The last thing IBM needs now is a vision.
Lou Gerstner, CEO IBM, August 1993
When Lou Gerstner joined IBM as its new CEO, he famously quipped that "the last thing IBM needs now is a vision". Four or five years later, the company announced a new vision symbolized by the letter “e” and backed by a huge advertising campaign. Four or five years after that we were told, again through a massive advertising campaign that is still with us, that the company's vision was expressed in the “On Demand” tag line.
Business Process Management (BPM), Web Services and Service Oriented Architectures (SOA), Utility or Grid Computing and many other “hot topics” in today’s IT environment all have something in common. They support the new business environment driven by the commodities economy.
I must admit I never did get speech recognition as a disruptive technology. Isn’t it just another dial-pad digit-entry IVR application? Sure, it is much more sophisticated and user-friendly, promising to finally deliver the economic benefits of automation without alienating your customers, and for sure the technology is finally starting to really develop. But is it disruptive in the sense that is disrupts and fundamentally changes the markets for companies products and services? I’m beginning to think that maybe it is.
A recent paper by David Kempe et al. provides practical answers to the problem of viral marketing:
if we can try to convince a subset of individuals to adopt a new product or innovation, and the goal is to trigger a large cascade of further adoptions, which set of individuals should we target?
In many ways similar to LinkedIn (and therefore to the original Six Degrees) in scope and intent, Spoke Software tackles the problem of maintaining the software’s representation of your relationships by providing a download that integrates with your e-mail client. The software the automatically identifies your relationships and their strength based on your e-mail traffic.
I have been a fan of the DataDistilleries technology for a long time and we have worked closely with with them in one of the companies I have founded. Their core products are an analytical tool and a real-time recommendation engine; the latter typically used to provide cross-sell and up-sell offers on inbound customer contacts through the call center, retail stores, web site and so on. My opinion has always been that the real-time engine was the jewel in the crown, and that seems to be the main reason for SPSS (who are of course strong in the offline analytical market already) buying the company.
Somewhere between a collection of discussion forums and a networking site, the focus at Ryze is on making contacts through shared interests. It is not dissimilar to The Well.
With an unabashed business focus, LinkedIn is perhaps the nearest successor to the original SixDegrees site. The focus is on connecting business contacts through your network. Lacking automatic integration to your email system and other communications tools, the site requires manual maintenance but somehow it does work: this is the site from whose users I get the most consistent feedback. LinkedIn works.
There is a growing class of software that allows you to manage your social network online and to use this network to make new contacts. Different implementations of this idea have different focus on why you would want to make new contacts, and we will review some of them over the next days and weeks.
It seems to me that the requirements for systems like LinkedIn, Friendster, and many others, all of which allow you to document your social networks and, ultimately, profit from them, can be understood by considering normal, “real-world” social interactions and their limitations.