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CPHC home page

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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data graphic

First published in Internet Media Labs Blog – 27th October 2012

We are amassing data at an unprecedented rate.  In the course of a day the internet handles more than 1,000 Petabytes of data (2011 figures) and is projected to double in less than three years.  That’s a million terabytes or a billion gigabytes  just on the public internet alone.   Granted there is a lot of duplication and the amount of image and video content is greatly contributing to the accelerated growth. Furthermore our growing dependency on mobility demands even greater participation and production that further magnifies digital traffic.

That is a lot of data and a very large amount of noise carrying a decreasing ratio of signal.  How do we operate in such an environment and meet our objectives for education, career, parenting, healthcare, community participation, consumerism and entertainment? How do we locate and recognize the availability and qualities of resources that will help us live our lives productively and successfully?

A complex question no doubt, but one that highlights the current capabilities and shortcomings of the network today.

The short and most common answer would be search engines.  To a degree that is a reasonable response, but given the immensity of available data it is woefully short of satisfying anything but the last two on my list of objectives (consumerism and entertainment).

The issue starts with search engines and the demands of commercialism.  Commerce sustains our civilization and provides the impetus for innovation and discovery.  But it also dominates the way we create and prepare content, and the way we search for information.  We are also largely dependent on a single search engine, which is still evolving though firmly rooted in textual analysis. Yes there are other search options but the majority of us use Google.

Search technology is beginning to branch out as witnessed by Google’s goal of producing a knowledge graph. Currently it has the ability to determine sentiment which is the first step in semantic analysis.  Yet there is a long way to go before search can provide an accurate return on how, what and who we are searching for.

Google spends a lot of capital on developing and improving search algorithms, which are obscured to prevent gaming the system. Those algorithms perform a large number of calculations that include the analysis and synthesis of web content, structure and performance.

Providers of content and information are aware that they can improve the ranking of their published material by optimizing their web site  through Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) or improving the quality and attractiveness of their content. In addition the search engine vendor(s) provide consulting services to assist content providers in achieving approved “white hat” SEO status as opposed to “black hat” SEO which is risky, unapproved, and has the potential to be banned.

Any search results in an index of entries ranked by how well they have been produced and optimized.  The more content humankind produces the more commercial entities will spend in order to ensure high ranking so that we consume their products or services, after all few consumers go beyond the first page of search results.  Hence my assertion above that consumerism and entertainment (which for sake of argument includes news and events) are the principal beneficiaries of the current solutions. And that’s great if you are catching up on news, wish to be entertained or shopping either actively or casually.  The ranking system will give you the most up to date, the most popular and the most advertised consumables.

However the ranking system doesn’t scale down for the individual, the community or small businesses or enterprises, unless predetermined keywords are used in the content and search.  A small voice cannot be heard where shouting is encouraged even demanded.  The more we use search engines the louder that shouting becomes.  Furthermore the ranking system doesn’t really scale economically for SEO content as globalization will introduce more competition for the coveted top ranked entries, demanding increased effort and optimization.

But this post is not about search engines and optimization of content.  It’s about locating resource and identifying quality and relevancy that will help in collaboration; finding people, ideas, material, skills and availability so the other objectives on my list can be fulfilled.

We need something more than simple signposts or lists, valuable as they are.  We need a capability that will not only locate a resource, but one that will also provide us with much needed information about the resource, its properties, location, status, history and relationships to other resources. In short we need directories, repositories of resources and their attributes that are easily accessible and extensible.

Directory databases have been around for a long time and are currently in operation in most large enterprises,  most commonly behind corporate firewalls.  They meet many of the requirements outlined above, although their use has been necessarily constrained to a management and security function. In most implementations they perform that function well.  That style of directory is also appropriate beyond the firewall, especially when authentication amongst diverse communities and populations needs to be supported.

Yet we can do so much more with directories, especially if we liberate their extensibility and open them up to collaborative contributions and housekeeping.  Today we keep our own lists and collaborate on those in communities of interest. There are several listing applications on Social Media such as, Twitchimp or the late lamented Formulists.  These are great applications and no social media maven can exist without one.  But they are only lists and they only carry a small number of entries and attributes.

Open collaborative directories will be able to scale to support large numbers of entries and attributes, including attributes that are determined by the participants and their communities. In other words directories will carry the hard facts about a resource as well as attributes that are determined by those who use and collaborate with those resources.

This is very similar to Facebook’s like, (and imaginary don’t like), but applied to the performance or quality of resource as experienced in collaboration.  Such peer review and measurement lies at the heart of Open Source development, a meritocracy where your contributions are evaluated by peers to determine your value and position within the group.  Such information will prove invaluable to those seeking knowledge and the resources to get things done.

And why stop at people? Open Collaborative Directories can support any resource be it curated knowledge bases, dictionaries, almanacs and compendiums.

As long as they are open and accessible they will serve and be served by the communities that need them. Because directory searches have little need for ranking they will be the first port of call for those who want more than the latest news or consumable.

Data image via Tom Woodward in Flickr Creative Commons

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New arrivals at Ellis Island. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Changing social platforms is like moving to live in a new country.

How do I know?  Because I have done the latter three times and met the same hurdles to a settled existence as I now detect in moving to a new platform on social media.

The largest of those hurdles is collateral.  When I came to live in the US, for example, I had no credit rating, because there was no record stateside of my economic conduct.  I had no guarantors other than my employer because friends and family lived in Europe.  Slowly I established myself, connecting with the economy and communities until my rating facilitated the more desirable loan rates.

The second of the major hurdles is equity or net worth.  Equity comprises assets, liquid and fixed.  Liquidity or cash is necessary for every day living, the small transactions that allow us to commute, feed ourselves and be entertained. Fixed assets are a little more problematic, because they are usually hard to convert to liquid status.  Furthermore they tend to be anchored in the environment from which you have departed, and have little value in the new environment.  Owning a house in Europe has no weight when trying to buy a house in the US, and vice versa.

The same holds true when one considers investing effort in an additional or alternate social platform.  While you may have a generic social score aggregated across active platforms, your credit rating on a new, or seldom used platform is non-existent.  Collateral in this case is not about your financial credit rating, it is your trustworthiness as a social participant.  Just as in immigration that rating has to be built gradually  and cannot be transferred from the old to the new.

The analogy is consistent for equity as well.  Equity in social terms is the value of contributions.  These most commonly are the status updates, messages, tweets, replies, mentions that make up the social media conversations of each second, hour and day of our lives.  It is also the knowledge base and territorial familiarity of that platform, knowing who does or knows what, where expertise lies, or when particular events occur, or what time is best to capture the attention of your networking collaborators.

All this is platform equity.  Not surprisingly very little, if any, of that equity is transferable.  Those contacts, the followers and those followed, like the friends and relations in the old world, belong and remain on that platform.  Those contributions and the manner in which you supplied them is also tied to the platform.  Unlike property or disposable assets these cannot be liquidated into cash.

The new platform requires new equity and collateral, it cannot easily be bought, at least not without compromising trustworthiness. The only alternative is to invest a similar amount of time and effort in building equity on the new platform, thus forcing a decision on whether to build and then maintain multiple platform equity and collateral.  That factorial investment might be too high a price to pay, especially for those individuals whose roles do not include 100%  social engagement.

There is one positive to this situation and it is somewhat paradoxical in the fact that the fixed social equity  is more versatile than the liquid.  I refer to blogs.  The platform that best supports communicating complexity, rationale and clarification.  Blog posts like this one allow ideas and insights to be expanded, formatted and packaged for distribution through any social media platform.   However they do only offer the foundational piece; the interactions, connections and short communications still have to be performed.

There are several implications of the above, especially as we consider scale:

Consistency: Equity and collateral are both affected by inconsistency.  And we all know that consistency is more than desirable in social media, it is almost obligatory.  However context can vary and what might be considered consistent in one platform could be seen as inconsistent even contradictory in another.  Furthermore maintaining dialogues and connections across multiple platforms can easily foster miscommunications, especially if the connections themselves participate on multiple platforms.  Since we cannot easily store our contributions, we cannot easily reference our interlocutors’ or our own previous conversations.  The more platforms we engage with the higher the likelihood of miscommunication and inconsistency.

Social Marketing Investment: It would be fair to assume that few social-media active consumers will engage heavily on a large number of platforms and will more likely inhabit and contribute on a manageable handful (2-4).  It is also unlikely that consumers of specific brands will inhabit the same platforms.   This is not dissimilar to the position industry faced with the proliferation of television channels in the latter part of last century.  The answer then as now is to promote on the most popular channels or platforms. Unlike television however marketing organizations would be cautioned against abandoning platforms that drop in popularity, since their collateral and equity will remain, albeit diminished over time.  The danger is of course that the least attended platform then becomes the greatest liability.  Such platforms are more prone to negative activity that could fester unaddressed.

Social Collaboration:  Perhaps the biggest challenge for industry will be in the requirements for and selection of collaborative services, especially if the components and resources have preferred social platforms of participation that are different. Ideally a common platform solves this problem, one where context integrity is assured.  Multiple platforms dilute that integrity unless all contributors and contributions are consistent across all platforms, though such purity would inevitably be  strained by diversity of geography and culture.  This suggests that established collaborative groups and activities will be more conservative and less exploratory of new platforms.  It also suggests that new collaborative groups and activities can explore new platforms, especially those that offer better functionality or efficiencies.  But these organizations also warrant caution in deciding for a new platform, for it may well exclude them from collaborating  with resources and communities on the older platforms.

I am sure there are many other points to consider, but one thing is certain: adding or moving to a new social platform is a non-trivial event, and one that demands a lot of adjustment and effort.  This post is my attempt to bridge the increasing number of platforms to which I contribute as I will distribute it on all. Hopefully it will spark further discussions on the challenges as well as progress on removing the walled garden barriers to the preferred open environment.

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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, and access the twitter stream.  In the view of many the changes were restrictive to the point where they considered alternatives such as, 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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An enterprise dilemma – who deserves the social media golden apple: Marketing, IT, Business Development?

Who should own Social? I have heard this question asked many times, and though the answers given are nearly always the same “CMO, CIO or COO“, the fact that the question continues to be asked suggests that such responses are not satisfactory.  Most certainly the question is not the right question, after all who can own an adjective?  As soon as you add the noun the dilemma is not as  muddy but it is still far from clear.   Whether its social media, content, information, stream or network we still don’t have obvious answers although some of those nouns give us clues.

The fact is that we do not know what the golden apple of social media really is.  We do know that it is current, topical and massively popular.  Additionally the more we engage the more we realize that “social” is a mindset, a behavior and like the big data that is produced – extreme.  That last word should send a frisson of caution through any CEO or Board of Directors, enough to suggest careful consideration before any “engagement” let alone appointment of “social” responsibility.

“Social”  means different things to different organizations and communities, so before  delineating any bailiwick, the CEO or board must determine what “social” means to their business, their business culture and above all their customers. Customers are most important because the world of social is public, visible, and can act like litmus paper in highlighting public opinion, good or bad.  Like it or not customers are going to be influenced by an enterprise’s “social” reputation.  In turn customers and even the general public are going to influence business strategies and objectives to some degree.  Understanding the risks, opportunities and attendant costs over time is critical input for any plan, and social engagement is no different. However with “social” any implementation is more visible, and feedback is much more immediate and amplified.

The best way to get to grips with the issues is through experience.  The best way to get early experience is to perform Proof of Concepts (PoC).  Notice the plurality, which is extremely relevant to “social”, because it is a behavior and an operational style, not a function or a process.  PoCs allow you to apply “social” behaviors and styles to specific functions or processes within organizations.  At the detailed level that might be Customer Service Problem Management, Sales Force Automation Management or it could be Asset Control Process Improvement.  While these functions might not be the first in line for examination, they do illustrate that there is no division or department that presides over all the possible functions.  Of course Marketing, Finance and IT are going to be involved, as they should,  but the purpose of the PoC is to determine whether “social” behavior is a fit for specific parts of the business.  Further analysis and possibly additional PoCs can then determine the scope and reach of “social” adoption.  Some organizations will be better suited to “social” behavior, others may have to consider major organizational and or cultural changes.  However the decision to adopt, in part or in totality, depends on business need and business commitment at the highest level if anything other than discrete projects are being considered.

The Judgement of Paris is the myth of impossible choices.  In the story Paris, a Trojan prince, was asked to present a prize of great value, a golden apple, to one of three goddesses, Aphrodite/Venus, Minerva/Athena and Hera/Juno.  Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite, the most alluring and beautiful of the three, securing her appreciation and support in the future war with the Greek states.  Alas he also incurred the disdain and wrath of the other two goddesses, who supported the Greek kings and princes, Agamemnon, Ulyses and Achiles in the conflict.  The apple didn’t cause the war, that was Paris committing another poor judgement call by absconding with Helen, Agamemnon’s daughter, and carrying her off to be his bride in Troy.  But the apple did establish  which godly powers belonged in which camp during and immediately after the hostilities.

“Social Media” is a golden apple.  Marketing, Finance, Business Development, Audit, Operations and IT are all potential recipients.  Giving the responsibility or ownership of “social” to one of these functions is fine if the business only wants to operate “social” exclusively within that function.  But here lies the dilemma in which Paris found himself, the business gains on one side but not on others.  For example allowing Marketing to direct and control “social” could require the subordination of IT (I have heard that said many times) which also provides service to all other functions, their processes and their data. Is that a responsibility that Marketing really wants to be accountable for?

Paris didn’t have the option, but he could have approached Zeus, the CEO of Olympus and either given him the apple or asked him to decide.  Social business is larger than any one department, it is likely that most businesses that depend on consumerism will become fully “social” both internally and externally.  It therefor makes sense, once the analysis of early trials has been conducted, to create a change agent at the most senior level, reporting to the CEO or Board of Directors who is charged with developing the “Social” strategic plan and the transformation, if necessary, of the enterprise culture.  Once the transformation is complete the change agent can withdraw and  the functions will run themselves as they did before, they will just do so in a “social” style.   In the “social” business, everyone should have a slice of the apple.

The illustration above is from an 1848 publication of the UK periodical “Punch”.  The cartoon refers to the famous myth and depicts the political dilemma faced by French voters in the 1848 French General Election.  It is easier to compare business departments to politicians than it is to enchanting immortals.

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In a very short time curation has evolved from a minor supporting role to a major or even leading role in Social Media engagement.  It is no longer sufficient to just share items of interest, breaking news and opinion, not if you want to be regarded as authentic and taken seriously.

Information Filter

Knowledge Condenser

Curation has many definitions, including my own: “Curation is the acquisition, evaluation, augmentation, exhibition, disposition and maintenance of digital information, usually centered around a specific topic or theme”.  The Digital Curation Center (DCC) in the United Kingdom puts it more succinctly

Digital curation, broadly interpreted, is about maintaining and adding value to a trusted body of digital information for current and future use. (DCC)

Both definitions infer an information lifecyle process, that manages the digital objects from creation to deletion. Both suggest that capturing and adding value, whether by commentary or related material, is vital to the end product which is knowledge or information that can be referenced now and in the future.

Message Amplification

However the evolution of digital curation is experiencing some fragmentation.  Not that this is bad, but it does suggest the differences should be understood  as curation tools will differ in features and capabilities as each tries to satisfy its target customer base.  So far I have  identified 3 major distinctions in curation:

  1. Marketing Content: comes in several forms as marketeers move away from landing pages on Facebook and web sites, and seek to amplify brand presence through curated content.
  2. Information (or Knowledge Content): More focused on collecting and condensing information to support a topic or subject. Most commonly a reference site usually set up for either internal or external collaboration
  3. Personal Content – less dependent on content management features and capabilites: can either be used for amplification (self-branding) or condensing (information).

The question I would like to pose is who visits these curated sites and what are their preferences.  The following poll offers choices in the style and content of  curated sites.  Please let me know which sites you prefer to access for either information or shareable content.  I have made a further distinction for sites that are the result of either employee or community collaboration as they possibly differ from information sites in the degree of social participation (ie more social).

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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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, 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 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 /

Image: nuttakit /

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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