Coolhunt Log #3
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Peter Gloor, MIT research affiliate with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of Coolhunting
Scott Cooper, MIT research affiliate with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of Coolhunting
Steve O'Keefe, moderator
Leading the Coolhunt today is Peter Gloor.
MODERATOR: Concluding yesterday's coolhunt, I posted a comment on Steve Rubel's blog, micropersuasion, and I sent email to firstname.lastname@example.org and to Jack Dorsy and Biz Stone, the founders of Twitter, to let them know we coolhunted them. A reminder to listeners that a coolhunt consists of: one site review, one blog posting, one blog comment, and one personal connection via email or Skype or phone.
MODERATOR: Peter, where are you taking us today?
PETER: I want to talk about social networks on the web and how these sources can be analyzed today. I would like to start with a nice example of how a social network can be used: They Rule.
PETER: Using TheyRule, you can see how companies are connected by their directors. In a study of the six degrees of separation, Stanley Milgram, a researcher from the Midwest, had people send letters to friends who then forwarded the letters to their friends to prove that it never took more than six steps to connect any one person in the United States with any other person in the United States.
PETER: TheyRule shows the connection between any two companies as far as directors go. Proctor and Gamble is the connector between Amazon and Viacom by four connections by their directors.
SCOTT: The creators of the website chose to use a verbal rule to make the connections. They seem to be showing who are the unelected rulers of the U.S.
PETER: If you would take the names shown you could probably get actual rulers of the U.S.
SCOTT: The Ruling Class. This site shows basically the same thing as Six Degrees of Separation in the way of company directors.
PETER: It's a fully automated way to determine a business' social network. It's an extremely powerful tool to find those who have influence. It also shows the concept of "betweeness." If a person has only two friends he's not very well connected unless the two friends are well connected, giving a high level of betweeness. As another example, let's go to Centrality. This site shows all sorts of relationships, i.e., someone who is highly central to a network.
SCOTT: Many of the ideas on the opening page of this website are central to concepts in our book.
MODERATOR: It says "Visible Path" at the top of the page. Is that the name of the company?
PETER: Visible Path is software used by social network researcher bloggers. Visibile Path is the platform, but they are also partners in this site.
PETER: The leading names in social network analysis contribute to this site all the time. The third post is from Stan Wasserman, who wrote the classic textbook, "Advances in Social Network Analysis." He is one of the chief scientists of Centrality. In his post here, he's talking about Duncan Watts who was one of the handful of people who discovered the "small world network" reapplying the 6 degrees of separation to the Internet.
SCOTT: Watts has an online experiment designed to prove 6 degrees of separation. It's located at http://www.smallworld.columbia.edu. You can sign up at this website to begin your own chain to experiment on the 6 degrees concept.
PETER: Even at 4 billion people worldwide, there still are only 6 degrees of separation because of the Internet. We are living in a small world because of people who are vastly more connected than the rest of us. Whereas most of us have connections with several hundred people, some people are atypical with 5,000 to 6,000 connections with others.
SCOTT: If someone signs up on this website, you're given a tutorial to begin your own experiment. It walks you through to try to make a connection with one other person. It gives you the profiling information you need to make the connection, explaining how this "small-world" concept works. This is really central to our ideas of connection.
PETER: In his book, "The Tipping Point," Malcolm Gladwell talks about three types of people: Mavens, Sales People, and Connectors. "Connectors" have atypically large numbers of friends.
PETER: Steve's questions: What brings us together? You can use a physician in Bombay to connect you with a physician in Boston.
MODERATOR: What makes a connector? What do you know about that atypical person? What percentage of the population are these atypical people?
PETER: Those people usually are gregarious, outgoing, open to new things. "The Tipping Point" doesn't really address the characteristics of connectors in a rigorous, scientific way. Gladwell just describes them in terms of how they handle a large number of friends. The atypical person could bridge a "structural hole" between different groups of people. These are the "gatekeepers" who connect everyone. They represent a small percentage of the population--probably less than 1% are these atypical connectors.
MODERATOR: You show a connection between connectivity and business prosperity. Should employers be screening job applicants for this trait?
PETER: To a certain extent it's already happening with sites like LinkedIn, MySpace, etc., which replay social networking concepts to see how well others are connected. Network position correlates very strongly with business success. But not all connections work in all businesses. But the "betweeness" matters quite a lot. In Boston we looked at research and communications, finding that the more researchers spoke with competitors, the more successful they were.
SCOTT: In our book we discuss how Eclipse open source software developers interacted. One could predict which teams would be the higher performers because of sharing, high number of connections, etc.
PETER: The measure of success was not for dollars but for how many new features they implemented (innovation) and how quickly they fixed errors (efficiency). Another project at MIT shows that branches of banks that are better connected (according to an analysis of email patterns between employees) are more profitable.
MODERATOR: So you're saying that it's better for companies to release their secrets rather than hide them. Do you think if Coca-Cola released their famous secret recipe for Coke, we'd all be enjoying an improved beverage as a result?
SCOTT: Absolutely. Better products would result based on information sharing.
PETER: I don't know about Coca-Cola, but we can look at someone who has done something exactly like what you are describing--the Free Beer site from Denmark.
PETER: This site was started by a microbrewery. They made their recipe freely available on the web, and allowed other people to use their name, FREE BEER, and print bottle labels from the site, and innovate on the recipe. The original recipe, which most brewers closely guard, is now in the public domain.
SCOTT: At this site you'll see a long list of various free beers that have been built based on the initial recipe. Peter and I both became interested because of the open source idea, and because we like beer.
PETER: There are now FREE BEER breweries all over the world. You could even make a very nice living with such a project.
MODERATOR: This site is very visual, colorful--a real eye-opener.
SCOTT: And you can see the original recipe posted on the right side of the home page, along with brewing instructions. Just get the ingredients and follow the instructions. As long as you can become familiar with brewing technology and find a place, you can brew. This is equivalent to Mozilla putting Firefox code online. The concept is for users to share information.
MODERATOR: What about the well connected person--say, a hospital volunteer--who is not online. Do some connected people fall off the radar because their connectivity is hard to quantify?
PETER: The privacy issue is that some people may not want everyone to know exactly how connected they are. Also, if we restrict ourselves to analyzing only one means of communication such as email, we restrict our analysis of connectivity. One social networking study at the MIT Media Lab was based on free cell phones, and provided an amazing study into connectivity. Students agreed to carry the cell phones at all times, and we could track their movements 24 hours a day and see who they were connecting with. Of course, you can tell who is spending the night with whom--and that kind of information is very sensitive.
PETER: If you have great information, you can make all sorts of great predictions. Your network position is a great predictor of how successful you are. The online network of a person consists of different communication systems. There is already software out there where you have to opt in, promoting the discovery of degrees of separation. But this is content on people who have self-reported.
MODERATOR: Today, we visited TheyRule.net, CentralityJournal.com, SmallWorld.Columbia.edu, and Freebeer.org. I'd like to suggest that in a future show we explore other social networking sites such as MySpace. I'd also like to talk about sites like ZoomInfo, which appears to be a massive effort to cull the Internet looking for connections based on two variables: a person's name, and the company they work for.
PETER: Yes, yes. ZoomInfo is a great project to discuss.
PETER: This is an excellent example of a great network.
MODERATOR: We are out of time. Thank you very much, Peter and Scott. Listeners, please post your comments to the blog--whether they're about any connection problems you're experiencing or commentary on the subject of today's coolhunt.
MODERATOR: Join us tomorrow for the next installment of our live, online coolhunt with Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper.
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