Mapping Social Networks

“There is a central difference between the old and new economies:
the old industrial economy was driven by economies of scale;
the new information economy is driven by the economics of networks…”
Information Rules
by Carl Shapiro, Hal R. Varian

Nature has published a summary of an article about scientists from Hewlett Packard information dynamics lab processing the flow of email messages to draw maps of informal organizations.

    The technique can also reveal who is at the heart of each sub-group. These people often correspond with company-designated leaders such as project managers. But unofficial de facto leaders can also emerge. The approach might even help to pinpoint the heads of criminal or terrorist networks.

    Communities of practice

    It has long been recognized that big institutions tend to divide organically into informal collaborative networks, called communities of practice.

    For example, colleagues in one department might all tend to consult one particularly useful person in another department, linking the group into a community of practice. Such collaborations are very common in scientific research. Groups in different universities share information, skills and expertise to solve problems.

That’s cool as far as it goes, although I doubt that email alone will produce reliable maps since F2F communication is probably more vital.

How might this automated mapping be used?

  1. Some organizations are using maps of traffic flow in “find-an-expert” systems.
  2. Traffic analysis could identify and fix communication bottlenecks that impede the progress of the informal organization.
  3. Rumor has it that others plan to use traffic maps to identify workers who are “out of the loop.” (One can imagine the birth of inner-office Spam if email sends are incorporated into performance appraisal.)

Yesterday I played around with a couple of web-link mappers. Touchgraph is a mapping engine. One application points Touchgraph at Google. I entered “” and received a clickable map of sites with at least two reciprocal links.

Someone else pointed Touchgraph at Amazon. I put in the title of Lance’s and my book on eLearning to generate this map of “people who bought this book also bought…”

Valdis Krebs is the leader in applying these mapping techniques to organizations. His bio says, “Valdis is a management consultant and the developer of InFlow, a software based, organization network analysis methodology that maps and measures knowledge exchange, information flow, communities of practice, networks of alliances and other networks within and between organizations.”

I love this line: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is an interactive model of your organization or industry worth?”

Steven Johnson has a delightful article on Krebs and related projects in this month’s issue of Discover.

    “You have this enormous archive of your social interactions, but you need tools for visualizing that history, for feeling like you’re actually inhabiting it,” Donath says. Turning her sleek, black flat-panel display toward me, she loads up Social Network Fragments, created by Danah Boyd, a grad student, and Jeff Potter, a programmer. The program is visually stunning, if somewhat overwhelming: a floating mass of colored proper names projected over a black background and clustered into five or six loosely defined groups. It looks more like a work of information sculpture than a supplement to e-mail software.

    The program was featured as a work of art in a gallery show in New York City in the summer of 2002. But the data it represents are culled from mundane sources: the addresses of e-mail messages sent or received. By looking at the names of people whom you send messages to or receive them from, and who gets cc’d or bcc’d on those messages, the software builds a portrait of your social networks. If you often send messages to your entire family, the software will draw links between the names of all the people you’ve included in those messages; if you cc a few colleagues on a message to an important client, it will connect those names as well.

    from New Scientist.

    In his Managing the Connected Organization, Krebs describes the things that get me excited by the potential of social network analysis:

    How can managers improve the connectivity within their organization? Here are a few places to get started:

    • Look beyond the individual — uncover their interconnections and multiple group memberships.
    • Know the difference between tacit and explicit knowledge and how it is shared and transferred.
    • Reward people for directly sharing their know-how, for including others in their knowledge-sharing networks.
    • Design computer systems that facilitate conversations and sharing of knowledge — think communication, not storage/retrieval.
    • Help women and people of color connect to key knowledge flows and communities in the organization. This may help eliminate the glass ceiling.
    • Recruit new hires through the networks of current employees — they will be happier, adjust quicker, and stay longer.
    • When transferring employees keep in mind their connections. Exchanging employees with a diverse network of ties can create shortcuts between departments or teams and greatly improve the overall information flow.
    • Ensure better coordination of behavior between departments or projects by adding crosscuts to minimize the path length of their information exchange networks. To reduce delays you want some redundancy in the paths — if one is blocked then alternative communication paths are available.
    • It is no longer sufficient to just hire the best. You must hire and wire! Start new networks, help employees and teams connect —connect the unconnected!

    What is connected knowledge? A competitive advantage! Your competition may duplicate the nodes in your organization, but not the pattern of connections that have emerged through sense-making, feedback and learning within your business network. And if you get Vancho’s take on Einstein’s formula correct, then connected knowledge is pure energy!

    In the 1992 U.S. presidential race, one simple phrase refocused and re-ignited a jumbled campaign effort by Bill Clinton - “It’s the economy, stupid”. Adaptive businesses see the benefits in managing connected organizations. We can adapt the old campaign slogan to reflect the new network reality - “It’s the connections, stupid!” 

    Posted by Jay Cross at April 5, 2003 09:17 AM | TrackBack

nice site

Posted by: paris hilton photos at June 29, 2004 02:12 AM

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