Social Enterprise

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Social networking power

A force for profound change...

First draft compiled on highway 101 heading south from San Francisco and finalised on BA286 flying to London the next day. Dispatched to silicon.com from a free wi-fi site in London a few weeks later after a further polishing.

It was the growth of my email address book years ago and the follow-on layer of contacts that first alerted me to the exponential nature of the net. At the time the growth and interconnection of people was remarkable.

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Since then we have seen the arrival of mobiles, texting, instant messaging and web browsing. But the greatest impact has been felt from the rapid growth of social networking and the electronic grouping of people. This has led to new modes of working, information retrieval and distribution, followed by networked working and resourcing. My take is this is just the start of something very new!

To date, social nets have been dominated by people in a fast-growing web 2.0 world but our machines are waiting in the wings to overtake and sideline us as web 3.0 becomes a reality.

An analysis of just one of my social networks revealed the growth figures to be highly non-linear and very fast - as follows:

Tier 1 (my contacts) - 524
Tier 2 (contacts of my contacts) - 128,400
Tier 3 (contacts of my contacts' contacts) - 5,225,400

The key here is this is not a random collection of contacts, it is a hand-picked grouping of professionals spanning all industries and disciplines. That is the key, and what makes it such a powerful resource. Ask a question, posit a hypothesis, search for someone, seek out resource - and the response is generally fast and accurate.

An analysis of all the growth data over the past couple of years revealed the following average multipliers normalised for a single tier 1 addition:

Tier 1 - 1
Tier 2 - 239
Tier 3 - 21,250

That means for every new contact I add, I gain on average another 239 tier 2 contacts and 21,250 at tier 3. Interestingly this network now gives me access to around 26 million selected people on this particular network, spanning all nations and all industry and government sectors.

A key question here is now one of trust. Of course one maxim is: trust is something you do when you don't know any better.

But I prefer to establish reasonably solid trust relationships at tier 1 and then assume a lesser degree of initial trust at tier 2. As for tier 3 - well this is a tier too far for me and I always assume a new relationship build is needed at this point. This is in complete contrast to the young Facebook crowd but then again we are talking professional relationships here.

Where is this all going? I anticipate a new discipline and a new industry with web 3.0 when our machines will naturally cluster in social nets to share resource, information, knowledge and experience. The key question will be: who is the rogue machine? And what are you going to do about it? Somehow I feel the machines will sort this one out faster than we can.

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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