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I have been following a number of Healthcare sites in and around the internet, looking for examples or case studies of how social media are used.  In particular I wanted to find examples of social collaboration or communities that are focused on helping other members of society to better understand and contribute to the public wealth and health.

I attend #CPHC- Carpool Health Community, which has already garnered a strong and eager following, that meets weekly on a Tweetchat and has recently established a Google+ community to progress their ideas into actions and achievable care.  Furthering their mission they are about to launch their own web community site, where Communities of Practice (CoP) can focus around specific conditions, diseases, traumas and behaviors.  The biggest attraction of these CoPs is that community comprises more than just patients, it also contains experts from the medical side as well as members of families that have knowledge and experience of the specific topic.

Dr Steven Eisenberg is an Oncologist and he is one of the principal contributors on the Cancer Community of Practice.  His contributions to the Tweetchat are listed below.  Please feel free to engage with Dr Eisenberg through these embedded tweets, whether you need clarfication or simply want to extend the conversation or contribute to the value of his content.

He starts by defining is community of practice (CoP)

He believes that it is this comprehensive family that holds the key to increased knowledge, understanding, improved care even to the point of opening up new areas of research and discovery. When asked how this would be effected, Dr Eisenberg provided a 12 step guide to engagement, including a prologue for the journey that needs to be taken.

Please feel free to seek clarification on any of these steps directly with Dr Eisenberg, I am sure he will be more than delighted to help extend the discussion and bring further clarity to his vision and goals.

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Image from Beth Zimmerman - Pain

Image from Beth Zimmerman – Pain

Are Niche Social Media networks the future?  This was a question in a recent #SWChat that I attended.  Niche networks, it was explained, meant either private or bespoke networks using twitter or yammer-like platforms, although niche could be applied to any functional clone of current social platforms.  While the chat concluded that this is not the face of the future, most participants expected niche alternatives to be part of it.

The reasons for this were twofold.  Firstly the general preference across all industries is to maintain corporate privacy in communications other than PR and Marketing.  Most companies today are gradually enabling social communications within their firewalls and seeing the benefits.  However they are also reluctant to extend that capability outside the firewall unless a Virtual Private Network (VPN) has been established for connecting external parties.  VPNs have overheads and rapidly become difficult to scale when the number of parties being serviced reaches into the 10,000’s.

Mass connectivity means public connectivity and so limiting exposure can only be achieved by either no connectivity or by using smaller community platforms or niche solutions.

The second reason has more to do with application access to large social platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and especially Twitter.  In August Twitter announced significant changes in their Application Programmable Interface (API V1.1) through which other applications like Hootsuite, Kred.ly and Sees.aw access the twitter stream.  In the view of many the changes were restrictive to the point where they considered alternatives such as app.net, which originally offered Twitter-like capabilities for a flat annual fee of $50.

Both arguments drive fragmentation, one for reasons of security and the other to avoid control and restriction by the third party platform. Fragmentation will meet some of these perceived expectations but it is also likely that many of the offshoots will encounter similar challenges of scale and security, possibly even invoking similar or harsher constraints on usage.  Any communication with a member of the public can find its way onto any one of the social platforms. That is the magic of digitization; scanning, OCD, cut and paste allows any thing said, signed or written to be copied.  And any social platform, niche or otherwise, that offers an API will provide rules and constraints.

The biggest detriment, however, is not the fact that niche alternatives can’t fully satisfy the needs of either group.  Fragmentation separates and dilutes the social stream.  Additional fragmentation, possibly caused by further experimentation with security and flexibility options amongst others, further separates and dilutes the stream.  Instead of access to large and global communities niche solutions will restrict social participation to those communities in which we are most comfortable.  The value of the social network is diversity, immediacy and the pulse on our collective thoughts and actions.  Niches can only provide a window onto the communities they serve, and these become increasingly homogenized as membership and contribution is limited to a smaller set of like-minded or similarly cultured participants.

There are alternative approaches that may reach a higher level of satisfaction for the disaffected parties.

On the enterprise side: a more comprehensive and informative set of policies around information and communication.  An education program that will help internal and external participants understand the appropriate tone, content and behavior; not just the do’s and don’ts but the rationale and reasons why certain information is private and should remain so, or why good standards of behavior improve the quality and value of interactions.  Establish guidelines for how to conduct research, collaboration and networking.  Technology may be able to check any dialogue against policy, which is a boon for regulated industries, but for others it is far better to have employed resources aware and well-practiced at good social interaction.

Eventually enterprises might learn that applying control and security to every asset is not scalable. As digital information increases exponentially it is more effective to identify core private information and ensure security for that domain. For everything else publish in the cloud according to the comprehensive policies mentioned earlier.

On the unconstrained platform, and in particular Twitter, consider a proactive dialogue with your peers and Twitter representatives.  The August announcements could have been phrased differently, they certainly did not evoke a sense of synergy between the platform and the development community.  However there is little in the new requirements that isn’t reasonable other than the style in which it was delivered.  Polishing the guidelines and making them requirements ensures quality and consistency.  Authentication is a valid requirement to prevent easy abuse.  Endpoint rate limits and user counts are reasonable statistics to conduct dialogue between Twitter and application development businesses, even though the communication did not phrase it that way, providing instead hard limits with an inference of future discussion but not necessarily expansion.

Support those requirements you agree with, and for those you have concerns about find a way to modify the requirements to something more acceptable to both parties.  This is public innovation and one of the main charms and promises of Twitter.  Find others who agree and can further modify the requirements.  With community support and a viable approach you could engage Dick Costolo, Twitter’s CEO, to encourage progress and improvement. We could even call it the API spring.

I want Twitter to continue providing the simplest and best social media dialogue platform.  It is not in my interest for niche platforms to dilute and detract from the stream that Twitter offers. Do what you can to educate, promote and support what is good about open communications, help build a set of policies and standards that improve communications and the API requirements for the platform that hosts them.  If you don’t Twitter will be well and truly forked.

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Radar identifying objects of interestIn a previous post I presented the challenges involved in deriving value from Big Data and in particular unstructured Big Data, which increasingly dominates the Social sphere.  The tools that will enable us to make sense of the plethora of conversations, contributions and observations are still in their infancy and the likelihood that we will have to rely on human scanning and analysis for the short to mid term appears inevitable.

In his book, “The Shallows“, about the effect of the internet on our brains, author Nicholas Carr  discusses the demands on our working memory or, as he puts it, “our mind’s scratch pad”.  Working memory is our CPU and the agent that identifies and transfers information to our long term memory, which is our data store.  It is therefore a pivotal component in our ability to seek out and retain knowledge.

The information flowing into our working memory at any given moment is called our “cognitive load“.  When the load exceeds our mind’s ability to store and process the information… we are unable to retain the information or to draw connections with the information already stored in our long-term memory”

The internet and particularly the social web is constantly bombarding our working memory with stimuli that are intentionally distracting (this post is a representational example with multiple hypertext links in the first two paragraphs).  The pervasiveness of mobile connectivity means that we are always on-line, and never at rest from the interrupting nature of the medium. This suggests we need assistance in processing the social media stream, firstly in being able to recognize important and relevant information, and secondly to earmark that information for further analysis, refinement or augmentation.  The first requirement is for a social media radar, the second for a social information refinery.

Search remains our favorite tool that we use to seek out information.  Google dominates with 4.7 billion searches a day, but Twitter is not far behind (considering its size) at 1.6 billion, and both services are growing fast (Google at 30% increase per year – Twitter at 50% per year). However there are certain limitations in both search functions evidenced by the changes announced by both companies in the past 12 months. Google has recognized the effects of Search Engine Optimization and the fact that we demand results that are more contemporary.  Both companies have added semantic search elements to their  armory, an acknowledgement that searches need to be relevant to time, location, context and searcher’s intent.  However such elements are far from comprehensive. Furthermore because the definitions, rules and algorithms are unpublished the searcher is dependent on Google’s and Twitter’s interpretation of what was intended.  We are still a code generation or two away from being able to parametrize semantic search using our personal or group definitions and meanings.

Turning now to the need for refinement, which is the ability to analyze what we have found, understand its value and relationship to other captured information, and to provide single or collaborative commentary on the discovery itself.  Once again the technology has provided some rudimentary tools, commonly called curation tools.  Related to museum curation, these tools capture and display information of interest.  There are over 40 such applications and each provides a web page in which curators can display their captured content.  In many cases the tools allow for comments to be added as separate components, listed in historic order with the most recent first.  Some curation tools, such as Pearltrees,  support content linking, allowing curators to provide insight into relationships between islands of information.  Many tools provide a browser add-on that will enable the curator to save browsed/searched content to the curated web site.  The tools are improving but there is still a small disconnect between the radar and the refinery functions.

Until now.  SeeSaw is still a fledgling product yet it offers to bridge that gap between scanning and curation, and holds great promise in being able to map  content relevancy  and provide a lens on both active streams and refined content.  What is particularly appealing about SeeSaw is that it is built for visual scanning. as opposed to lexical scanning.  “See”, the radar component of the tool, filters live social media streams and displays the visual content of links and embedded graphics.  For Twitter this is a vast improvement on current viewing dashboards such as Hootsuite and Tweetchat. where speed reading is essential in keeping up with fast moving activities and events such as chatrooms.  SeeSaw not only displays the images but can also stream the video links within individual messages.

This visual facility has three immediate advantages.  Firstly the participant can remain in the chat stream without having to hyperlink to a new page, which has been a major distraction and an extended opportunity for further interruptions and distractions.  Staying in the same window enables continuous contact with the flow of active conversations.   Secondly it enables the viewer to see trends within the stream, connections (ie who is talking to whom) and tangential conversations.  Thirdly, and most importantly, it enables the participant to save active content in the stream to the Saw side of the product, and the bridge to the product’s curation functionality.  A simple toggle button allows the reader to change between the active stream (See Board) and the curated site (Saw Board). In practice this allows the participant to remain in contact and context with the conversation, as opposed to the multi-windowed, heavy interrupt laden environment to which we have been constrained.  Reflection and analysis can now occur after the scan or chat, ensuring that focus and attention can be appropriately applied to both.

SeeSaw is more than welcome to my active toolkit, it allows me to “Embrace, Extend and Expand” (via EMC, via Microsoft) my social media environment.  It is more than a helpmate – it has the potential to be my primary Social Media Assistant.

The See part of Saw – watching the Social Stream for relevant information

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