The more we know the less we understand.  Nowhere is this more true than on the Social Network, where volume, velocity, volatility and variability are increasing on a daily basis.  Those 4 V’s are part of a definition of big data, which includes both structured and unstructured data.  We may have a reasonable chance of obtaining valuable information from the structured data population.  That depends, of course, on the extremity of any single one or combination of the 4 Vs, yet author, time stamp, location or any other tag that accompanies a communication is easily identifiable.  Howerver unstructured data poses a challenge several orders of magnitude greater.  Structured data benefits from data models, data definitions and rules that enable us to extract reports and analyses even to the point of discovering new relationships and information from the regimented data.  To do so,  we need to nurture and maintain these structures, to prevent a degradation of data quality and avoid conflicts and loss, a goal that often eludes the best efforts even in mature IT shops.  However this is not the case for unstructured data.

In general there are no data models, no data definitions, no rules and no discipline of housekeeping for unstructured data in Social Media.  At least nothing that is commonly held.  Individually, of course, we have an idea of what we are communicating, and we probably use both our own data definitions as well as those we assume are being used by others in any conversation; but these are amorphous concepts and certainly nothing that can be referenced by others or by cyber analysis.  The same is true to a lesser degree in IT organizations and the worlds behind the firewalls.  At least in those environments best practices such as change management and planned organization of unstructured data (viz Sharepoint)  should ensure some semblance of control and order if not insights into hidden information.

We do however have some rudimentary tools at our disposal, but like early man our technical bows and arrows are a poor match against the stampeding herd of beasts that is the social network stream.  So like our ancient ancestors we have to develop strategies and skills that help us survive and thrive in this world of pervasive communications.  Tony Wagner, author of “The Global Achievement Gap” identified three such skills that he believes are fundamental for us to foster and teach.  He calls them the “three C’s – critical thinking, effective oral and written communication, and collaboration.”  He also believes that this should be the prime focus of our educators, and that we should establish “a new National Education Academy, modeled after our military academies, to raise the status of the profession and to support the R and D that is essential for reinventing teaching, learning and assessment.”

Knowing how to perform the three C’s is therefor one of the keys to success.  Being able to put this knowledge into practice, and bring organization and governance to bear on the resources and data requires additional skills if enterprises plan to approach and consume the labor and thoughts of distributed social resources.

Taking these observations a little further I believe the following 5 components are necessary in order to navigate, participate and collaborate in world of social information.

1.  Understanding – we need a better understanding of what we are dealing with in the social media so that we can properly distinguish and farm target crops whether they are preferences, demographics, opinions, gossip, information, knowledge, wisdom. or something altogether different.  However to improve that comprehension we need to be more aware of the dynamics of how we think, analyze,  and communicate effectively. What, for example, is a thought, and what are the attributes of thought that make it consumable?  We have a notion of answers to those questions but they are personal and subjective.  Yet we cannot rely solely on subjective interpretation, so we need a shared and objective framework or model of knowledge. Knowledge is the loadstone of the social community, and the more we understand it, its nature, behaviors and properties the more we can improve the  discovery, sharing  and use of valued information in the social stream.

Peter Drucker dies at 95

Peter Drucker dies at 95 (Photo credit: IsaacMao)

Peter Drucker(1909-2005),  one of the most respected commentators on management theory and practice,  believed that “knowledge worker productivity” would be the next frontier of management. Drucker was also famous for his quote “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, to which I would add the following prefix, “f you cant understand it, you can’t measure it.”  Building a common understanding and framework(s) for knowledge management is essential in determining meaning, relevancy, relationship or other characteristics of information within contextual and cultural settings. We need to be able to detect when ambiguities and obfuscations are intended and make a documented judgement on meaning when they are not.

2. Networking – it might be stating the obvious to point out that people, individually and collectively, lie at the heart of the global social community.  And it stands to reason that knowing who is who, and what they know is another fundamental layer needed for success.  The size and complexity of big social data demands a superior set of skills that can identify, analyze, classify and then connect individuals to each other and their knowledge sets.  I described this in my previous post Network Weavers which attempted to define the needed attributes (acquisition: filtration/review: association: curation: construction).  As the dimensions of the network, the participants and their contributions grow so will the level of skills, and proficient network weavers will become more of a premium resource than they are today.  It is likely that networkers will depend on directories, personal or even corporate at first, but increasingly the directories will become more public and entries will contain more social information such as skills, contributions, preferences and factors that others will be able to use to determine relevancy and fit for purpose.

3. Analytics -With improved understanding of knowledge and how we use and abuse it, we can approach analysis with a higher level of confidence in the accuracy of our observations.  There are techniques and technologies that attempt to extract meaning from unstructured data but they still fall short of the human computer that is the brain when it comes to analyzing written and visual communications.  As with humans machine semantics are bounded by self imposed rules and definitions, and like humans, communication is improved if there is an agreed set between participating bodies.  If those rules and definitions remain hidden and obscured then the output can only be regarded as personal opinion.  Rating the relevancy or social worthiness of an individual or entity against undisclosed rules and definitions has as much value as the street corner tipster who whispers a sure fire winner for any given horse race.  Consequently social media demands semantic definitions that are shared amongst correspondents and a semantic analysis engine with the flexibility to parametrize  selected characteristics so that relevancy can be tuned to group or community objectives.

4. Curation – In an earlier post, Curation – In Need of a Cure I raised the need for knowledge workers to approach the care and maintenance of Social Media information in the same way that enterprises manage their data through Information Lifecycle Management.  It is not enough just to store knowledge as we do currently with Pinterest, Tumblr, scoop.it and others: beyond catching the item in our personal butterfly net, our efforts resemble little more than childhood scrapbooks of things that caught our interest and appetites.  Curation is an excellent term for the housekeeping that needs to be performed on the captured knowledge data.  In museums and art galleries curation is a highly sophisticated skill set that seeks to first isolate the item of knowledge, then to expand it with information about its provenance (where it came from) and pedigree (eg what school of thought), augment it with related content (supporting and detracting) and finally exhibit it to educate and edify an interested audience.  Curation is an essential component in building a rich and relevant knowledge base, and can and often does lead to new insights and innovations.

5. Collaboration – Unlike “Field of Dreams” you can’t just build a field and expect the games to begin.  All the understanding, networking,  analyzing and curating will bring but small value if you keep it all to yourself.  The key to success lies in participation. The more you contribute, the greater value you generate both for yourself and for your correspondents.  The root of the word collaboration is “labor” , meaning work or effort, and the prefix “Co” means sharing.  The more you share and contribute the more you will be rewarded by your involvement with the social network.  You will be further rewarded as others do the same, whether its contributing common rules and definitions, understanding of knowledge and thought, the names and skills of great social network participants, or exemplary curation of well defined and related content. It is the act of collaboration that provides the secret sauce of success and bridges the resources and knowledge in the social stream. This is not theory: this is proven without any shadow of doubt by the open source community.  If you get the opportunity, interact with an open source contributor, and ask them for guidance; they have been doing it effectively, efficiently and profitably for more than a decade.

WARNING: Please don’t attempt any of the steps above without clear and careful planning

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Photo from New Exhibit! Native American Cultural Objects at the CHP – Contributed by Francisca Ugalde and Cathy Faye.

A recent post by Brian SolisThe Curation Economy and the 3 C’s of Information Commerce” neatly deconstructed the information flow within the Social Network.  The 3 C’s are creation, curation and consumption, and while consumption remains the largest activity he correctly identified curation as a vital part of the social information chain, as it is the intermediary and often principle connecting service between the authors and readers of content

There are many curation tools available (@williampearl Shirley Williams’ blog post references 40).  Most serious Social Media participants use one or several of them to save interesting content discovered or referenced in their daily pursuit of engagement.

Though the name curation is applied to such tools as scoop.it list.ly Pinterest and others all too often these tools act as nothing more than scrapbooks, with photos and articles appended to pages because they caught our imagination, piqued our interest or satisfied our desire to be seen as a member of a community of interest.

It is true that many curating users perform a rudimentary evaluation to classify the curated content and to position it within a relevant category;  an even smaller number provide some commentary on the content.  But like a scrapbook these collections remain static with a last-in first-presented view of the collection that has been assembled.  Content that was first collected generally remains buried under more recent entries, and interactive commentary is almost non existent.  As a result the value of such collections is greatly diminished and the prime activity of social media curators appears to be browsing the curated pages of others in search of new content to display on their own.

This observation may be harsh, yet I believe that there are many curators who do far more than I have indicated here, however the current tools have limitations. Furthermore to raise curation to the level required to act as the intermediary between creation and consumption, as indicated by Brian Solis, we need to bring aspects of Information Lifecycle Management disciplines and processes to bear on the problem.   In a previous post on the network weaver I had already identified curation as one of the 5 major components of the social networking architecture.  It is notable that it takes up to 2 years for a post graduate to obtain an MFA in curatorial studies or a Curation Diploma from the British Museum.   I have used the British Museum course curriculum as a basis for identifying  the sub components of Social Media Information Curation.

Information Lifecycle Management concept applied to Social Media Curation

  1. Attribution – The first step on receiving any new content it to examine its provenance, determining source and history (journey) to the curation site.  Part of this is validation, in social media terms checking that is not spam or spoofing,  and part of it is ensuring the links and references are still active and, if not, refreshing them or marking them inactive.  Once validated it is important to attribute the content to the author (direct) or those who have shared the content (indirect).  The reason for doing this extends beyond mere politeness as it promotes the contributors and increases their relevance as possible collaborators in this or any related collection.
  2. Evaluation – the analytical step in the process and one that should not be embarked upon lightly, as it takes a high level of expertise to properly evaluate content.  It is not just determining classification and category, it involves going several layers deeper to ascertain the nature and value of the content.  Is the content authoritative, supportive, contrary, derivative, anecdotal or coincidental for example and, as a lead in to the next step, what is the etiology of the content and how is it related to other content entities?
  3. Organization – as with any information repository the key to consistent value is the way the content is organized, and the flexibility of the structures that support it.  The value of content is greatly increased if the relationships between entities can be indicated and that links are flexible enough to be easily orchestrated when new content or understanding modifies the relationship.
  4. Commentary – Curators are also creators of content, a slight divergence from the Solis model which limits the curation role to an intermediary who is not part of the digirati (his description of the authoring elite).  Commentary is an essential part of curation as it explains and amplifies the content and the relationships of content in any collection.  However in an open collaborative environment commentary is not limited to just the curator or curation team.  It can and should be as interactive as comment sections on blogs or message boards, with the curator as the default moderator.  This is the activity that augments the content and extends the knowledge and value of the information.
  5. Exhibition – First and foremost the purpose of curation is to care for and promote the collected content and bring it to the attention of the consuming public.  This is more than just broadcast and communication it is preparing and mounting a rich and informative display of connected artifacts, which illustrate the themes, dimensions and complexities of the subject at hand.  Successful exhibitions are compelling,  relevant and often topical.  They also do not last forever, but can be dismantled and recreated with fresh insight and perspective at a later date.
  6. Disposition – unlike transactional data that needs to be aged and archived, social data is more like the objects in a museum, they are never destroyed or deleted, and rarely put into forgotten repositories.  They are stored and maintained as objects with variable value and possibly potential future reuse, they are out of immediate sight but always available for reference or inclusion in other contemporary collections.

As can be seen from the diagram the information lifecyle has no end.  Disposed (ie stored) information still needs to be maintained and re-evaluated and this is the task I have described as  Collaborative Husbandry or collective farming.  This is equivalent to the constant reexamination of requirements in The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF), as current and new information can change curated landscape very quickly, and  skilled curators should be able to adjust the curated content to accommodate this.   The more sophisticated and comprehensive the collection the more curating resources are needed to maintain the information quality, which leads me to believe that enterprises will seek and appoint skilled curators and possibly even a Chief Curation Officer as they become increasingly dependent on external information and resources.

I would be interested to hear of additional requirements for Social Media Curation, as I believe we are still in discovery mode on what is needed to better identify, collect, discuss and exhibit the knowledge that is cascading  through the global Social Media.

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Image: nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How does one define Big Data and is “big” the best adjective to describe it?  There are many voices trying to come up with answers to this topical question.  Gartner and Forrester both agree that a better word would be “extreme”. Between the two major consulting firms they have determined four characteristics that extreme can qualify:  they are agreed on three: volume, velocity and variety.  On the fourth they diverge, Forrester postulates variability while Gartner prefers the word complexity.   These are reasonable contributions and may form the foundation for the definition of big data that the Open Methodology Group is seeking to create within their open architecture Mike 2.0.

However the definition still falls short of the mark, as any combination of these characteristics can be found in many of today’s large data warehouses and parallel databases operating in outsourced or in-house data centers.  No matter how extreme the data eventually Moore’s Law* and technology will asymptotically accommodate and govern the data.  I could suggest that the missing attribute is volatility or the rate of change, but that too can be applied to current serviced capabilities.  Another important attribute that is all too often missed by analysts is that Big Data is world data, it is data in many formats and many languages contributed by almost every nationality and culture and the noise generated by the systems and devices they employ.

Yet the characteristic that seems to address this definition shortfall best is openness, where openness means accessible (addressable or through API), shareable and unrestricted.  This may be controversial as it raises some key issues around privacy, property  and rights, but these problems for big data still need to be resolved independent of any definition.  Why openness?  Here are six observations:

  1. Any data that is not open, ie that is private, covert or obscured is by default protected and confined to the private architecture and data model(s) of that closed system.  While sharing many of the attributes of “big data” and possibly  the same data sources at best this can only represent a subset of big data as a whole.
  2. Big data does not and cannot have a single owner, supplier or agent (heed well ye walled gardens), and is the sum of many parts including amongst others social media streams, communication channels and complex signal networks
  3. There will never be a single Big Data Analytic Application/Engine , but there will be a multitude of them , each working on different or slightly different subsets of the whole.
  4. Big Data analysis will demand multi-pass processing including some form of abstract notation, private systems will develop their own notation but public notation standards will evolve, and open notation standards will improve the speed and consistency of analysis.
  5. Big Data volumes are not just expanding, they are accelerating especially as visual/graphic data communications becomes established (currently trending).  Cloning and copying of Big Data will expand global storage requirements exponentially.  Enterprises will recognize the impractical economy of this model and support industry standards that provide a robust and accessible information environment.
  6. As enterprises cross into crowd-sourcing and collaboration in the public domains it will be increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain private information and integrate or cross reference with public Big Data.  The need to go open to survive will be accompanied by the recognition that contributing private data and potentially intellectual property is more economic and supportive of rapid open innovation.

The conclusion remains that one of the intrinsic attributes of Big Data is that it is and must be maintained as “open”.

Related Links

  1. Gartner and Forrester “Nearly” Agree on Extreme / Big Data
  2. Single-atom transistor is ‘end of Moore’s Law’ and ‘beginning of quantum computing’.
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The cycle of network weaving activities – the larger the scale the more skilled the practitioner

June Holley, author of “The Network Weaver Handbook”,  was the guest on a recent #ideachat , hosted by @blogbrevity,  where she conducted  a spirited and vigorous discussion on the role of the network connector and collaborator whom she describes as a network weaver.  June believes that this is something we all do, often without realizing it.  The skills can be learned and improved, it’s all about how we are aware of and relate to each other. Ultimately we should be able to transform the world we live in.  To a large degree this is true especially in small to medium sized communities.  However scaling to the immensity of the Social Media Universe requires those skills to be refined, amplified and extended to the point where the role is highly specialized and potentially very much in demand.

The chart above is an attempt to summarize the collective input from the participants in #ideachat, none of whom contested the notion that network weaving was learn-able, necessary or trans-formative.  Indeed the flow of positive thinking provided a tsunami of skills and activities that were deemed necessary network weaver attributes.

Acquisition

The receptor phase of weaving represents the intake of content, context and resources.  This includes searches and information gathered from multiple sources in monitoring and participating in community conversations and chats.  Acquisition is equivalent to sourcing in a supply chain and represents the raw intelligence needed to fuel productivity.

Review

The review phase is the first stage of refining the raw intelligence.  Analysis is the primary activity and is applied to understanding the meaning, authenticity and importance of content and resource.

Curation

The second stage of refinement is curation, taking the analyzed information and making it transparent to the served communities and the world at large.  The refinement includes categorization (ie topics), classification, (eg value and relevancy) and commentary.

Association

The third stage of refinement is associating resources with communities, content or most importantly with each other, understanding how to apply the relevancy of information and resources to each other.  The third stage is also the mapping stage of the process, and is vital to the success of the network weaver.  As the weaver’s reach extends to national or even global scale other maps from trusted weavers can be incorporate into the weaver’s sphere of connectedness.

Construction

Construction is the implementation phase of network weaving.  It is establishing connections based on the refinement process, closing the triangle as June Holley describes it, between resources, communities and other network weavers.  Here the weaver is more than just a connector they are catalysts to action and innovation, whether directly contributing or standing back and monitoring the resulting activity.

Central to all these activities and processes is the governing principle of Cultivation.  This is the set of nurturing skills that separates the good network weavers from the great ones.  Cultivation is farming or husbandry in its highest form,  not just building connections but feeding them, nurturing them, strengthening them and understanding their needs.  It means being endlessly curious, constantly vigilant and forever questioning to ensure that the woven networks are as efficient and healthy as possible.

It is within nearly everyone’s reach to acquire, analyze and curate information on the social network; billions of Tweets, blogs, circles and walls are testimony to these skills being learned and practiced on a daily basis.  Everyone has the capability to imitate the African Weaver bird  and weave their own network of resource and content.  But it takes special skills to associate, construct and maintain vast networks of content and resource.  It takes a proficient weaver to connect each nest in the tree, and a master weaver to connect all trees within a region, all regions within a country and so on across the language and geographic divides that impede global connectivity.

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Taking the Plunge into the Social Media Swim

Image: vorakorn kanokpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It takes about 6 months of immersion and splashing about  in the waters of Social Media  to feel  comfortable and confident enough to not just tread water but make strokes that might lead to reaching one of the other sides.  That is of course if any of the other sides are visible, as the social network is far larger than any public amenity previously encountered by a an order of magnitude.  For those about to jump in for the first time – do not be afraid – the temperature is fine and its predominantly shallow water.  You wont get into difficulties and the worst thing that can happen is a little bit of personal embarrassment, but then nobody is really watching that closely.

During those months of familiarization, learning how to engage with Facebook, posting to your wall, writing up your “resume on steroids” aka Linkedin, pinning your curated content on Pinterest or taking the bolder step of blogging or tweeting you may have wondered a little bit about this medium, the proximity of millions of people all swimming about much the same as you.  What is it?  Rushing through the list of possible descriptors it’s a club, a hangout, its a place to share your thoughts and life with friends , it’s a knowledge pool, it’s the maker and breaker of news. it’s the university of life, the crucible of change even revolution, it’s a marketing paradise.  Finally a reliable source on how commercial brands can track the public success of and reaction to their products and identity.  And that is how it is viewed today.   At a recent Social Media Week event in New York the main topic of conversation was how to use the social network for competitive advantage, with the focus almost exclusively on the marketing advantage.   One of the biggest discussions of the week was who owned Social Media – marketing or PR, and ancillary to that was the often expressed sentiment that CMOs owned Social Media and the strategy around it.  Furthermore that ownership and the technical budget that accompanies it indicates that the CIO should now report to the CMO.

Social Media spoils, Marketing versus PR, or Google versus Facebook or Apple

But before anyone stakes a claim on Social Media, shouldn’t we first understand more about Social Media, what it is, how it is structured (or non-structured) and what are the economics of the model(s), who are the principle players, what are the constituent parts, and what are the appropriate standards and rights that should attend the use and access to this massive data universe.  And the questions do not end here.   Most importantly what is the value of the Social Network to the individual, the private citizen, the corporate or public sector employee, the community, the enterprise, the nation, mankind?  Without doubt it is worth far more than the sum of its parts, but the largest opportunity of all lies in collaboration.  Being able to reach out and share is the fundamental behavior of the social network, and millions upon millions of people do so every day.  They participate, contribute and collaborate freely and willingly, and it is manna from heaven for the marketing profession, who understandably have sharpened their knives to capture the likes and dislikes of the masses.  But if that energy and effort is properly channeled, if tasks can be performed by social network teams, if thoughts and ideas can be evolved and extended to stimulate innovation then marketing will be just the tip of the value iceberg.

In the end no-one can or should own the social network, money will be made from it, reputations will be won or lost, but ultimately the social network benefits and belongs to all of us, to Everyman.  We are all contributors, we are all curators, we are all custodians, and our first task as stewards is to define and describe the infant that is our charge, so that we may nurture and care for its health and growth.  This blog will attempt to start that process, and with a lot of help from others (both a plea and an invitation)  hope to bring some focus and understanding to the ever expanding pool of knowledge and resource that is the social network.

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