Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Holiday Special -- The Corrections

I am just back from Bethlehem, PA, recovering from family time, and settling in for the final countdown to 2005.

It's a longish drive from Boston to Bethlehem -- not worth flying, but still taxing on my sanity. A couple years ago, I discovered that books on tape structure the drive time infinitely better than radio or my modest collection of music tapes and CDs. Being a musician, I never would have guessed this but just luckily stumbled into it. And thank God I did. Holiday time by itself is already taxing enough on my sanity.

From this year's holiday drive, I am pleased to recommend The Corrections, as written by Jonathan Franzen and read by Dylan Baker. It's a dark and utterly hilarious account of the crazy dysfunctional Lambert family as their lives fall apart in a myriad of ways. Baker's reading is right on and features evocative accents of the many different characters.

The funny thing is that I didn't have any idea what The Corrections was about when I borrowed it from the library. Had I known, I probably would have put it back on the shelf, in the manner of the Lambert's firstborn son Gary, whose actions are carefully calculated to conceal his pains. As it was, I was blessedly free from the self-conscious weight of deliberately choosing a crazy family story, and so I relished every bit of it. The fact that the novel careens towards a Christmas-time climax made the whole story almost too perfect for my holiday driving entertainment.

And now, prepare to be amazed by my obligatory connection to social network analysis....

What planted The Corrections in my brain and got me to listen to it? Ironically, a rather funny commentary in its own right about meta-humility, from a recent Sunday NY Times Magazine column (which you need to pay to read by now, since it's buried in the archives). In contrast to the many actors and politicians who profess to be "humbled" when they win Oscars or big elections, Jonathan Franzen has not learned the art of public so-called humility. Hence when Oprah offered to list The Corrections on her best-seller-guaranteeing Orpah Book Club, Franzen's reply was essentially, "No, thanks. I am a serious writer and the Oprah Book Club is beneath me." You have to hand it to the guy for sticking to his principles even when it not only costs him immediate big sales but also alienates thousands of potential lifelong fans.

So anyway, even if Franzen is quite possibly a jerk who thinks we won't appreciate his book and prefers not to have common folks recommending it, I am going to go out on a limb and advise you to check it out anyway.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Are You a Change Maker?

Happy Holidays everybody! I am ready for a relaxing Christmas weekend in my hometown of Bethlehem, PA. It's "Christmas City USA" and worth visiting in December if you're ever nearby and curious for an 18th century Moravian take on Christmas. You'll love the hundreds of Moravian stars hung above front doors all across town. And you can marvel at the gigantic electric star that sparkles from a nearby hilltop and guides wise people of all kinds to the growing industrial parks emerging from the rubble of Bethlehem Steel.

Before I go, let me recommend a good read --

Check out the latest issue of Fast Company. You can recognize it on the newsstands when you spot Malcolm Gladwell's big wooly afro, which is featured on the cover. Gladwell's unruly haircut is actually central to his next big book (you'll never guess why, though). I love Gladwell, and Fast Company's cover story is a good profile, but the story made me a bit sad for the true founders of SNA who now stand in the long, long, shadow of "The Tipping Point."

Also in the issue, Keith Hammonds has written a great article, "A Lever Long Enough to Move the World," about Ashoka and its visionary founder Bill Drayton.

Drayton's quest is to bring the world's citizen sector to life. He's trying to recitfy a couple hundred years of over-focus on the corporate sector, dating from the Industrial Revolution. How to achieve such a monumental task? With the power of networking, of course. Ashoka is a "21st century United Way" that identifies social entrepreneurial fellows and creates a world-problem-solving network through their combined expertise. Wow!

Here's a passage from the article that both conveys the scope of Drayton's vision and invites all of us to join the quest. Are you ready to accept Drayton's invitation?

Drayton was meeting two years ago with eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, whose Omidyar Network ultimately committed to investing $20 million over five years in Ashoka. Drayton described Ashoka's central goal -- to speed and make possible the emergence of an entrepreneurial citizen sector. Omidyar pressed: "That's an intermediate goal. What are you really after?" It was a good question, Drayton realized.

And he thought, We have this network of entrepreneurs, all of them seeding social innovation. "That is changing a lot of things, upsetting local patterns, weakening existing structures, weakening the idea that things are the way they are. It's an invitation for people to step up and do things differently. That first change touches a series of people who weren't doing this before. They're not passive anymore. They're full citizens, change makers."

As of right then, Ashoka embraced a new goal: "Everyone a change maker."

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Power Company

"Power is the capacity to participate in creative controversy. Power is the ability to make one's self heard, the capacity to cause others to take one's concern seriously. . . . It is also the capacity to listen. It is the capacity to respond creatively to others, to the needs of others. In all these dimensions, power engenders conflict."

-- JAMES LUTHER ADAMS (1901-1994)

In the latest issue of UU World, I came upon this quote -- a worthwhile meditation that helps me find my center of power amidst the conflicting demands of community.

The issue is filled with reflections on power. From a personal essay by Rob Eller-Isaacs comes this: "Power born of the proximity of opposing forces [is] the power that engenders depth and makes transformation possible.... Think about electrical power. Electricity is generated when opposite magnetic poles come into proximity. If kept too far apart there is no power, no energy, no charge. The world is shaped by those most willing to engage."

Also in this issue, Harvard/ Kennedy School Professor Joseph Nye speaks about the need to use both the soft power of seduction and the hard power of coercion. That's refreshing talk in a community traditionally dominated by pacifists.

I'm sitting here thinking about different manifestations of soft and hard power -- in international, corporate, and social communities. Perhaps a good topic for later. I can never get to sleep if I get thinking and writing at this hour.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Six Degrees: Seminar with Duncan Watts Jan 12

Professor David Lazer organizes a fine series at Harvard's Kennedy School, "The Cambridge Colloquium on Complexity and Social Networks (CCCSN)." Next month the series features a notable seminar. Thanks to David for allowing me to share this:

Duncan Watts
Columbia University

"Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age "

(videoconferenced from Zurich)

with comment by Stephen Borgatti, Boston College
Wednesday, January 12, 2004
Swiss Consulate,420 Broadway,Cambridge,MA
Please RSVP:
This seminar is co-sponsored by the National Center for Digital Government

We've all heard of the small world phenomenon - the idea that each one of us can be connected to everyone else through only "six degrees of separation." But where did this idea come from? Is it true? And if it is, what implications does it have for the problems of modern society? This talk sketches out the scholarly history of the small world problem (alongside its meteoric rise in popular culture), from its origins in sociology to an explosion of recent work in physics and mathematics. The lecture also discusses the importance of "six degrees" to a range of issues, from individuals searching for jobs and organizations solving complex problems, to the spread of disease epidemics and the cascade-like dynamics of cultural fads. In the modern world, it is not sufficient simply to recognize that we are all connected; we must understand both the patterns of those connections and they way they drive our individual and collective behavior.

The conferernce is cosponsored by TAICON. TAICON is a trans-Atlantic initiative, based at Harvard and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH), that brings together research on social networks and complexity. It is co-chaired by David Lazer and Lars-Erik Cederman(ETH).

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Do small world networks promote innovation?

After reading the HBS Working Knowledge interview of HBS Professor Lee Fleming, I was happy to connect with Lee in person early this week. We discussed his working paper, "Small Worlds and Regional Innovative Advantage," co-authored with Charles King and Adam Juda.

This paper seeks to answer the question: Do small world networks promote innovation?

[By "small world" they mean that people tend to connect to their neighbors (hence we feel like local actors) but there are enough other links so that there is a short path of relationships between any two people, even across great distance.]

Fleming et al note that many have argued "yes" to this question but with scant evidence. So they have collected an impressive body of data to put the question to a more rigorous test.

Their results? My reading of the paper is that small world networks (at least the ones they studied) aren't so closely related to innovation after all. When I put that to Lee, he declined to sound so definitive and said, "The jury is still out."

Roughly speaking, here is what they did: Lee's team collected records of 2.5 million US patents filed by 2 million inventors over the last 25 years. Then they created a multi-component network by linking inventors with jointly filed patents. Finally, they looked at the largest connected component in each of 337 metropolitan areas, calculated 19 different characteristics of each (from both economic and network perspectives) and determined the correlations of these characteristics across all 337 regions.

Which characteristics correlate to more patenting? The strongest predictors of a productive patenting network of inventors are (1) one type of technology dominates the network of inventors, rather than many different kinds of technology, (2) young technology, (3) one firm dominates the network, rather than many different firms.

As for small world characteristics, Fleming et al found that clustering (connectedness of neighbors) has a negative relationship with innovation. Short path length has a statisticaly robust positive relationship, but its magnitude is several hundred times weaker than the positive effect of a regional monopoly (#3 above), for example.

Lee has left the "30,000-foot" view of this research, and his next project is to investigate a more closeup view that studies individual inventors in much greater detail. So far he is finding similar results (clustering is bad, short path lenghts marginally good) but again, the jury is still out.

After reading how BzzAgent succeeds at viral marketing without even considering SNA, and now reading Lee's research, my sense of social network analysis has just become significantly more abstract. These results are more than a little discouraging to anyone hoping to sell SNA as a engine of productivity. But the SNA practitioner in me is still encouraged, on balance, by results such as Burt's study of Raytheon managers. And the SNA researcher in me is excited to see how these studies continue to unfold, either way.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

HBS Prof Teresa Amibile on creativity in business

Check out Fast Company's December article about Teresa Amibile, entitled "The 6 Myths Of Creativity"

Columnist Bill Breen says, "Amabile, who heads the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School and is the only tenured professor at a top B-school to devote her entire research program to the study of creativity, is one of the country's foremost explorers of business innovation."

He explains how Amibele's research is overturning long-held myths about creativity. In Amibele's words, these are

1. Creativity Comes From Creative Types
2. Money Is a Creativity Motivator
3. Time Pressure Fuels Creativity
4. Fear Forces Breakthroughs
5. Competition Beats Collaboration
6. A Streamlined Organization Is a Creative Organization

Holiday reflections on social navigation

Many of us are mailing holiday cards this time of year. I am a bit irregular about this, averaging a big holiday mailing every couple years or so. This year I am stocked up on cards and stamps and have been mailing in earnest.

I have spent more than enough time at my computer this year and thought it would be fun to give my word processor a holiday break. By reverting to a ball point pen I am unfortunately not doing my posture any favors. I am more hunched at my desk than ever in repeated attempts to recreate the legible handwriting of my youth. But by spending the time to create each letter individually, I do enjoy a more real sense of connection to my recipients. That is, I get to reflect on my wonderful collection of friends at more length and connect that way, even though none of my cards comes with a "reply" button.

As I sift through my old address books (both online and off) it's obvious that my friends are even more diverse than the ways I have met them. Mostly I know them through shared activities such as piano, bike racing, organizational development, computer science, Unitarian Universalism, and evangelical Christianity. I have to admit some of those activities make odd pairings -- for example, the Unitarian and Christian circles of my life never mix unless I go out of my way to bring together friends from every chapter of my life.

I'm sure you, dear reader, also have many different groups of friends in your life. It's a wonderful part of being human. But did you know that, aside from manifesting the quirky twists and turns of your own life, your various groups of friends also literally make it possible for you to navigate the social world? That if you had but one homogeneous group of friends, no matter how wonderful they were, your ability to navigate socially would be crippled?

Let me give a very pertinent example of what I mean by "navigate socially." In my last post I referred to a recently published interview of HBS Professor Lee Fleming. I was very intrigued by his research, and thought I would try to get in touch with him. But how exactly should I get in touch with him? That is just what I mean by navigating socially.

It turns out that Lee's homepage on the Internet includes a reference to his bike racing career. And wouldn't you know, Lee raced bikes as a PhD student at Stanford just when my old Princeton cycling teammate Derek Bouchard Hall was racing bikes and getting his master's degree at Stanford. I e-mailed Derek to see if he knew Lee, and before I knew it got a message from Lee himself, entitled "Small World Cycling Networks."

In other words, it seemed that Lee and I were best connected through our mutual interest in SNA, but actually we enjoyed a much stronger link through our mutual bike racing teammate Derek. (Derek eventually got his MBA at Harvard, where Lee is a professor, making this connection even stronger.)

The moral of the story: Diverse groups of friends are not just a blessed gift, but also a key ingredient to making the connections you want. Keep this in mind the next time you're using LinkedIn to make a contact. It's a great tool but rather monochromatic amidst the rainbow of possible relationships you can tap into.

BTW, don't take my word on this. Duncan Watts, Peter Dodds, and Mark Newman have published a wonderful little paper on this topic. They analyze a very intuitive model and show that 2-3 different groups or categories of friends is ideal. If you have only one group of friends, or if you have ten different groups of friends, then you risk asking the wrong person in your attempt to get one step closer to your social goal.

Next time I'll share the fascinating conversation I had with Lee about his working paper: "Small Worlds and Regional Innovative Advantage."

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Harvard Business School Studies Boston Inventor Networks

Thanks to Wally Clausen for pointing me to a recent article in the online journal Working Knowledge published by Harvard Business School. Sara Grant interviews HBS associate professor Lee Fleming about his research on inter-organizational networks of inventors.

It's a good article, especially if you're interested in collaborative innovation, and even more so if you're interested in Boston, where Fleming has conducted his network surveys. You can read the article here: "Caves, Clusters, and Weak Ties: The Six Degrees World of Inventors."

Fleming has studied networks of inventors by cataloging jointly filed patents. He's found that by the mid-90's most of Boston's inventors were at least indirectly connected by these jointly-filed-patent relationships.

To put a more intuitive spin on this result, it's similar in spirit to a Swedish study showing that virtually all adult Swedes are connected in a giant "slept with" network. Of course, the Swedish researchers did not have legal papers documenting each link in this sexual network, but ultimately they were driven by a similar quest to understand large-scale connectivity.

Fleming concludes with thoughts on how managers can use inventor networks to their advantage: "Simple awareness of the shrinking world of inventors is the first step. Set up unobtrusive legal protection, make your technical professionals aware of the issues, and then trust them to manage their knowledge sharing."

Monday, December 06, 2004

Do You Believe in Word-of-Mouth Marketing?

Rob Walker takes a close look at the world of viral marketing in the NY Times Magazine cover story, "The Hidden (in Plain Sight) Persuaders." Walker investigates the world of BzzAgent, a Boston-based ad agency that relies on tens of thousands of volunteers to spread the word (or "bzz") about its clients' products.

Walker starts by asking the question, "Why do so many people voluntarily spend their free time marketing for BzzAgent?" Even before reading the article, you can probably guess the big reasons. It's cool to be the first person on your block with a particular product, and even better when you can persuade people to follow your lead.

Lots of other interesting questions come up. Is it ethical to talk up a new BBQ sauce to your friends when your main points come off a BzzAgent tip sheet? BzzAgent volunteers answer "yes" definitively -- they only talk up the products they like, after all. But Walker discovers that there are powerful psychological forces behind the scenes that cast doubt on BzzAgents' talk.

Along the way, Walker explains how BzzAgent volunteers have found personal transformation by signing up to help BzzAgent sell stuff. Suddenly they find themselves striking up conversations at every oppportunity, and emerging from their shells.

In fact, BzzAgent has found that just about anyone can be an effective agent. Unlike other carefully screened word-of-mouth marketing teams, which add only the coolest teenagers to their ranks, BzzAgent simply lets people sign up and volunteer. This raises a serious challenge to the "Tipping Point"'s world of connectors, mavens, and salespeople, a topic that BzzAgent and Walker both give serious consideration. (See "Personality and Propensity to Brokerage" for related thoughts on this topic.)

What is the biggest reason of all for BzzAgent's success? Walker comes to an uncomfortable conclusion, in conversation with Jason Desjardins, one of BzzAgents top-ranked volunteers:

Some people are lucky enough to find meaning and fulfillment through their work, family or spirituality. But many people don't. Many people have boring jobs and indifferent bosses. They feel ignored by politicians. They send e-mail to customer service and no one responds. They get no feedback. It's easy to feel helpless, uncounted, disconnected. Do you think, I asked Desjardins, that there's some element of that going on with BzzAgent?

''I think for some people it probably is,'' he answered. ''For me, it's being part of something big. I think it's such a big thing that's going to shape marketing. To actually be one of the people involved in shaping that is, to me, big.'' That made sense to me too. After all, there is one thing that is even more powerful than the upper hand, more seductive than persuading: believing.

Monday, November 29, 2004

George Siemens' blog: elearnspace

I recently found the blog elearnspace. George Siemens, an instructor at Red River College, writes the blog as part of his larger site dedicated to "everything elearning." He posts on learning, networks, knowledge, technology, and community.

Last week George shared an interesting but heavy report of the Australian govenment on "Self-Directed Learning in the Digital Age." As a reader of this blog, you probably qualify as one of the adult independent self-directed Internet-fueled learners that are the subject of this study.

As you click your way to learning, you may also want to check out a much smaller nugget shared by George: "E-research without discussion doesn't help." Good point. I'd like to add (as the author suggests in the actual post) that e-research with e-discussion does go a long way towards helping; and I'd dare to say that e-researching with e-soliloquizing (aka blogging) also helps, though not as much.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Weekend Edition: Tales from Toad

I love Arlington but do wish it had a little more action. It's a dry town and on the fringes of reasonable MBTA bus service, so things are quiet -- except at night, when they become positively dead.

Still, it's an easy bus ride from my place to Harvard Square, and things start to liven up dramatically along the way. One of my favorites on that route is a little bar called "Toad," which sits inconspicuously in the shadow of Christopher's Restaurant, right across from the Porter Square T stop.

I headed to Toad with a buddy last night and had a good time there, as usual. We got there early (8pm) and it was practically empty. I brought a new card game for us to play that I found while Christmas shopping for my nephews. Each card shows a letter of the alphabet. The dealer puts down the cards one at a time until someone sees a word in the cards and yells it out. Kind of like "speed Scrabble." This was the first time I tried this game, and it was quite a hit. Not only did my buddy and I have a good time, but the ladies next to us joined in, and the bartenders took a geniune "Scrabble Player's Dictionary" out of the liquor cabinet for us to borrow. Actually, the bartenders were Scrabble ringers and they whomped us all while simultaneously serving drinks and ringing tabs.

Toad has live music every night. Last night the music started at 10:30, by which time the place was packed. There is quite a variety of music. From the casual vibe of the place you expect mostly folksy or countrified rock (not my first choices, honestly). Last night was ska and I have happily stumbled upon a couple jazz bands there too. December 3rd features one of my faves, "The Pollotronic All-Stars," a Herbie Hancock influenced jazz meets mambo band.

Friday, November 26, 2004

On-Line Resources for Face-to-Face Community Building

It's been a few months since I mentioned the Six Sigma Church initiative on these pages. Honestly, this is one of the juiciest projects I am involved in, and it's tempting to post on it more frequently. But with the privilege of insider-dom comes the responsibility of discretion, and so I must allow a thin veneer of historical perspective to come between real-life politics and my public posts.

All that to say that this exciting project of congregational empowerment got shot down over the summer, before it even had a chance to take off. After a couple weeks of teeth-gnashing, though, our Six Sigma Squadron started smiling again when we were re-authorized with an even bigger mandate than we had started with.

Now we are recovered from the summer drama and ready to fly, once again. Our mission: to lead a diverse congregation of 500 through a discussion of the role we all play in our shared ministry -- a sort of "congregational check-up." We aim ultimately to promote not just vitality and strategic thinking but also grass-roots empowerment.

We have an ambitious plan to get this community-wide discussion started over the next six months. We're starting with a written survey that will broadly assess the congregational mood. Then in March 2005 we'll use the survey results to help organize a series of neighborhood meetings, run as facilitated small-group discussions. In May 2005 we'll organize a couple big town-hall style meetings to review what came out of the neighborhood groups.

I love leading bottom-up organizational projects like this -- helping 500 people recognize their common voice. This time around, much more than ever before, I am attuned to the ways we can use the Internet to help our community thrive:

SurveyMonkey -- a convenient way to administer surveys. Compared to using only paper forms, we expect the combination of paper and on-line survey forms to significantly boost participation. By encouraging use of on-line forms whenever possible, we expect to virtually eliminate tedious data entry and focus purely on more interesting analyses. Results and analyses will also be available in real-time to everyone.

WorldCrossing -- a great platform for creating free on-line discussion forums. By hooking on-line survey repondents directly into this forum, we can stimulate an on-going community-wide discussion directly, without leaving survey participants waiting for weeks before we can make sense of survey results and organize neighborhood group discussions. (Thanks to on-line community expert Ari Davidow for recommending WebCrossing and WorldCrossing to me.)

We are also considering blogs as another on-line community tool. Bill Ives recently shared a great example of a community blog, "The uvScene." Bill also pointed me to a post by Lee LeFever about why blogs are good for running on-line communities.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Social Network Analysis article in "Wired"

Thanks to Don Steiny for posting this reference to Nov 2004 Wired Magazine on the SOCNET mailing list:

"Science's Next Big Score: Forget Matchmaking. Researchers should use social networks to land matching funds." By Bruce Sterling.

It's a short, fun article about significant applications of serious SNA.

New developments in meta-organizational networks

A couple weeks ago I posted on the need for better ways to measure social capital as a function of external collaboration (or competition) between groups.

Very briefly recapping, the excellent survey paper "Network Measures of Social Capital" mentions two general approaches in this area: (1) Consider each group as if it were an individual and use regular individual-level network measures. This is clean but problematic if you care who are the boundary spanners in each group. (2) Alternatively, use two-mode networks. These will keep track of different boundary-spanners but lose track of intra-group relationships.

Last week the latest issue of Connections arrived at my door (Vol 26, Issue 1). (This is the official journal of the INSNA.) I was excited to see a featured article "A new measure of linkage between two subnetworks," by Peter Flom, Samuel Friedman, Shiela Strauss, and Alan Neaigus.

The authors begin by explaining the very dilemma I was just lamenting, only they put it much more clearly. Then they propose a relatively simple new approach to measure social capital between sub-networks that also accounts for relationships within groups. It's a great introduction to the problem of meta-organizational networks and an excellent preliminary step in solving it. It's preliminary because their approach only works for two groups. Their approach almost cries out loud for a multi-group extension, so I encourage anyone out there with an interest in this topic to go follow up on this, and please keep me posted on your progress. I would love to hear from you.

Friday, November 19, 2004

WSJ on information diffusion

Speaking of People magazine and information diffusion (see yesterday's post), today's WSJ has a front page story about Jaye Hersh, owner of Intuition, a trendy clothing store in LA. Her little store does $5M in annual sales, largely thanks to a beautiful symbiotic relationship she has with Hollywood celebrities and the fashion press.

The article opens with a perfect example of Ms. Hersh's business model. After spotting a teenager wearing white leather moccasins, Ms. Hersh tracked down a distributor and ordered 300 pairs. Then she sent a complimentary pair to Drew Barrymore. But the the key breakthrough came when sources revealed that Kate Hudson had also bought a pair from Ms. Hersh, through a friend. Armed with that information, Ms. Hersh called the style director of People magazine. Next thing you know, Ms. Barrymore and Ms. Hudson were smiling in the pages of People, showing off their footsies, and Ms. Hersh had 1,200 orders for moccasins.

If you order now, your teenage daughter might get her moccasins in time for Christmas, but I don't recommend that. Connectedness is rather far behind the fashion times -- I am still debating whether to buy myself a fitted striped button-down shirt -- so we pass this story along more as an example of effective networking than as a fashion tip.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Which blogs matter? and more on blog linkages

Thanks to Bill Ives for tipping me off to this paper, "Information Diffusion Through Blogspace," which he describes "a scientific discussion of how new concepts spread out through blogs, and how to find blogs that matter."

I took a look at the paper, very curious about the idea of measuring how much one blog matters vs another. Put this way, the question reminds me of a bit from a Laurie Anderson song, "Que es mas macho: lightbulb o schoolbus?" Or in our current context, "Which blog matters more: lightbulb or schoolbus?"

And now for the answers: Laurie Anderson would have us believe that schoolbus is more macho than lightbulb. With similar authority, I submit that lightbulb matters more than schoolbus.

You surely sense the shaky ground of opinion underfoot. So how do authors David Gruhl, R. Guha, Liben-Nowell, and Andrew Tomkins bring an objective point of view to this debate? By devising an algorithm to identify particular individuals who are highly effective at contributing to the spread of "infectious" topics. Sounds like a good metric to me, up to a point. I need to read more to see what the authors have to say about competing factors like numbers (think People magazine) vs authority (think Harvard Business Review).

For myself, I am thinking The New Yorker, as usual. In this week's issue, my fave Malcolm Gladwell (of Tipping Point fame) writes about intellectual property and asks, what's so bad about plagiarism, anyway? He writes personally, based on a Tony-nominated play "Frozen" that cribbed 675 words verbatim from a piece he wrote. It's a great article and after you read it you will never think about plagiarism the same way again. It's also a good compliment to any discussion about information diffusion (which Gladwell points out is not so distinct from plagiarism).

Speaking of information diffusion, for those of you who appreciated my review of TouchGraph, which gives a visualization of blog relatedness, I recommend you check out Bill Ives' recent review of BlogStreet Browser, which does almost the identical thing. Try them both and you will see the difference.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Linking to Farez Rahman's blog: Social Capital

Now that I have SiteMeter installed on my blog, I am loving the referrals feature. Each day I enjoy learning where my readers come from. Sometimes I am gratified by the recognition -- like when someone Googled the specific title of my personal favorite post. Other times it's pretty funny -- like when some did a Yahoo search on "David Ortiz married" and got this rather than our Red Sox hero's marital status.

Much more often, however, scanning the referrals to Connectedness reveals a new (to me) website related to my own interests. Today's find is Social Capital, a very professional blog written by Farez Rahman. Farez is a Ph.D student in the Dept. of Computer Science, University College London, whose interests are trust models for open distributed systems, such as the Internet or peer-to-peer systems.

As I dip my toes into the world of blog-networking, I am also surprised at how crude and also sophisticated the capabilities are. Sophisticated in that with SiteMeter I get quite a bit of information about where my readers are coming from. But crude in that I still do not know any way to find out when someone adds a link to Connectedness somewhere on the Internet. For a moment I thought I had solved the link survey problem, when I saw the purported functionality of the link operator on the Google cheat sheet. (Thanks to Bill Ives for cluing me in to this.) But I have since learned that the link operator in Google falls far short of revealing even most of the pages that link to Connectedness.

Another way of saying this: I know when each individual net-surfer navigates to my site, and how he or she got there. But I don't know when somone endorses my site with a link, which is in some ways a much more significant action. Or is it? I am flashing back to freshman philosophy class, asking myself the question: "If someone adds a link to the Internet and no one clicks on it, does it really link anything?"

A final note: All this blog-networking touches directly on TrackBack, a feature not supported by Blogger, I am sad to say. For those of you new to the world of TrackBack, here is a helpful primer.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Exiting Deanspace, Entering Extreme Democracy

For anyone interested to know more about Howard Dean's presidential campaign (the inspiration of my recent posts), I recommend the blog eXtreme democracy, edited by Mitch Ratcliffe and Jon Lebkowsky. They define extreme democracy as "a political philosophy of the information era that puts people in charge of the entire political process. It suggests a deliberative process that places total confidence in the people, opening the policy-making process to many centers of power through deeply networked coalitions that can be organized around local, national and international issues."

"Extreme democracy" seems to be more an on-line book and less a living blog. One of its "recent" posts (from a month ago) is Exiting Deanspace, written by Clay Shirky who originally posted on Many2Many way back on Feb 3, 2004. The article reads like a rebuttal to Joe Trippi. Shirky concludes:

The easy thing to explain is why Dean lost – the voters didn’t like him. The hard thing to explain is why we (and why Dean himself) thought he’d win, and easily at that. The bubble of belief, which collapsed so quickly and so completely, was inflated by tools that made formerly hard things easy, tricking us into thinking that getting votes had become easy as well — we were all in Deanspace for a while there.

It was also inflated by our desire to see someone get it right, a fact that made us misunderstand the facts on the ground – we suffered the same temptations as the campaign workers to regard our fellow citizens as “definite supporters”, even when we ourselves were supporting a movement rather than a campaign.

It’s been a shock, but it doesn’t have to be a fatal one. Lowering coordination costs and making it easier for citizens to create media and distributing fundraising to the masses are all good things. This year, however, to the surprise of many of us, pasting those things on to relatively traditional campaigns has worked better than the Dean campaign’s organic strategy did. The biggest difficulty for whatever version of next time comes around will be remembering not to believe our own PR.

Joe Trippi's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

I just finished The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, by Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign manager Joe Trippi.

My overall impressions: For those of you looking for good literature or a how-to manual, you won't find it here. But as I mentioned previously, this book is a great first-person story of the power of the Internet (and blogs specifically) to mobilize a huge community into a wave of activism. Even more than that, it's a people-power manifesto. Trippi argues that the grass-roots power of the Dean campaign, which was impossible four years ago and is still a novelty today, will be the unstoppable force of regular politics and business within the decade. So you better get ready to listen to the people, or else prepare yourself to be yesterday's news. plays a big role in Trippi's story. Originally meant to bring together monthly knitting groups and Chihuahua clubs, became the logistical force organizing rallies of thousands of Dean supporters all across America.

Another cool site I learned about from Trippi: Sign up on and you can donate your computer's unused CPU-time to help find a cure for cancer. Wow! I will never think of screen savers the same way again.

Friday, November 12, 2004

More about blogs and social network software

A couple days ago I mused a bit cryptically about the impending convergence of blogs and social network software. For a much more lucid description of this trend and the forces behind it, see Conversations with Dina. (Thanks to Bill Ives for bringing Dina's insight to my attention.)

Dina ends her post by quoting another blogger, Lee Bryant, who posts at length about The Flight of Orkut. Lee ponders the hype about social network software and concludes that this technology has so far generated action only around its own devices and not in the greater social commons. In conclusion, Lee sends out a plea for a good case study:

"If we are to convince the next wave of organizations and users to engage with this stuff, then we need to build on this experience and show some compelling real-world examples of online social networking in action, rather than social networking for its own sake."

Joe Trippi's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised reads like a perfect answer to this plea for real-world examples; it's a story of hundreds of thousands of Americans raised off their butts by Internet-driven social networking. And it's worth noting that Trippi credits blogs specifically, not e-mail and not Orkut or some other pre-packaged social networking system, as the fundamental technology that made it all possible.

scale|free by Anu Gupta

I was recently visiting a good SNA wiki and discovered a link to scalefree by Anu Gupta. Anu discusses social network analysis, communities of practice, and knowledge management, and has a good list of resources.

Yesterday Anu shared an introduction to SNA and why to use it, published by the Austrian consulting firm FAS.research, which focuses its entire business on social network analysis.

Not long ago Anu also shared an SNA-organizational performance reading list, assembled by Wendi Backler from suggestions of the SOCNET mailing list. I am on the SOCNET mailing list myself and it's a great resource for anyone really interested in social network analysis. It's a big, talkative, and mostly academic crowd, so I do fall behind from time to time. For my personal interests, scalefree has a better signal-to-noise ratio and I am glad to have found it.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Power to the People

The recent presidential election touched a nerve inside me. I was all set to relax this month with Dan Brown's Deception Point and Tom Robbins' Villa Incognito. But instead I am getting charged up with The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, by Joe Trippi; and I await several books by George Lakoff, including Moral politics : how liberals and conservatives think, and Don't think of an elephant! : know your values and frame the debate: the essential guide for progressives.

I will surely have more to say about Trippi's book soon. As Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign manager, Trippi played a key role in establishing the Internet as a major force of grass-roots empowerment (not to mention candidate fundraising). Dean may have lost the primary, but according to Trippi the political map will never be the same. What the technology of TV has brought -- top-down corporatized politics -- the technology of the Internet will forever take away. Let's hope so, anyway. I'll say more about this book when I'm actually done reading it.

In the meantime, I am happy to report that I finally got around to hooking up SiteMeter to my blog. This service tells me how many hits Connectedness gets and when they happen. Even more interestingly, it tells me where Connectedness readers link from.

All this information could potentially be quite humbling, if the numbers are too low. So I was keenly interested to see that SiteMeter allows me to keep the statistics to myself, or to share them publicly. Though my primitive instinct said to keep the numbers private, I decided that the spirit of Connectedness compels me to share the information with you. I doubt that you care how many hits we are getting at Connectedness, but perhaps a few of you are curious where the other readers are linking from. So now you can find out.

In checking my first complete day of logs, I have already discovered an interesting site I never knew before. Monitoring and Evaluation NEWS comes from Cambridge, UK and reports methods relevant to development projects and programmes with social development objectives. It includes a section entirely devoted to social networks.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Googled Relationships

A colleague recently tipped me off to TouchGraph. Given a URL, TouchGraph will draw you a nifty network of websites connected to it. When I first tried TouchGraph, I thought it was drawing networks based on actual links from one page to another. But when I tested it using my blog's URL, I discovered my closest Internet kin is apparently a French photo-blog Chromogenic with no discernable references to Connectedness (but a similar affinity for Le Tour de France). What was going on? I quickly discovered that TouchGraph draws not networks of Internet links but networks of "Google-related" web-pages. So far I still don't know how the Google-related function works, but I can say Goggle does a much better job measuring relatedness from the INSNA home page than it does from my blog. (See a bit of the INSNA network below.)

From TouchGraph there is a link to Google Set Vista by Chris Langreiter, which does something similar, but starting with names rather than URLs. Chris encourages users to enter philosopher names and see what networks come up.

Imagine for a moment how these kinds of tools will evolve, and how the blogosphere will grow, and it's easy to see that existing social network software is just scratching the surface.

Web pages related to INSNA Posted by Hello

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Parable of the Social Network Analyst

Here's a personal story with a moral at the end that may surprise you as much as it did me:

Last Tuesday was a big wake-up call for me. Living contentedly in some of the bluest of the blue territory, I counted Bush's 2000 election as a fluke that surely would not be repeated. But by Wednesday there was no doubt that Bush belonged in the White House.

Where did that leave us Massachusetts liberals?

After spending a day moping over that question, I pulled myself together with an electric realization. Why are the Democrats' populist aspirations increasingly marginalized to bicoastal intellectuals? Because they are not networking strategically. Clearly a growing chasm separates Reds from Blues, and if only the Blues could bridge the gap (with the help of social network analysis, of course) then the Democrats could win back the heartland.

I knew my theory rested on some big untested assumptions, so I started researching the latest demographics and other staples of the punditry. But regardless of what I was about to discover, I knew one thing for sure. There was no way the Republicans were going to win again, and I was going to use the science of social network analysis to help the Democrats take their rightful place at the top of the polls. In the famous words of Howard Dean, "YEEAAaahhh!"

Then I stumbled into church on Sunday. In a sermon entitled "What You Can Do For Your Country," Thomas Mikelson quoted from Lincoln's second inaugural address. Here are a few excerpts:

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it....

Both [sides] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh."....

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Maybe my work in social network analysis has a higher calling than the downfall of the Republican Party? Yes, let's keep building community, bridging between Blue and Red not as warriors but as neighbors.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

2004 Voter % Turnout Approaches 20th Century High-Water Mark

After reading the stories yesterday about the highest voter turnout since 1968, I did a little more research. It wasn't hard to find a site listing voter turnout (as a percentage of eligible voters) for Presidential elections since 1930. I added 2004 to the table (60% at last count) and turned the whole thing into a simple chart.

You can see that 2004 brings us very close to our highest level of voter turnout in almost a century.

The other notable feature of the chart is the huge drop in 1948, when Harry Truman won reelection in a comeback surprise over Thomas Dewey. I don't know why turnout was so low that year.

Presidential Voter Turnout 1900-2004 Posted by Hello

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Post-Election Special

Though my Massachusetts address probably gives me away, I am struggling mightily to maintain a non-partisan political profile on this website. In that spirit, I'd like to celebrate the outcome of yesterday's election, which was a genuine triumph for voter participation. Specifically, a higher percentage of American voters turned out yesterday than at any time since 1968. For a collection of news stories on this angle, follow this link.

If 1968 sounds too recent to impress you, then I refer you (once again) to Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone. In his comprehensive discussion of civic participation and other kinds of social capital in America, Putnam reveals an amazingly consistent trend: Across virtually all measures of social capital in America over the last century, the 1960s stand out as the peak decade of community involvement. The 60s were the culmination of a relatively steady growth in social capital that started around 1900 (with a distinct hiccup during the Great Depression); since then, just about every measure of social captical in America has declined steadily.

So in terms of American social capital, 1968 sets the bar pretty high.

After spending last night at Kerry's no-show "Victory 2004 Rally" in downtown Boston, I'm glad to have a little something to celebrate today.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Pre-Election Special

Just in case you've had your nose buried in the collected works of Ron Burt and Robert Putnam for the last two years, let me bring you into the moment: Tomorrow is election day! It's time for the citizens of America to speak. Here's hoping it's all over by Wednesday!

In the combined spirit of our crazy political system and Halloween, I dressed up as the "Electoral Collage" Saturday night. With my red face paint and blue-tinted sunglasses, many guessed I was dressed as Spiderman or some other superhero. But I polarized the red and blue patches over my body (as well as my eyewear) with the relatively serious intent of depicting our country's dire need of bridging social capital.

Here I am accepting "Spooky Halloween Barbie," the official grand prize for best costume:

The "Electoral Collage" Posted by Hello

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Free UCINET training Nov 4-5

Steve Borgatti of AnalyticTech recently announced a free workshop on UCINET, Nov 4-5 near Boston. My blogger won't accept the link, which is long. So put these together in your browser if you're interested in more information:

Friday, October 29, 2004

Meta-Organizational Network Analysis

A couple weeks ago I attended an excellent seminar entitled "Realizing the Value from Social Networks," organized by Patti Anklam and Nat Welch under the auspices of KM Cluster.

The speakers were quite informative and stimulating. I especially enjoyed hearing about leader-to-leader networks from Jamie Millar at Tapestry Networks, and trust-based leadership from Rob Galford. Bill Ives and Kathleen Gilroy also had excellent advice on blog-based networking, which I have already found fruitful through this very forum.

During the day, I had the good fortune to sit and compare notes with Marion Kane and Roberto Cremonini of the Barr Foundation. Their new corporate slogan is "Using knowledge, networks, and funding to build a better Boston for all." The idea is to help nonprofit organizations collaborate more effectively at the inter-organizational level.

Talking with Marion and Roberto reminded me of a paper "Network Measures of Social Capital" that I mentioned recently but didn't finish discussing. In the paper, authors Steve Borgatti, Candace Jones, and Martin Everett neatly categorize social capital into four categories based on two criteria: Is the actor being considered an individual or group? And is the focus of analysis internal actor dynamics or external collaboration/competition?

The two most-studied categories in this scheme are (1) external competition among individual actors and (2) internal dynamics within a group. These may sound like two ways of saying the same thing, but as the authors point out so well, the issues come up differently in each case.

Outside the realm of typical SNA research, but certainly well studied, is internal dynamics of an individual, otherwise known as psychology.

Of the four categories, that leaves one remaining: external collaboration/competition among groups. This quadrant has certainly received plenty of attention under different guises (e.g., international relations and corporate competition come to mind). But in hard-nosed scientific terms, I would venture to say that this quadrant is the least understood of the four.

The authors describe several techniques for measuring social capital in this context ("external measures for collective actors"). Both techniques leave plenty of room for improvement.

One approach is to use standard measures of social capital. Since these techniques measure relations among many individuals, not among multiple groups, we have to represent each group as a single individual in order to use these techniques. This is very neat and tidy, but by collapsing one group to a single node we lose track of differences between individuals in that group. Do you care if the external relationships of your team all belong to one person, or are distributed among several individuals? If so, then you are losing something here.

Some researchers embrace this model fully. Some time ago I enjoyed meeting professors N. Venkatraman and Bala Iyer at Boston University's Systems Research Center. They are studying network-centric business strategy, uncovering intriguing trends based on complex networks of simple business-to-business relationships.

Another approach described by Borgatti et al is to use 2-mode networks. [Note: Explaining 2-mode networks is beyond this post, and there are no good links I can find.] Unlike the previous technique, these networks do represent all groups and all individuals. However, 2-mode networks only represent very limited kinds of relationships. Do you care about relationships between individuals other than "share membership in the same group"? For example, perhaps you also care who knows whom? Then you are losing a lot with a 2-mode network.

I'd say that the field of SNA has just scratched the surface in studying networks of organizations.

Complex Decisions Made Simple, Part II

In my last couple posts, I have mused about David "Papi" Ortiz, Red Sox slugger extraordinaire. What can a community leader learn from Papi's proficiency at coming through in the clutch?

Today I complete this series with another example of high-drama community-based decision-making. And frankly, I will be glad to retire the whole Ortiz metaphor. Beating up on the Yankees was all well and good, but the recent World Series reminded me all too painfully that I was raised a die-hard Cardinals fan long before I moved to Boston. What a dilemma! But I digress.

Let's return to the action:

Our committee leader prepares to take the podium. His team has spent the last nine months drafting a critical document to be approved at the semi-annual meeting. Two weeks before the vote, the community finally starts to pay attention to the many complex issues long ago discussed by the committee.

Questions arise: Couldn't the committee have done a better job? Are we really ready to approve this document? Proposed amendments begin to circulate informally. Meanwhile, the committee is done; they are not putting another six months into this. The semi-annual meeting will be the do or die moment...

In last week's Part I of this series, I shared an unhappy resolution to this dramatic setup. Unknown to the drafting committee, a concerned faction goes underground, writes their own document, and organizes a resistance movement to sway opinion in their favor at the semi-annual meeting. (This just happened at a semi-annual meeting I attended, and it was ugly.)

In today's Part II, I share a much happier conclusion, based on a different community I am involved with.

In this case, the drafting committee organized a pre-meeting "town hall" gathering specifically to discuss the language of its proposed document. This was billed as the "last chance" to suggest any edits. The true semi-annual meeting one week later therefore became even more of a rubber-stamping ritual than it might have been (though a "no" vote was theoretically possible).

The drafting committee prepared carefully for the town hall gathering by presenting two slightly different documents for discussion. These two options gave the community a chance to participate in creating, not just approving, the document -- but in a very controlled way. And the similarity of the two alternative documents suggested the scope of changes that were still open for debate (not much).

Even with that much orchestration, the town hall gathering was still as thrilling as David Ortiz batting in the 14th inning, for those of us who had spent the last nine months drafting the document under consideration. Suggested changes did come up and it took all the skill of our committee leader to hear them and guide the meeting to a unanimous consensus. "Let's discuss this off-line" was not an option at this gathering, so attaining closure in one hour was no small feat.

The drafting committee still might have run into trouble, had an underground resistance movement decided to ambush its document at the official semi-annual meeting. Thankfully, no such ambush happened. Might it have? Not likely -- the drafting "committee" was completely open -- more of a forum than a committee. Its every meeting was announced publically, and anyone who wanted to could join in the ongoing creative process.

And now for the post-game summary. Some of the key differences between the happy and unhappy endings to our drama include:

Unhappy Ending:
Drafting committee closes membership,
Drafting committee prepares one document,
Community has one chance to discuss document, at time of official voting.

Happy Ending:
Drafting committee open to all who wish to join,
Drafting committee prepares short list of options for community discussion,
Drafting committee organizes community discussion prior to official voting process.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Complex Decisions Made Simple

Yesterday we left off with Red Sox slugger/hero David Ortiz standing in to moderate at a critical moment. Briefly summarized, what do we do when our community faces an extremely complex decision in a compressed-time, yes-or-no format?

For a dramatic look at this question, see last week's issue of The New Yorker (The Politics Issue, October 18, 2004). Connie Bruck writes "On the Ballot," discussing the ambitiousness and absurdity of a ballot referendum that will essentially have California voters decide the future of embryonic stem cell research in America.

In a nutshell: the US Federal Government will not pay for embryonic stem cell research, but California is considering billing its taxpayers $3B to support it. Imagine what goes through the mind of Nobel laureates who are attempting to understand and explain the issues involved in this question, as they realize the gap between them and the simple majority of California voters who will actually decide the answer: yes or no.

Isn't the NIH better qualified to handle this question?

I had a similar feeling recently at a big semi-annual meeting. These meetings are usually boring rubber-stamp affairs, but this time a controversial but essential legal document was on the agenda. The survival of a critical program depended on the adoption of formal regulations, which an ad-hoc committee had spent nine months writing before submitting eight dense pages for the general community's approval.

To the ad-hoc committee's surprise, an activist faction came to the semi-annual meeting with a competing set of regulations. Instead of a rubber stamping, the meeting became an attack by this activist faction against the work of the ad-hoc committee. The ad-hoc committee tried to defend its work, but its flat-footed response left the audience pretty much on its own to sort through the credibility of the attack.

Eventually, two competing eight-page legal documents were waved around, and 200 of us had one hour to decide which one to approve.

How ridiculous!

As you might guess, the surprise attack won the day. Maybe their regulations are OK, but who can say? Experiences like this give me a new appreciation for what they say about those who love sausage and respect the law. Somewhere in this story too I sense a lesson in why Republicans are kicking the Democrats' asses (so to speak).

Soon I will tell another story with a similar plot line but a much happier ending...

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

David "Papi" Ortiz and Community Dynamics

A raging fever has beset New Englanders this week. The symptoms -- giddiness, anxiety, religious ardor, and incessant caffeine consumption.

Red Sox games in October are always cause for nervous excitement, but this is ridiculous. Three consecutive all-nighters of baseball heroics have drained the energy from ordinarily productive Bostonians and lined owners' pockets at booming coffee shops all across town.

Amidst the post-season dramatics, I wonder how many people have shared my particular wonderment: What is this mysterious word walk-off I keep hearing from baseball announcers? Sunday night, David Ortiz hit a walk-off homerun. Monday night, Ortiz hit a walk-off single. Even as I type this, the announcers on my radio tell me that Ortiz hit a walk-off home run in the Sox' previous playoff series against the California Angels.

Wherefore walk-off and why does it always happen to David Ortiz? And what does this have to do with community dynamics?

After hearing three days of walk-off this and walk-off that, I am proud to say I figured it out. But you can look it up if you don't believe me. A walk-off hit is one that ends a game. In the bottom of the ninth inning, or the bottom of an extra inning, any hit that drives in the winning run is a walk-off base hit. This makes sense because after a walk-off hit, both teams walk off the field.

David Ortiz is rightly considered a hero for his production of walk-off hits (home runs and otherwise). Hitting never counts more than with the game on the line.

And finally, here comes the (tenuous) bridge to Connectedness: Communities, like recent Yankees-Red Sox games, last a very long time. With so much future ahead of them, communities can typically afford to let group decisions evolve gradually. But every once in a while a community finds itself in the bottom of the ninth inning, with a tight deadline looming over an important decision.

I recently experienced the "bottom of the ninth" in two different communities. In each case the general situation was the same: A community appoints a committee to produce a critical document, requiring long and complex deliberation over many subtle questions. Months later, the committee is ready to present its work for approval by the wider community. Despite welcoming feedback at every step of its arduous months-long creative process, the committee doesn't actually attract much attention until this last dramatic phase. Just when the committee thinks it has finally wrestled through all the tough questions, new voices raise all-too familiar arguments.

Here comes David Ortiz to the podium. The semi-annual meeting is one week away.

The committee has drafted a solid document, but the community is anxious. Couldn't the committee have done a better job? Are we really ready to approve this document?

Proposed amendments begin to circulate informally. Meanwhile, the committee is done; they are not putting another six months into this. The semi-annual meeting will be the do or die moment.

Ortiz swings! It's a long fly ball down the right field line! It looks like it's got the distance! Yankees outfielder Sheffield has his back to the fence, he jumps for the ball...

My two recent "bottom of the ninth" experiences ended quite differently. One was a walk-off grand slam (See? It all comes together) and the other a fly out to the warning track. I'll say more about the real-life differences between these two stories soon.


Monday, October 18, 2004

What is social capital and how do we measure it?

Some time ago I commented on the debate over social capital. One side features Harvard professor of public policy Robert Putnam. Putnam argues that American community is in decline and that this trend has dire consequences not just for our social lives but also for our fundamental well-being (health, wealth, etc.).

I found Putnam's work overwhelmingly persuasive, so I was surprised to hear from another side. The Institute for Social Network Analysis of the Economy criticizes Putnam's acclaimed book Bowling Alone: "This book has popularized the notion of 'social capital.' His definition is plausible, but not one that is born out by social network studies."

When I originally discussed these two points of view, I suggested that Putnam would see INSAE's perfectly valid arguments as irrelevant to his thesis. Recently I found a much better analysis of the social capital debate, written by sociologists Stephen Borgatti and Candace Jones of Boston College, and Martin Everett of the University of Greenwich.

I recommend their paper, "Network Measures of Social Capital." The authors take a step back from the various positions on "social capital" and explain that each position represents a different interpretation of the term. They create a two-fold classification system of "social capital" based on the type of actor considered (individual or group) and the focus of analysis (internal actor dynamics, or external actor competition). For each category, they summarize all "reasonable" network measures of social capital.

I find the two-fold classification system very helpful at sorting through the competing claims about social capital. The various network measures of social capital are helpful, but extremely vague. I will say more about this soon. (The Red Sox/Yankees are in extra innings and I can't split my attention any longer!)

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Weekend Edition: Dan Tepfer, Jazz Pianist

After an eventfully blogless week, I am back at the controls of Connectedness. Today I want to share a special musical find with all you fellow jazz enthusiasts.

First, a recent chapter of my own history. It is largely thanks to music, and jazz piano specifically, that I am here writing this blog on social network analysis, organizational development, and community building. About ten years ago I got hooked on the idea of improvising at the piano. Pretty soon I was woodshedding under the guidance of Dave Frank. Dave was a great influence on me -- a passionate free spirit who put his deep analytical rigor completely to the service of his music and teaching, never the other way around. I loved that he was a college professor (at Berklee) but never attended college himself.

My piano passion grew year by year. Eventually, I dove into jazz piano headfirst and left my day job as a logistics consultant. It was a hard life, but one rich with artistic and personal growth. Still, after a couple years, I was ready for something less gritty. A former girlfriend suggested selling pianos. I told her, are you kidding? But once I got over my used car salesman phobia, I realized she might be on to something.

I headed to the Steinway dealership downtown and stumbled upon a life-changing opportunity. The manager there has a knack for sizing up people on the spot. He asked me, would I like to found and direct a nonprofit dedicated to supporting emerging pianists? I thought the idea sounded spectacular, but actually, it turned out even better.

I could go on, but it's time to bring this back to Connectedness. Not long after our nonprofit got rolling and I was having a fantastic time, I noticed a funny thing: the networks I had studied in school seemed like an awfully good way of modeling the connections I was managing as a nonprofit director. Was there something to this? Dear reader, I suspect you know the answer to that question as well as I do.

And now back to my original point... Dan Tepfer! I originally bumped into Dan about a year ago, and got hold of his demo CD, which is an impressive display of pianistic creativity. I finally got to hear him live a couple weeks ago at a Piano-thon at the Zeitgeist Gallery, Inman Square, Cambridge. I loved his playing so much I went to hear him again last Friday, again at Zeitgeist, this time with a trio. Wow! If you like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, or Brad Mehldau (some of my faves) then I strongly suggest you catch Dan Tepfer soon, before he gets huge and starts playing big venues with expensive tickets.

Here is the Dan Tepfer Trio playing All the Things You Are.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Weblogs as community management tool

Bill Ives is a prolific blogger with lots of good information on his site. Yesterday he pointed to an interesting post about weblogs and their usefulness to community leaders. Though weblogs are not good for discussions, they are ideal for news and hence a great forum for community leaders. I recommend you check out the post by Lee LeFever who writes for Common Craft.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Speaking of sex...

I'm an uncle! My sister Margat and her husband Charlie, who live in Tagertschi, Switzerland (near Munsingen, near Bern), celebrated the birth of their son Benjamin Werner early this morning (October 7, 2004). Social network analysts were not at all surprised by this event, noting that symmetric "married to" relationships produce the majority of babies in our society. Margat and Charlie have been mutually married for 16 years and Benjamin is their fifth child and fourth son. He was born a whopping ten pounds. Here is his first bath:

Monday, October 04, 2004

Studies show: social network analysts like sex

I've been reading a lot of papers lately about perceptions of social relationships. You might guess that what I think of your relationships is not nearly as relevant as "the truth" of what you think of your relationships. But many sociologists would argue that this desire to get at "the truth" is often misguided.

For example, Martin Kilduff and David Krackhardt argue persuasively that your organizational influence depends more on who people think you are connected to than on who you are actually connected to. Clearly, what I think of your relationships does matter.

Of course, the relationship between perception and reality does count for something. In another study, David Krackhardt reveals that those with more accurate perceptions of advice networks (who asks whom for advice) are rated by their colleagues as more powerful. Interestingly, the same power boost does not come to those with accurate perception of friendship networks. For some thoughts on why some people perceive networks more accurately than others, see this paper by Tiziana Casciaro.

When you get right down to it, even your own perception of your relationships is open to interpretation. One person's sense of "friend" may be equivalent to another's sense of "acquaintance." Allowing each person in an organization to rate his own relationships (0=don't know this person .... 5=close friends) can easily create a matrix of Babylon rife with translation errors, though in many respects it is still the best way to go. Another alternative is consensus. Instead of having each individual determine the ratings for his relationships, compute the ratings based on a collective poll.

Thankfully, not all relationships are so open to subjective interpretation. Sex, for example. Clintonesque beatings around the bush aside, either you sleep with someone or you don't. Not only that, but it's a perfectly symmetric relationship. Unlike friendship, not to mention love, unrequited sexual relationships cannot technically exist.

This, The Economist points out in a lovely article on social networks, is the serious reason why social network analysts are fond of studying sex. Theoretically, it makes for cleaner data less open to argument and interpretation. Funny how sex doesn't seem to work that way in most other contexts.

For an example of a social network analysis of sexual relationships, I recommend this study of Swedish sexual networks. This paper includes a couple provocative pictures -- not the kind you might be imagining, but probabilistic charts describing the likelihood that the entire adult population of Sweden is one giant sexually connected cluster. Conclusion: let's be careful out there!

craigslist: the reluctant online community

News Flash -- skepticism rules the latest opinion polls. Most of you think that the Personal Social Network Coordinator position I quoted recently from craigslist is a prank. I'll admit you are probably right about that.

Speaking of craigslist, there is an enlightening chapter about craigslist in Robert Putnam's Better Together, co-authored with Lewis Feldstein and Don Cohen. These authors, all authorities on community building, looked across America for the most encouraging and enlightening case studies they could find. They included many virtual communities in their research, but chose only one for their book: craigslist (specficially in San Francisco, where it is ubiquitous).

A funny thing about craigslist is that its creator, Craig Newmark, never envisioned it as a means of building community. He created a jobs and housing website with a philosophy of open access and member empowerment. Newmark explains what happened from there: "People started telling me that they felt connected in some kind of community sense. I used to be doctrinaire about definitions and I didn't feel it was a community site, but I eventually said, if people feel connected, it must be a community."

I love this. It speaks to a zen-ness of community building, that it happens best when we stop trying to make it happen. The authors contrast the success of craigslist with the story of the WELL, a successful precursor to craigslist that went downhill after going commercial.

I recommend the rest of Better Together as well, for instructive case studies of effective communities in America. The authors have assembled a diverse set of examples, which includes:
  • Branch Libraries: The heartbeat of a community,
  • UPS: Diversity and cohesion, and
  • Portland, OR: A positive epidemic of civic engagement

My favorite of all the chapters is the first -- Valley Interfaith: "The most dangerous thing we do is talk to our neighbors." Valley Interfaith is a chapter of the Industrial Areas Foundation, a federation dedicated to local political empowerment whose Iron Rule is "Never do anything for anybody that they can do for themselves." The IAF taps latent community leaders from the ranks of the disenfranchised, and awakens their sense of empowerment without pushing any overarching agenda. The resulting chain reaction of neighbors talking can really turn the tables on their elected representatives. Politicians in these communities are held to a high standard of stewardship for the interests of their constituents.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Weekend Edition: Tinctoris

It's been a while since I splurged on a recreational blog entry. This weekend is special because I actually got an e-mail from one of my readers. It turns out that someone I know, (only via e-mail, but he is also a friend of a friend) has been reading my blog for a couple months, and just recently made the connection between the blog "Connectedness" and the person "Bruce Hoppe." So he sent me a little note.

Following up on his note, I discovered that he is quite a blogger himself. He's also an ace web programmer who has put all kinds of custom touches into his blog, like an interface to virtually redecorate his apartment.

He and I initially connected over a musically related project, and in this area too he has incorporated original compositions and arrangements into part of his blog.

I took a very brief look through his archives, and this is my favorite post so far. You need sound on your computer to appreciate it. It features a nine-minute opera "Le Beaveaux et le Butthead" that is hilarious to anyone who ever enjoyed that lowbrow MTV cartoon from the 90s (go ahead and admit you were a fan, you're on the Internet now and no one can see you).

Friday, October 01, 2004

Pairs are out, dyads are in

I attended a facilitators workshop today. In events like this I am a big sponge for learning. After soaking up deep discussions and experiential exercises on leaving the comfort zone, collaborative innovation, and co-active coaching, I was especially pleased to take away one big revelation.

"Dyad" is a hot word.

I first encountered "dyad" not long ago. Social network theorists use "dyad" to describe a pair of nodes (aka agents, or people). When I first saw the word "dyad," I breathed a sigh of relief, because it signaled to me recognition by the field of SNA that not all human relationships are dyadic, or pairwise. For example, how much can any combination of pairwise attributes say about your relationship with your parents? That is a powerful dynamic of three if ever there was one, where any pair is distinctly different from the entire set of three. If only dyadic relationships weren't so much more computationally tractable than the other kinds, we might actually try modeling triads, etc.

Anyway... I tucked "dyad" away in my arsenal of academic jargon, ready to wield it whenever faced with a question about the relative merits of degree centrality and betweenness centrality, or some other question signifying an all-out graph theoretic hashing.

Then I got to my facilitators workshop, where we were told to conclude each small group session with "ten minutes of dyads." Holy duo-denum, I thought, as nobody in the room even raised an eyebrow at the instructions. "Dyad" must be a lot more prevalent than I thought!

And indeed it is. A little Googling reveals that "dyad" is most definitely in. Take a look at these hot websites:

dyad sonic & visual improvisation.
Way cool. check it out!

The DYAD way to enlightenment.
This cross of Dalai Lama and Dr. Seuss starts thus:
"Tell Me Who You Are
This is a good first question.
Why do "who" first?
Because it is easier to really know directly the who that is you."

"DYAD studio harnesses seamless creative dialogue between intellectual exploration and the organic realization of ideas through making and doing."
If you say so.

"Dyad Systems is a Cambridge-based consulting company providing professional services to the life sciences community."

"Dyad Security markets Information Security Protection and Security Education services to large and medium-sized businesses worldwide."

"Dyad Constructors is a Houston based commercial general contractor founded in 1977."

If you want to be cutting edge, add "dyad" to your repertoire now.

PS: Here's a plug for another organization: The Boston Facilitators Roundtable (BFR) is a professional development organization for facilitators, trainers, coaches, and others from the New England area. The BFR welcomes anyone interested in facilitating or learning about group process- by participating in our experiential learning programs.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

This week's sign of the apocalypse

I've posted a couple times here about my ambivalence towards social network software. Today I got a glimpse of the absurd places this technology can take us. Below is an apparently sincere full-time job posting on craigslist, forwarded to me today by a friend. (By the way, I actually tried to contact the poster but the forwarding address on this advertisement had expired.)

Wanted: personal social network coordinator

Permanent full-time position for a personal social coordinator for a New York-based web designer.

Your primary responsibility will be managing my accounts with various online social networking sites including, but not limited to, Friendster, LinkedIn, Tribe, Orkut, Ryze, Spoke, ZeroDegrees, Ecademy, RealContacts, Ringo, MySpace, Yafro, EveryonesConnected, Friendzy, FriendSurfer, Tickle, Evite, Plaxo, Squiby, and WhizSpark.

Specific duties include:

- approving or rejecting invitations of friendship

- managing a database of usernames and passwords for each of the social networking sites - sending out friendship invitations

- keeping my social network synchronized; that is, invite friends from one social networking site to be friends in all of the other social networking sites

- handling requests by friends to be introduced to another friend that they might not know - keeping track of my current likes & dislikes and updating my personal information within each service accordingly

- writing testimonials for friends

- various "damage control" functions when rebuffed "non-friends" become upset due to non-acceptance of their offers of friendship

- continually browsing my friends' 1st and 2nd degrees for potential new friends and business contacts

- participating on any of the sites' message boards on my behalf Future duties may include discouraging companies and individuals from starting new social networking sites so that additional staff won't be necessary in the future. Past employment as a bouncer, "heavy", or hired goon may be helpful in this regard.

Benefits include addition as my friend in all of the social networking sites I belong to.