I've seen a bunch of posts bubble up over the past few days that are really sparking my curiousity about what is really going on with Twitter, so I need to do a little brain dump. Bear with me.
An article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter was just published today on the Harvard Business Review website, titled On Twitter and in the Workplace, It's Power to the Connectors. In it, she highlights the fact that there is an organizational trend moving away from the hierarchical networks of the 20th century, and towards complex, distributed, non-hierarchical structures of business organization and leadership. She also points out that success today is based on a person's ability to leverage power and influence within their social networks, to act as "connectors" between people and information, and in turn build social capital. She leaves the evaluation of the significance of Twitter open-ended, but she lays out a few characteristics of Twitter that I found most interesting:
In the World According to Twitter, giving away access to information rewards the giver by building followers. The more followers, the more information comes to the giver to distribute, which in turn builds more followers. The process cannot be commanded or controlled; followers opt in and out as they choose. The results are transparent and purely quantitative; network size is all that matters. Networks of this sort are self-organizing and democratic but without any collective interaction.
(just keep those points in mind, I'm going to come back to it)
Is IBM gearing up to compete with Wolfram Alpha in the computational search game? Maybe. Is IBM gearing to take on the top minds on popular TV game show Jeopardy? Definitely. Check out this video from Big Blue:
Developments such as this have got me thinking about not just the computational search just over the horizon, but also the rise of qualitative search that futurist Paul Saffo mysteriously alluded to in this MemeBox interview.
By helping us to climb the stairs of abstraction, user-friendly immersive data visualization (ie, geospatial data mapping) is poised to become one of the more significant near-term drivers of accelerating human inteligence and economics. Leading the charge is the small but robust company Green Phosphor, core participants in the progressive and under-recognized Second Life DataViz Group, which is laying down the foundations for Matrix-esque search: "I need guns, lots of guns."
Color me impressed by Green Phosphor's newest release, Glasshouse (demo vid below - don't worry, better graphics are on the way), which converts raw binary data into interactive 3d models. As indicated by the hire of a molecular biologist as Chief Scientist, the company is gearing up to monetize by applying this technology to the medical domains such as genomics and drug discovery.
As CEO Ben Lindquist points out, "The immersive 3d environment creates an entirely new paradigm for business intelligence and process modelling." More specifically, I'd argue that it marks a Meta-System Transition, or topsight leap, in our ability to process then interact with a variety of systems.
It's part of human nature to label, classify, and quantify the world around us. We feel empowered when we're able to create structure and meaning out of our surroundings. Maps have been used for thousands of years to that end; enabling us to plot a course, make informed decisions of paths to take, and decide which trajectory will give us desired results. In today's modern culture, digital media has taken mapping to a whole new level, giving us the ability to visualize our world in 3D, and on a global scale
So what do maps have to do with social change?
Potentially, everything. A map is a tool, and historically those that have the best maps win. Several digital and social media tools are in the process of converging to create unprecedented platforms for sharing information in real-time. Whereas software like Google Earth allowed us to visualize on a macro scale, these new tools map information on local levels. GPS software, location based tracking, souveillance, and geotagging are coming together to produce information-rich maps that can be visualized in both space and time. Powered by social media, a space is being created where real-time maps can be used to empower communities to connect and collaborate instantaneously.
To scale and dominate as quickly as Google has, a new company will need to generate serious end-user value, monetize effecively, and take a new web-based approach to human resources. One such structure might be an organization specializing in prosumer-based quantification (structured crowd-sourced info mining) that can expand and contract quickly by paying citizen quantifiers for quality content that they input (think adsense, but more structured and directed from the outset). I imagine that this sort of company could catalyze big, fast economic growth and play an important role in generating positive-sum network value as we move further into the acceleration era.
To get the discussion of such a possibility rolling here's a speculative timeline of such a company (2011-2015) that I've cleverly dubbed "Quantification Company":
2011 - Launch: A logical outgrowth of flash mobs, open mapping parties, and steadily rising prosumerism, the Quantification Company (QC) was created in 2011 with the mission of "organizing and accelerating the comprehensive quantification of Earth's most valued systems." The for-profit organization relied on a small core of programmers, salespeople and community managers to catalyze quantification cascades, better known as Data Swarms, for a large variety of clients, but mostly municipalities and large corporations. Early efforts were kept simple and focused mostly on the rapid and/or real-time HD video mapping of U.S. cities, national parks, and other under-quantified areas of interest. Traffic-based fees were paid out to citizen quantifiers who captured and uploaded the best geographic footage and/or commentary. Though they were slightly nervous at the ambition and direction of the QC, competitors like Google, Yahoo and Wikipedia were happy to see traffic and content flow through their systems.
Pipl.com is a new biographical search engine that actually works.
The secret? In addition to doing a good job with the search basics, Pipl also returns results from what it calls "the deep web", "a vast repository of underlying content, such as documents in online databases that general-purpose web crawlers cannot reach."
According to a study conducted by the Journal of Electronic Publishing, "public information on the deep Web is currently 400 to 550 times larger than the commonly defined World Wide Web."
A quick search on Pipl does indeed return results from this new search frontier, making the new product a truly useful tool. Just see for yourself.
This successful application of course prompts a whole set of questions about the future of seach, such as:
How deep does the deep web really go? (Deep - quickly getting much deeper.)
How fast will Pipl grow? (Fast.)
Is Google working on similar projects. (Yes, and also expanding the deep web.)
Who will buy it? (Microsoft, Yahoo.)
Will Pipl change web culture by making personal data more accessible? (Yes. It's already the best free background check online and will make people nervous about their social network profiles and decade-OLD data.)
According to Peter Kafka over at All Things D, The Obama administration has taken yet another intelligent step toward web-mediated government by hiring Googler Katie Stanton as, get this, "Director of Citizen Participation".
The move to bring in a social media expert (tempered by a finance nd foreign relations background) signals growing awareness of crowd-sourcing as an effective means of value generation. With a mind like Stanton's in the mix, we can safely assume the President is looking to 1) continue exploring the various (and exploding) social media tools available on the market, and 2) to build out a comprehensive social media apparatus that will maximize its efforts in this arena.
Quantify: To determine, express, or measure the quantity of. - Merriam-Webster
Why do we compulsively quantify?
An army with a map of the battle terrain is more formidable than an otherwise equal opponent without access to that knowledge. It can more quickly make decisions that will best optimize its chances for success. So it's no surprise that good mapping, or quantification, has been essential to human warfare, and that armies nowadays work to create the most comprehensive real-time maps that technology will allow.
But quantification isn't just essential to effective warring (unless you view life as a perpetual war or game). It's also critical to human decision-making on all levels. Whether we're taking short-cuts on the walk home, contemplating a new diet, planning to send our kids to college or writing software code, we're making these decisions in the context of systems maps (aka quantifications) that we run in our brains. Thus we can reduce the amount of Space, Time, Energy and Matter that we waste (a process related to what Evo Devo philosopher John Smart calls STEM Compression), avoid situations that threaten our well-being and generate max value by taking advantage of opportunities to control resources and our environment.
In short, quantification is an essential component of knowledge and leads to efficiency as we strive to survive, multiply and thrive.
Furthermore, quantification appears to be "rigged" into the game of life. As organims evolve and life's complexity increases, new species with brains capable of greater quantification and abstraction emerge at a regular clip. Over time, these organisms discover ways to expand their knowledge by communicating (actively or passively) information to one another and letting the network manage their quantifications and decisions. Then, eventually, the higher-level organism figure out how to extend their knowledge into the environment through technology that allows them to communicate and retrieve it more easily than before. This is accomplished directly through technologies like language, writing, or classical maps, and indirectly through the hard-technologies like spears, paint, and paper that critically support knowledge externalization.
To my mind, it seems likely that wherever life is found in the universe, it is required to steadily improve its ability to manage knowledge, lest it be overtaken by chaos or other organized life. This, of course, requires the systematic quantification of its complex environment.
MySpace and the Wall Street Journal are running a promotion that will send one MySpace user to the influential World Economic Forum Davos Conference as a "citizen journalist". Though the contest may seem like a novelty at this point in web history, it does mark one small step toward more official respresentation for the prosumer and web networks of the near-future.
Selected by an all-star panel of judges based on their compelling and heartfelt video submissions, the 5 finalists are all women with clear and well-stated messages for our world leaders. Each has garnered a community feedback score of between 72% and 88%, which means that they pass the public likability test. I am particularly struck by how well-rounded and inspiring the candidates come across.
Expecting a steady increase in prosumer behavior, proliferation of web-based economic clans and the growth of value generated by such, I imagine that contests such as this one will expand in coming years as participants in different social nodes gradually begin to demand more rights.
Already, the Chris DeWolfes (MySpace), Mark Zuckerbergs (Facebook), and Philip Rosedales (Second Life) of the world are regularly invited to speak at big events about the sizable online nations they lead. But how long will it take before web-based prosumers unionize and demand representation to the external world?
For those of you still wondering about the awesome power of open-source software and web apps, which some forecasters believe will comprise 40% of all IT jobs by 2020, the Open Street Map (open version of Google Maps) editorial timelapse above is an illuminating demonstration of how individuals scattered across the globe can work together to quickly assemble a complex information graph.
Still doubting the power of digital altruism? Consider that over the next few years we'll move closer to always-on, hi-def, GPS-enabled life-logging devices, which will make contributing rich information to such 3D wikis much easier, if not nearly automatic. Mix in some smarter software that understands where to contextually arrange data and we're likely looking at serious acceleration of open-source graphing projects, which would help explain why the % of open-source jobs is expected to rise so significantly.
The Global Brain is hard at work. Emerging technology, software, information and social norms are speeding up its top-down, bottom-up and hybrid knowledge generation.
How long before President Barack Obama refers to social media as the Fifth Estate?
When I sat down to write this timely piece about the role of social media in government I was hopeful that by calling it "The Fifth Estate" I was about to be somewhat clever and original. Sheesh, was I wrong. A quick search revealed that many bloggers and pundits have in fact been calling social media The Fifth Estate for a while now:
There are in fact hundreds, if not thousands, of references to social media as The Fifth Estate that go back many, many years.
This of course has once again got me thinking that 1) there is truly no such thing as an original idea, especially on a planet inhabited by billions of meme processors all hooked into one global web, and 2) as innocuous as it may seem to us at any given moment, social media is truly a breakthrough phenomenon that is absolutely critical to convergent acceleration.