Last night I saw the future of social networking at the IBM research center for social software. The open house, part of the FutureM events this week in Boston, showcased 11 experimental applications: New ways to enhance collaboration over the Web and new tools to help us sift through, find, and mine the abundance (over-abundance?) of information available to us today.
All the applications presented were very interesting, but here I will discuss three that attempt to answer the age-old question of how to efficiently and accurately reduce “noise” and connect to what’s most relevant to us at any given moment. With social networking, “relevance” has an added dimension of “influence.” We are no longer interested only in ranking what’s most relevant to our search, we also would like to know how relevant is the information to others. In other words, does it influence them?
IBM’s Banter lets the user search the blogosphere for a specific topic and then ranks the results not just by the number of links to a certain blog post, but also by how many other bloggers quote the text verbatim. To help busy communications professionals lost in the sea of comments about the company they work for, Banter’s text analysis also provides indicators of positive, neutral, and negative sentiment. And much more, such as the ability to measure the viral potential of a Twiterer.
Answers and SaNDVis identify influencers inside IBM. Answers is an internal Web application where any IBMer can ask a question and others can answer and comment on it, including voting on its accuracy and applicability. The more you pose questions and the more you answer (correctly) others’ question, the higher you are ranked by the application. SaNDvis uses advanced visualization and interaction techniques to present the network of relationships between content and people across all social networks at IBM. It creates a social map based on social connections, co-membership in a group or project, co-authorship, organization, and tags. It identifies the dynamic social fabric and its centers of influence around areas of interest and expertise.
In the 50s and 60s, studies of the way innovations are spread and adopted (most notably Coleman, Katz, and Mentzel on medical innovation) discovered the importance of social networks and of gatekeepers (influencers) in the process of diffusion. In the era of mass communications, they argued, interpersonal relations still matter. The future of “social networking” is the past of social networks. It’s just that now (and even more in the future) we can see our changing, dynamic social map right there on our computer screen.