network analysis (ona/sna)


Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing (Photo credit: cambodia4kidsorg)

Back in college (and we’re talking about the early ’80s), I’d thought little about crashing at someone’s pad – even someone I didn’t know when backpacking around.  You meet some people you like, and you’re somewhere you’re not too familiar with – so what better way to get to know the place than hang out with some “locals” (even if they too were visitors to the place) – and take advantage of the convenience of being able to flop somewhere and leave your backpack while you’re out investigating.

Nowadays I can’t imagine doing that – and I chalk it up to aging and parenting.  Enter AirBNB. This is the peer-to-peer service you’ve heard about whereby you can rent a spot on someone’s couch for the night. Would I do this now?  Probably not – but apply that concept to using a car, and maybe I would.

That’s what Getaround is about. Need to use a car? There’s a car rental (peer-to-peer sharing) option that’s essentially a network of personally owned vehicles wired to be accessible for procurement via their smartphone app.  Think Zipcar, but in a form that lets car owners leverage the downtime of their own car.  Also in the space is Wheelz, which is similar to Getaround, but is focused on sharing within a known community (i.e. students on a campus), and now has Zipcar as an investor/partner.  Yet other geographically focused services are RelayRides and Car2Go.

Somehow I see myself more likely to be a user of the crowd-car before the crowd-couch. I guess I’m just more comfortable with the concept of peer-to-peer in this form – perhaps because I’d be awake, conscious and on my own (versus asleep and vulnerable).  Call me old fashioned – but I’m trying.

What’s next?  Renta-potty?

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Español: Delfín nariz de botella English: - Tu...

Image via Wikipedia

Our latest Semantic-Link discussion was interesting in that it touched on some distinct but deep topics that tend to recur in our discussions, namely: usability, privacy and the old standby – the definition of semantics itself.

I won’t spend any more time on the definition of semantics beyond that the consensus (for purposes of this discussion) was that it means “meaning”, with contexts including: linguistic/NLP related word-meaning semantics; and the other being compliance with W3C standards – or architectural Semantics.  In essence, the latter is what enables a machine version of the former.

The focus was actually a conversation with guest Nova Spivack, and his more current efforts, including Bottlenose and StreamGlider. (Next time we’ll have to let Nova do more of the talking, as we only really had time to dig into the first of those.)  Bottlenose is intended to help people manage and interconnect their interaction across the multiple electronic realms in which they operate.  While Nova mentions that the system doesn’t currently make use of W3C standard architectural Semantics, it does use ontologies to relate topics and navigate meaning.  This is particularly visible in Bottlenose’s Sonar – which renders a visualization of the active topics, hash-tags, and people around you, with adjustable time-horizon.  If you’d like to try it out during the private beta, visit Bottlenose.com and you can Sign Up using the Invite Code: semanticlink.

Listen to podcast here: Semantic Link Podcast – January 2012

As mentioned above, two key items arose from the discussion – the matters of privacy, and the question of transparency.  In the case of privacy, would it become an issue, from a business intelligence standpoint, that others could more easily see the topics that someone is discussing or investigating – especially if such a tool could cross multiple networks/platforms in finding patterns.

As is often the case in these Semantic-Link discussions, the question of “how much should be exposed about the use of semantics” arose.  There is of course a balance between active vs viral evangelizing of semantics, and the cost of exposure is simplicity and usability, while the benefit is flexibility and control, for those who can handle it.

The answer itself is complicated.  On the one hand, technologies need to evolve in terms of leveraging semantics in order for people to really benefit from the underlying semantic capabilities.  At the same time, those same people we’re talking about getting the benefit shouldn’t have to understand the semantics that enable the experience.  Paul Miller, host of the podcast, also wrote about this issue.  I’ll add that Investors do to like to hear that their company is using unique and valuable techniques.  So too, though, is it the case that any company making use of semantics likely feels it is a competitive advantage to them – a disincentive to sharing details of the secret sauce.  .

As mentioned during the podcast, this is a matter of which audience is being addressed – the developers or the masses.  And in terms of the masses, even that audience is split (as is the case with almost all other software users).  There are the casual users, and there are those who are hardcore – and when we’re talking about masses, there are many many more people would fall into the casual camp.  So from a design standpoint, this is where usability really matters, and that means simplicity.

So in the case of Bottlenose, for the time being they’ve chosen to hide the details of the semantics, and simplify the user experience – which will hopefully facilitate broader adoption.  There may too be room for a power-user mode, to exposes the inner workings of the black-box algorithms that find and weigh associations between people, places, things… and let users tweak those settings beyond the time-frame and focus adjustments that are currently provided.

Mentioned by Nova was the LockerProject in which personal data could potentially be maintained outside any one particular network or platform.   This of course helps on the privacy side, but adds a layer of complexity (until someone else comes along and facilitates easy integration – which will no doubt chip some of the privacy value).

Personally, I’d love to see the ability to combine slices of personal activity from one or multiple platforms, with tools such as Bottlenose, so that I could analyze activity around slivers or Circles (in the case of Google+ usage) from various networks, in any analytical platform I choose.

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An example of a social network diagram.Image via WikipediaWacky looking title.  Not perfect – but the point is to do a little analysis of Value Network Analysis.  There’s a good Aleksola post [note 9/15/10: that link seems to have died, but here's another for it] up, relating to the topic – which VN Group(ie) John Maloney shared with the list today.

The post explains VNA as social and technical resources being used together (in relation to one another) to create value – whether intellectual, physical, or otherwise.  It distinguishes between in- and out-facing networks, but emphasizes that “Value is created through exchange and the relationships between roles”, over systems in place to enable those interactions.

While it may seem that VNA is about mapping the pathways of social or organizational interaction, such mapping only provides a framework for analysis and discovery – revealing pathways for value.

The actual value created is through the meeting of needs of various parties to transactions or engagement situations.  In this way, I think of VNA is a way to consider how the system dynamics of engagement between parties facilitates a kind of currency translation and barter – enabling each to bring to the table something that may (perhaps in combination with something brought by someone else) satisfy the needs of another – and similarly may have their own needs indirectly met.

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As usual, last night’s NY Semantic Web Meetup was a pleasure, with presentations from/on Hakia and DERI (Linking Open Data), a lively group, and lots of conversation.

In one of my side-conversations, we dug a bit into the concept of “traversing”, not just to travel across associations, but to applying patterns of associations to people and situations that exhibit subsets of those same patterns, to expose opportunities. To the business, this is cross-marketing, to the analyst, this is pattern recognition and application. One participant in the conversation voiced the sentiment that this may be a key gateway to leveraging semantics for revenue generation.

Speaking of running for the money – and in the spirit of traversing, my wife is doing a little of her own “connecting ideas for the creation of value”. She’s run a few marathons before, but by dedicating her upcoming Boston Marathon run to something that matters to her, (her story about what/why… starts half-way down her page) she’s threaded across otherwise disparate areas of interest. While not everyone who has contributed is a runner, she’s clearly (judging by the numbers) tapped threads of common interest in cancer research.

Ultimately, powerful leveraging of semantic capabilities will enable greater networking and cross-connecting, or traversing, to occur in ways that are more graceful (perhaps less personal, but hopefully not) than were used in the example above, but in any case, toward the end of connecting ideas and creating value.

Networking is often thought of in terms of finding people – either for work or social purposes, and as an essential means of information sharing (for both gathering and spreading). There’s another interesting thing to be learned – about you – through examination of who you network with and how you do it.

An interesting article on network analysis, while covering the traditional concepts of network analysis, has some hidden gems – emphasizing the role people play in the world around them. For some, examination of this can bring to the surface a facet of their own character that they might not generally recognize or appreciate.

There is so much emphasis on title or position, in business or organizations and even in our communities, that individuals often lose sight of the role they actually play (through their interaction) and the impact they make.  The directional focus of the article is on identifying people and channels for increased information flow and impact.  Thinking about this in reverse, from you as an individual, in terms of who you touch, how and why… can be worthwhile and enlightening.

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