens) an A/B/C testing to see how it affects people's reaction.
The results were that:
1. Number of Likes matter (Especially in the absence of any other validation, as - Benjamin Ellis noted)
The "Tipping point" at which extra likes started to have minimal extra impact was c 100,000 likes. They could not predict how many likes were required to tip someone from trust into buying, but they do still think differing likes are needed to kick off different actions.
Its was good to see this reserach with hard data, though to be fair its what all of us believed was the case. Many Companies are already buying Likes, but are finding its just a chip to enter the game and are now trying to get to engagement (buying 100,00 Likes from a Like Farm in the Far East not being exactly conducive to gaining interactive fans).
There was a good question asked, - ie is it best to curate rather than create. Having 2.8 million likes is all very well, but if I but can't see what people like me actually like, how compelling is it?
Then came Adrian Cheok (@adriancheok), Professor of Pervasive Computing at City University London gave us a presentation on multisensory human communication.
In essence he argues that we read 2x more information from nonverbal communication than verbal, so there will be strong pressure (and big benefits?) to move from information to experience communication, and staring at screens is a trammnsient thing. Sound was the first augmented reality (he showed an all tha made katana noises when you wave your umbrell around), but in his view the endgame is to transmit touch and smell/taste:
Touch - Prof Cheok showed devices that can transmit touch over the internet to other devices, including the very icky "Kissinger" (to tranmit kisses), and a set of rings that transmit touch between couples who are separated
Smell and Taste - the issue is you need to stimulate correct parts of limbic system, but it's a chemical not electrical stimulation. So far the stats of the art is small chemical pods that can exude specific smells to command, some so sall they can fit on glasses. The real breakthrough though will be to generate smell/taste via electromagnetic signals.
Three things from this were obvious to me:
This is not new by the way, I recall my friend Dave Bamford doing tranmission of touch this for his MS at NYU over 10 years ago, but the bandwidth has rocketed, and costs and size of sensors and servo equipment has plummeted in a mere decade (this is also what is driving the overall robotics revolution)
Anyway, Kudos again to the Chinwag team for a great event.
Monday, July 22. 2013
A pair of great tits. Will the new Porn filters ban them?
The UK government has launched into the battle against Internet Porn (again) - BBC:
Every household in the UK is to have pornography blocked by their internet provider unless they choose to receive it, David Cameron is to announce. In addition, Mr Cameron will say possessing online pornography depicting rape will be illegal, bringing England and Wales in line with Scotland. In a speech, the prime minister will warn that access to online pornography is "corroding childhood".
The ISPs will drag their feet of course, as it is both lucrative content and an expensive nightmare to police. And then there will be the inevitable absurdities that hit the newspapers , such as when those hoping to access pictures and texts on say The Rape of the Sabine Women find the material is deemed offensive. And other pressure groups will try and make things they disapprove of, like Lolita and Khajuraho and Page 3, banned as Porn. Then others will counter-protest. And the hundreds of other innocent Google searches that will fail, or be deemed suspicious, because, as the satirist Tom Lehrer remarked as far back as the 1960's, "when correctly viewed, everything is lewd" (see video below).The Government and ISPs will find that the negative effects of false positives is what will bring this to its knees.
Tom Lehrer's March For Porn (above video).
Besides, most of the really unpleasant stuff is on peer to peer networks and search-rdark sites anyway, but the Goovernment knows that. This is not about doing something, its is about being seen to be doing something, and as always it will be the unforeseen consequences that will be of consequence
Tuesday, May 21. 2013
Soundbite video from the Business Reimagined session last week, I used the term "Coasian construct" for Social Business, thought it may need a bit of background.
Firstly the Coasian bit - that is referring to Ronald Coase, a 1930's economist, and his thesis on transaction costs. Wikipedia sums it up perfectly:
I've put the last line in italics. To explain a bit of history, I started looking at the impact of information flows on business in the mid 1980's for my MSc, and that's when I came across Coase and transaction costs, and it became clear to me that the Internet (as it came to be called, it wasn't called that in 1985 when I started playing with "wide area networks") was going to have a massive impact on business transaction costs. Researching back, it became clear that the main impact of all communication revolutions in the past had been to reduce transaction costs, and once that became clear it was possible to predict the impact of the Internet far more closely, so for example the arrival of things like Amazon, eBay etc ("Silicon Soukhs", as we called them in the early 90's before the dotcoms existed) were entirely predictable.
Secondly, the Construct bit. Now we are seeing the next jump forward in Comms technology, Social Networking. We started looking at their impact on business seriously in 2005 when we founded Broadsight, as we could see what the rise of blogging, wikis etc, and what better webtools would do to Web 1.0 technologies like groupware (If anyone would like our classic 2005 paper, "Everyone is a communication business now" email me now ). It was clear that what they would do would be to have another major impact on another layer of transaction costs, that between individuals both in any enyerprise and in the value chain, ie it would go down to the person to person messaging level. Previously the major impacts here had been the telephone and email, this would take the costs down another order of magnitude. That was also why Twitter was so interesting when it emerged, as although we had great fun laughing at the "what I had for lunch" tweeters, the bigger point was that the transaction costs had reduced to the level you would say this over an electronic medium.
In essence, what this means is that with Social Media the whole enterprise can, (in theory - see below), start to resemble the buzz of conversation around a small company's workspace, even if it is larger, geographically, and even temporally dispersed. This buzz is the stuff that makes businesses hum, that ensures many little things "go right" and its why businesses that get above a certain size they start to become much less efficient ("decreasing returns to the entrepreneur function", including increasing overhead costs and increasing propensity for an overwhelmed manager to make mistakes in resource allocation, as Coase would have it). Furthermore, Social Media is continuing outside the enterprise, so in theory the buzz of your potential customers, suppliers, competitors and existing users are also all in the room with you. The business efficiencies that are theoretically possible from this are immense. Just imagine all the little inefficiencies you see in your company, and in those you transact with, and imagine a major reduction in that.
It would be a massive change in efficiency for any enterprise.
But, what still has to be controlled is data and message overload - that is what has killed email's usefulness, the lower transaction costs of writing and sending an email has not been matched with a similar reduction in the cost of reading and acting on the message - and it wil kill social media in an enterprise if it is not managed better than email. The term "Big Data" to me is an admission of failure, its occurring because we have not yet worked out how to target what we are looking for. The major risk in social business is drowning in data, and that will be the big challenge for social business systems.
Friday, April 19. 2013
There was a very interesting article in the Grauniad the other day, arguing that News can be toxic (the irony of the article being in a newspaper is there...). Its based on an essay by German writer Rolf Dobelli and argues that News deliberately plays to some of our more primitive instincts, so a glut can be bad for our health. In summary, the argument is:
News misleads. . It often looks at the wrong problem, or over-eggs the spectacular. We are not rational enough to be exposed to the press. Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you are wrong. Bankers and economists – who have powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have shown that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.
The author says he "has now gone without news for four years, so I can see, feel and report the effects of this freedom first-hand: less disruption, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more time, more insights. It's not easy, but it's worth it.". I must say I did the same, a similar time ago, after spending an extended period outside the UK and realising missing out on the daily News had a similar effect. I prefer to read "the News" once a week from journals eg the Economist, as very little that happens on a day to day basis is much more than mental chewing gum.
So here's the kicker for this article. What I have been using, a lot, over the last few years is social media of many forms. I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that the more immediate types (like Twitter etc) have a similar effect to News if over-consumed and have started to curtail my usage of it too (except for blogs, which I see as the more investigative element). If you replace the word "News" with "Social Media" in the above passage, it is largely still true in my view.
Wednesday, April 17. 2013
Source: FRS blog, Princeton
Picked up from the New Scientist:
Sociologists have long known that people have fewer friends than their friends do, on average. This strange conclusion, known as the friendship paradox, arises because of sampling bias: people with a larger number of friends are more likely to be your friend, so they get counted more often.
Re the Friendhsip Paradox, it is also seen on Facebook - NYT
You spend your time tweeting, friending, liking, poking, and in the few minutes left, cultivating friends in the flesh. Yet sadly, despite all your efforts, you probably have fewer friends than most of your friends have. But don’t despair — the same is true for almost all of us. Our friends are typically more popular than we are.
In fact its a power law thing, in any network the "connectors" at the centre of friendship nets have a large number of friends, the less connected on the ouskirts have far fewer, so the "average" is higher than the average peripheral user owing to the high score of the connected Ones - see picture above. (Read the maths in the article, its a very good primer on social graph link weightings). The other highly connected strategy is to be a Social Butterfly, a being peripherally connected to many friendship nets
In short, unless you are the social hub of your friendship network, or a social butterfly, you will suffer from the Friendship Paradox - its one of the Power Laws of Nature.
Tuesday, April 9. 2013
Unscientific, amusing - and surprisingly accurate - Sentiment Chart on Margaret Thatcher's death by Martin Belam
For those who may have missed it, Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister in the 70's/80's, died yesterday. She was, according to the commentariat consensus, "extremely divisive". "Extremely" doesn't factor in our more precise world of Big Data Analysis (we used to call it data analysis, but what with inflation - you know how it is these days), so we decided to see just how much, and set our trusty old media analysis engine onto Twitter for a spell of Big Data bump n' grind (the term Thatcher is still ticking over on Twitter faster than a petrol pump eats pound notes by the way).
Anyway, much Big Chugging later and we can say safely that Twitter is about 44% against and 39% for Margaret Thatcher, ie the ratio of For : Against is about 1.13:1. The error on sentiment analysis is typically 10 - 15% so its near as dammit a wash in terms of divisiveness between the Maggie haterz and fanz (The Twitter demographic is still more left leaning than the national average, so I'm not that surprised it swings slightly to the left, as it were). An Ipsos/Mori poll shows that she is still the most popular post war British Prime Minister by some way, but she was seen as the most capable (39%) far more than liked (22%). For comparison, runner up Tony Blair was also "liked" at about 26% but seen as only 27% capable. The rest make for pretty sorry reading.
What is more interesting though is what is meant by "extreme" - to have a total of 39%+44% = 87% taking a position is a very high %, usually reserved for spats about various 'isms and causes du jour on Twitter, and even then many people tend to play the more even handed (or popcorn eating sports fan on the bleachers) role. For comparison the average Social business would be delighted if more than about 20% of their twitterstreams got really passionate one way or the other (a national broadband outage would possibly do it), and the parallel-running Twitter'Meedja discussion* about MumsNet got to about half that at its peak.
As to actual topics of - ahem - "conversation" in the Thatcherstream, the graphic above by Martin Belam (@Martin Belam), though data-poor compared to our big data crunth-a-thon, and far more tongue in cheek, actually captures the zeitgeist of the online discussion* very well.
In vitriol veritas, as they say.....
Monday, March 18. 2013
Bailout Wordcloud from Worditout.com via Broadsight Twitter Phirehose
It is no surprise that the Cyprus Cyprus bank raid is sending shivers down people's spines across the European Union (and the wider world - there is something visceral about seeing a government prepared to grab 7% of your guaranteed bank savings here, now, rather than robbing you the traditional ways via raising tax and stoking inflation) so I thought I'd give our social media monitoring system a quick run to see what the sentiment looks like. Talk about a firehose, there is a huge furore going on (update - trending on Twitter now).
The wordcloud above tells the memetic story, ie the concepts that the issue is swirling around (note eurozone, ecb, fail, and the various countries mentioned). The sentiment is nearly all negative (one of the highest ratings I've ever seen on Twitter) not at all encouraging for the politico-financial Euro-elite who sanctioned this move, as no one except the most technical financial analyst-bots are in any way in favour, and very many are very viscerally against it (even The Economist, that bastion of darwinian monetarism thinks its daft). That they even agreed to doing this is "interesting", but there is definitely no excuse for not knowing what their (too oft ignored) citizens' opinions are (update - seems like everyone is now running away and blaming everyone else for the deal). Putting my cliodynamic hat on, I'd say this may well be one of those major tipping point moments, as it is now very clear to every EU citizen just who their ruling Elite's hearts and minds belong to, and it ain't their own citizens. Will be interesting to see what happens next, I think I will poll sentiment every few hours to see how it shifts - who knows, we may be able to predict a riot.
(Post Script - the alternative currencies being posited for holding money on Twitter are gold and mattresses (no surprise) , but also bitcoins before dollars - now that is interesting)
More Broad Stuff
Poll of the Week
Will Augmented reality just be a flash in the pan?
Creative Commons Licence
Original content in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons License