August 30, 2011

Half of the adults in the US use network platforms to interact with friends

Social networks have crossed another milestone.

In case you didn't see this news last week ...... this press release is from The New York Times......

For the first time, half of all adults in the United States said they used a social networking site, according to a survey released on Friday by the Pew Research Center.

That is 50 percent of all Americans, not just those who say they are online. Six years ago, when Pew first conducted a similar survey, only 5 percent of all adults said they used social sites, like Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace.

It is a sign of how deeply and widely social networking companies have penetrated the lives of ordinary people and, in turn, transformed the ways in which people communicate, authorities govern and companies sell things.

Parents use Facebook to vet nannies, carmakers to introduce new models, police to keep tabs on suspects. Federal government authorities are preparing this weekend to use social networking sites for hurricane preparation on the East Coast.

The Pew survey found that among adults who are online, the rates of participation were higher: 65 percent, according to the survey, up slightly from 61 percent last year.

Not surprising, the sites are more popular among younger people: 83 percent of people surveyed in the 18-29 age bracket said they used social networking sites, compared with 51 percent of those in the 50-64 bracket. The young are also twice as likely to use social sites every day.

The survey by the center's Internet and American Life Project described women ages 18 to 29 as "the power users," with 89 percent of them using social networking sites and 69 percent using them every day. Such a stark finding has obvious implications for advertising on sites like Facebook.

Neither income nor education seemed to have any statistically significant bearing on the use of the sites. A separate study published by the Pew Center in June found that black Americans continued to be more likely to be on Twitter than whites. One in four African-American users of the Internet said they used Twitter "occasionally," and 11 percent said they used it daily.

Twitter penetration still trails considerably. Thirteen percent of those online describe themselves as Twitter users and the bulk of them use it on their smartphones.

The Internet is still more commonly used everyday for e-mail and search, with 61 percent reporting that they went online every day to check e-mail, 59 percent for search and 43 percent for social networking.

There are some signs that social networking is reaching its limit. Asked for one word to describe their social networking experience, the most common was "good."

One in five respondents, however, sounded less upbeat. They used words including "boring," "time-consuming" and "overrated."

November 22, 2010

Facebook Being a Secretary of State

Inspired by an article I read about a month ago on Techcrunch and as an avid user of Facebook since 2004, I wanted to check whether I can still repeat Mr. Arrington's approach to the below form of identity fraud.

My target was a Secretary of State of a western country. A Secretary of State can come from the ranks of career bureaucrats or political parties. Anybody with a little social engineering skills can learn about the social circles, open Amazon wish-lists, email addresses, etc. of a public figure such a SecState.

Picking the weekend as a realistic moment for a busy person such a SecState to test Facebook, I started my activities. I used the person's official email, official picture, university affiliation and year of birth for the newly established Facebook profile. I sent out an invitation to another gov executive who is officially on Facebook. It didn't take long for the person to accept my invitation. The moment I had that person as "my" friend, Facebook's potential list of friends got more accurate...

I stopped there because I wasn't sure about the unintended consequences of such a test. I informed the newly made friend about the test. Luckliy the person was amused by it. Quote: "And I just started being very happy that the SecState wanted to have me as a friend". Of course I deactivated the SecState's account and deleted the person's picture. Finally, I wrote a note to the SecState's office informing them about this test, sharing the login data I had used and offering some ideas of what they should do about this. One of my recommendations was to put some pressure on Facebook to change its current registration process as well as establishing a routine process of high-level officials that checks thei online identity.

The key problem is that you don't have to verify your email address before using a lot of the functionality of Facebook: search friends, add friends, send messages, add a different email for account confirmation, like, post notes, etc.

Of course you can always use an email account from one of the many email providers out there but that makes your fake profile lose credibility even though there are likely many people who do not double check on a person's credentials before accepting a connection. It is also true, that "the person being impersonated may see the Facebook confirmation email. But since they didn't just create an account the obvious thing to do is to ignore that email, not to click on the link" (Arrington 2010).

The fix for this is easy - Facebook should not allow newly registered users any form of activity with their profile unless they have verified their email address. If Facebook sees no need in this simple measure, may be it's users do. Facebook has reacted to pressure from it's user base in the past, e.g. concerning its privacy policy in May 2010.

November 19, 2010

We all need accurate PR people

A note sent to SOCNET today from Professor X:

Lisa Selin Davis did a story about this in TIME, Nov 18, 2010:

"The Trouble with Facebook's New 'See Friendship' Feature"

My key quote: "We all live in segmented, diversified worlds. We might be juggling girlfriends, jobs or different groups of friends. But [Facebook thinks] we're in one integrated community."

See Time's comments on Facebook's new See Friendship Feature

In short, despite Facebook's name, they don't really understand the Social Network Revolution.

Obviously, Professor X has a very good promoter, who frequently touts his client's views to everyone "listening". But often, Professor X is simply off.

I know that Facebook does understand, but simply does not choose to let its software platform get too complicated. My friends who work at Facebook KNOW that relational ties are varied and complicated, and that friends can have many shapes, sizes, and forms. They choose to keep the platform simple.

And I know that the studies done by the analysts at Facebook do indeed utilize complicated information about their users, attributes and structure.

March 23, 2010

Worlds Colliding

During a press conference at last week's SxSW conference, product manager of Google's gmail team, Todd Jackson, revealed an interesting bit of information about the company's problem-ridden new service Google Buzz:

Jackson told the crowd, as he's previously said to reporters, that too much was assumed about how Buzz would work best and be received based on Google's internal testing. Google employees didn't have a strong use case for "muting" their fellow Google employees, and the people they'd want to follow and be followed by closely matched up to their contact lists. In general, too, Jackson suggested that Google underestimated the impact of "having a social, public service appear inside ... what is a very private thing (email) for some people [1].

So by testing their social service inside a single context (Google employees only), the developers failed to notice that in real life, people participate in multiple contexts (family, work, friends, etc) that they work actively to keep separate. The reasons for wanting to keep these groups separate can range from wanting to keep an illicit affair secret from your spouse to political activists in oppressive regimes wanting to keep certain connections secret from the government [2]. Another important reason to keep our communities separate, is that we often play different roles - and communicate differently - in different contexts, as illustrated beautifully in the following clip from TV's Seinfeld:

So, ironically, the key problem for Buzz, Google's social network service was that the engineers at the Googleplex had failed to understand an essential property of real-world social networks. Figure 1 illustrates the problem:


Figure 1A shows a cartoon version of Google's internal testing situation. It's clear that in this situation, since an individual (the gray node) only belongs to a single social context, sharing contact information with his neighbors reveals no new information to his social network. However, an ego-centered network in the wild looks more like the situation depicted in Figure 1B. Here, the gray node is a member of several communities (nodes with different colors) with very little communication between communities. Now, because people typically manage all of their 'worlds' from their email inbox, what Google did when they created Buzz' automatic friends-lists, was to implicitly link people's worlds, revealing the precisely the information that people work to supress. Sometimes with serious implications.

It is interesting to consider what the structure displayed in Figure 1B implies for the full graph. For an individual, the world breaks neatly into a small set of social contexts, but when every single node is in this situation, then the resulting total structure becomes very different from many of the model networks that are currently in use. In my own corner of the complex networks world, this has serious implications for rapidly growing field of community detection [3]. Currently, most algorithms are designed to search for densely connected sets of nodes that are weakly connected to the rest of the network, and while some methods do include the possibility of community overlap, most break down if the overlap constitutes more than a small fraction of the number of nodes. If Figure 1B is correct and overlap is present for all nodes, then the idea of communities as weakly connected to the remainder of the network is false -- since communities will have many more links to the outside world than to the inside.

I hope to see more research investigating this problem!

Oh - and George Costanza gets to have the last word...

Update April 3rd, 2010
I've just become aware of a few excellent blog posts that discuss problems related to buzz, drawing on ideas very similar to what I present above. Fred Stutzman writes eloquently about buzz and colliding worlds inspired by Erving Goffman here. That post sparked additional 'world-colliding' thoughts from David Truss (via this post from George Siemens).

[3] Santo Fortunato. Community detection in graphs. Physics Reports 486:75-174 (2010).

December 3, 2009

DARPA Network Challenge - Not Networks, but maybe a Challenge

As many of you know, DARPA has announced a network challenge in the vein of the DARPA grand challenge (although for much less money).

In this challenge, participants are tasked with finding 10 red weather balloons distributed throughout the continental US for 8 hours on December 5. The idea is to get this to be a crowdsourcing kind of activity, where people will use social media tools to solve this problem. This is my major beef with the name of the competition, since it should be called the DARPA Social Media Challenge since in its current framing networks per se have little to do with it.

One group that has formed to tackle this problem, however, is attempting to look at it from a network perspective, and along the way gather interesting data about information diffusion across a variety of communication platforms. The MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team, based out of the MIT Media Lab, has created a system where you get money not just for finding balloons, but for getting people to join the hunt who find the balloons, or for getting people who get people who find balloons, etc. Here's an image of the structure:

First you have to sign up, which you can do here. Then you can send invitations to others to join through your own unique URL, crediting you with recruiting them.

While they are interested in winning the contest, they are also interested in looking at information diffusion patterns. Does Twitter spread information faster than blogs? What is the geographic distribution of someone's friends on Facebook?

It's great that these researchers have found a way to make this contest into a real "network challenge".

April 17, 2009

Arrogant twitterness

A friend sent me this........ truly amazing......deep and random thoughts. Oy vey.

Is this what we are supposed to do with tweets?
Where does such academic arrogance come from?


Dear Friends, I'm on Twitter now, in case you want to Follow me.
Mostly deep and random thoughts.
And broadcasting intermittantly with reports about our papers, books,
findings, major lectures.

Little Twitter b.s. as to what I'm doing from moment to moment.

March 23, 2009

The social psychology of Facebook, etc.

What is the motivation behind Facebook and other forms of online self-presentation, such as, say, blogging? I posed this question (with respect to Facebook) to my undergraduates. Their answers included a desire for social contact and curiosity about other people (for which, perhaps, self-disclosure is the medium of exchange). Here are some other possibilities:

1. According to Cooley, we see ourselves through the eyes of others, or at least we try hard to. But what others? Whomever we come into contact with, I suppose, for those are the people whose reactions we can gauge. But then online self-presentation poses a challenge, for this is presenting ourselves to people we might not otherwise encounter, and whom we might not ever encounter in person. I conjecture--and perhaps Cooley anticipated this--that we see ourselves through the eyes of whomever we've received responses from in the recent past. Then once a blogger has, perhaps under pressure from a former colleague, presented himself to the blogosphere once and received some responses, he sees himself through the (imagined) eyes of those same people (or at least some typification of that sort of person), and feels answerable to them.

2. Once one has a taste of externalizing one's thoughts and imagining that others care to ponder them, thinking that is not externalized seems kind of pointless, perhaps like singing in the shower after performing in front of a large audience. I've had this experience after reviewing books for journals, of feeling deflated upon then reading a book for no one's benefit but my own. (It passes, unless one feeds the habit by writing Amazon reviews.)

3. Consistent with (2), one acquires the cognitive habit of thinking and experiencing on behalf of an audience, and perhaps of formulating a blog entry as the experience unfolds, so that half the work is done by the time the experience is complete. Whether this diminishes the intensity of the original experience, I won't conjecture. Obviously Twitter takes this to a new extreme.

4. When my students talk about maintaining social contact, I assume they mean contact with high school and college friends, and that a precondition for friendship is, at least in some circles, continuous self-accounting and monitoring of the self-accounts of others. This should probably be distinguished from blogging (or Facebooking) to combat genuine isolation, of the sort that my students are at little risk of but that probably besets folks stranded in the suburbs and beyond. The problem with this formulation is that it portrays online interaction as a last act of desperation, akin to talking to a Wilson soccer ball, whereas it seems that a genuine, if virtual, community readily pops into existence for anyone looking for one. And then who's to say that it's less "real" than a clutch of friends chatting at the coffee shop? As I tell my students: no moral evaluations. No, not even in the footnotes.

March 16, 2009

Facebook and the (possible) future of anti-social capital

The Facebook statistics recently provided by Alexander Schellong--such as that the site adds an astonishing 600,000 users per day--are worthy of serious contemplation by social scientists still playing catch-up when it comes to this and other forms of online communication. But at the risk of seeming curmudgeonly (I imagine my undergrads, Facebook devotees all, rolling their eyes), I want to make a prediction. Social scientists are very fond of "capital," which is a type of resource with a plausible connection to some desired outcome. These include economic capital (money), human capital (skills), cultural capital (powers of discernment vis-a-vis cultural objects), conversational capital (interesting things to talk about) and social capital (social connections). To this list I predict that we will eventually want to add something that I am tempted to call anti-social capital, which is a snarky (and imprecise) term for the absence of ties of a certain type, namely those whose main consequence is that you spend a lot of time online communicating with people who, like you, have a lot of time to spend socializing online. It's not hard to foresee why someone without such connections would fare better at school, in the workplace, and in their family relations than someone with them, other things being equal.

Of course, the problem is not merely time diverted from more serious pursuits--exercise, learning, thinking long and hard about life's problems, interacting with those with whom one shares microbes--but also the disclosure of personal and potentially damaging information. That might point to yet another kind of capital, which I'll call non-self-disclosure capital, which is the state of not having made public (especially online) information about yourself that could result in a serious loss of face, life prospects, and possibly safety if the information gets circulated beyond its intended audience.

March 4, 2009

Facebook, data and the demographic

Ines post on the recent Facebook controversy on its Terms of Use got me thinking. Will Facebook be burdened by its user data 50+ years from now? Storage space, of course, keeps on growing, making it possible to store more data per server--or whatever we might call a place to store digital data 40 years from now-- nevertheless, server farms are a major cost factor for social networking companies. Facebook is no exemption. Just in May 2008 Facebook raised $ 100 million to buy 50.000 additional servers. A recent note on Facebook's engineering blog underlines the immense data growth that is happening everyday day:

- 2-3 Terabytes of photos are being uploaded to the site every day (more than 700 Mio photos uploaded monthly)
- FB has over one petabyte of photo storage
- Some more stats: here

Using the latest statistics provided by Facebook (FB)...

- FB has 175 million users (currently current growth: 600.000 users per day)
- the fastes growing demographic is 30+ years old

...lets assume the following
- 2009-2023 (600.000 users a day, 300 days a year)
- 2024-2038 (300.000 users a day , 300 days a year)
- 2038-2060 (100.000 user a days, 300 days a year)
- Users might not always be new users, but users who reregister with a different eMail and the like
- FB does not change its ToU so that only a minority of profiles gets deleted
- one user profile needs at least 1 MB of space
- 2.5 terrabyte of content is uploaded at 300 days a year (I slightly altered the number of people doing uploads)

By end of 2060 FB would have gathered:
- approx. 5.5 billion user profiles (5.2 Petabytes of profile data)
- approx. 19.5 Petabytes of content
- Total of 25-30 Petabytes of data

By 2060 FB's formerly young generation would be old. What would happen to the data? (Virtual)immortality at last? Would FB need to put a lot of effort into maintaining the data? No one can tell whether FB will exist 50 years from now. The above numbers are based on rough/quick assumptions and could certainly be calculated in a more accurate way. However, my goal was to offer food for thought for our readers out there. On that end I am looking forward to your comments or more precise calculations.

February 22, 2009

Facebook's Terms of Use and implications for network researchers

The changes of Facebook's Terms of Use were quickly followed by massive protests of thousands of users requesting to abandon those changes. The Consumerist Blog was one of the first to ask their readers to boycott Facebook and look for alternative ways to connect with friends.

About a week after the change, Facebook made the decision to revert back to their original TOS (from Sepember 2008) and now works with their lawyers and legal specialists to come up with an improved version.

For researchers the TOS are critical: not just for understanding how Facebook will use our own data, but we also need to understand how we can use network data to analyze emergent social structures and the way users create, maintain, or abandon their online ties. The current TOS leave us in limbo - not knowing what is allowed and to what extent.

To understand this better and to collect the wisdom of the social network analyst crowd, I recently started a discussion on this topic on the SocNet listserver. I am trying to find arguments that will help to explain my research interests to an Institutional Review Board. The discussion is still going on. A few highlights are:

  • Facebook does not allow research (or anyone) to store data more than 24 hours, which makes it difficult to clean, analyze and of course at the end publish the data
  • Data needs to be anonymous (especially in SNA network data cannot be anonymous - we need to know what kind of actors are nominating other actors and longitudinal data analysis seems to be impossible)
  • So far I have identified three different ways to collect/use Facebook data, although at this point it is unclear how people can comply to the first two bullet points.
1. Bernie Hogan at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, UK, has created a Facebook application available on iTunesU to analyze Facebook data (open iTunes -> iTunes -> Oxford University).

2. Dataverse project at Harvard's Berkman Center has made available Facebook data.

3. Create an application or a group on Facebook where you can find a way to have people give their consent to collect data on their online behavior and contacts.

We have set up an informal meeting at the annual INSNA (International Network of Social Network Analysis) conference in San Diego to exchange some of the ideas and information available. In case you are interested in joining us - please email me at ines_mergel(at) I will post an update after the conference in March.

January 6, 2009

Facebook viruses

Speaking of contagion, there was an interesting piece in the Christian Science Monitor on the spread of viruses in social media, such as Facebook. Interestingly, this problem apparently increased substantially in 2008.

Let me make a short suggestion that there is an opportunity, with the social media, to better understand the epidemiology of computer viruses. In particular, environments such as Facebook are self contained, and have a great deal of information on the strength of relationships among individuals. Further, it should be possible, after the fact, to trace exactly when and where the virus was passed from one individual to another (difficult to do with viruses that affect humans). It should therefore be possible to link topology to spread in a fashion that is generally impossible. There is, in short, an opportunity to greatly advance understanding of contagion with data that companies like Facebook, Bebo, etc, have-- if anyone from these companies is reading, consider this a short research proposal ; - ).

September 14, 2008

Obama's Neighbor to Neighbor tool

I have written before about the network-based foundation of Obama's campaign. Another piece of the network strategy has just emerged, in an e-mail that just went out on Obama's list regarding a new tool, called "Neighbor to Neighbor." See excerpt:

It's up to each of us to talk to voters across the country and make sure they know what this election is really about.

We have an exciting new tool called Neighbor to Neighbor that makes it easy to talk to potential supporters about Barack and the issues that matter.

Help get the conversation back on track today by making phone calls.

Nothing is more powerful than having undecided voters hear from ordinary people. And right now, that's needed more than ever.

No prior experience is required. Neighbor to Neighbor gives you a list of potential supporters, suggested topics to talk about, and an easy way to report back on who you've contacted.

With less than eight weeks until Election Day, we can't allow voters to lose focus on the big issues and get swept up by the smears and lies coming out of the McCain campaign.

Reach out to fellow voters now and grow this movement for change:

This is based on a pretty strong theoretical understanding of how networks mobilize action; e.g., this is consistent with field experiments on how to increase turnout. I am not familiar with similar field experiments on how these methods affect preference (as compared to turnout). Any cites along these lines would be welcome as comments. (One wonders if campaigns conduct experiments along these lines prior to the election; this would certainly be doable, and a drop in the bucket given overall expenditures.)

This is, in any case, a striking departure from the "mobilize the base" strategies of recent years, where the objective was to get partisans to talk to each other, not partisans to undecideds. And arguably, given the apparent value of intersecting with people with different views, good for our democracy (e.g., see Diana Mutz's recent book).

I would be interested if there have been any surveys with an item like: "Have you spoken to anyone about the election, and what were their candidate preferences?" Does one see a difference in persuasion attempts by Obama as compared to McCain supporters? Are these persuasion attempts targeted at undecideds?

May 7, 2008

World of Social Networks

While not perfectly accurate (e.g. Mixi is missing for Japan) I stumbled upon an attempt to map the social networks that dominate in each country around the world. May be this motivates someone else to setup a page where people can collaboratively update/work on the map.

April 9, 2008

Think Facebooking is a waste of time? Think again...

This hardly comes as a surprise: Corporations are increasingly tapping into the social capital of networks such as Facebook and MySpace, as reported in this NY Times article by Laurie J. Flynn today. From a theoretical standpoint, it makes a lot of sense: The ties in these online social networks reflect several layers of homophily (friendship, common interests, membership in various groups, partially self-selected affiliation, etc.) in addition to what usually applies to even the best organizational communities of practice. Several companies are now integrating business intelligence applications with the social Web and the Internet. Such "interrelated pools of information" bring value to business, says Flynn, mainly by fostering communication among employees, but also by better identifying job candidates and target customers. Let's just hope that Facebook will react to this development and allow the creation of different profiles for the various personae we represent on the Internet.

The article appeared in a special section of the New York Times today called "Tech Innovation". The section is filled to the brim with exciting and innovative ideas - one of these coming from the ever resourceful Bernardo Huberman of HP Labs. Together with his team he developed the prediction markets tool "Brain" (Behaviorally Robust Aggregation of Information in Networks), which can be employed to predict the demand of a new service, such as Internet television. I loved Huberman's quote a propos his brainchild: "We want to reduce the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of 12 or 13 people." Hopefully the right ones.

February 5, 2008

Monetizing social networks more difficult than expected

Today's WSJ reports that Google executives said the company was having a harder time than it expected generating ad revenue on social-networking sites. In particular, this would put Microsoft's evaluation of Facebook under scrutiny. Around the world, other OSN ventures such as Facebook recently introduced new terms of business to make it easier to utilize the user information for marketing purposes. Many members complained about the move, some even left. Therefore, privacy is still of importance to many users and strategies discussed in Relationship Marketing (see also permission marketing) might be the right move for OSN ventures.

September 17, 2007

Offline networking course for the Facebook generation

While the baby boomers are slowly taking to online networking (see my earlier post here), some youngsters should probably do a little less of it.
Apparently too much use of Facebook does not have a positive effect on "real-life" (or traditional) networking. An article by Michael Schulman in this week's edition of the New Yorker talks about an NYU freshman seminar entitled "Facebook in the Flesh". The aim of the seminar, part of a series of seminars during freshman orientation, was to re-introduce the Facebook generation to face-to-face meetings. Participants were given a few questions ("What drew you to NYU?") they had to ask each other in pairs. This excerpt from the article nicely summarizes the outcome:

"[The facilitator] blew a whistle. 'Thoughts? Feelings? Reactions?' he said. 'Was it hard?' 'Harder than Facebook,' one girl said."

Some food for thought.

September 13, 2007

"Older people are sticky" - social sites for baby boomers

An article in today's New York Times discusses the emergence and popularity of social networking sites aimed at the 55+ population. Very interesting, I thought, in particular the hypothesis that while these sites might take longer than myspace or facebook to reach high levels of usage, baby boomers are likely to "hang around". This resonates well with the full article below.

The Graying of the Web

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 11 — Older people are sticky.

That is the latest view from Silicon Valley. Technology investors and entrepreneurs, long obsessed with connecting to teenagers and 20-somethings, are starting a host of new social networking sites aimed at baby boomers and graying computer users.

The sites have names like Eons, Rezoom, Multiply, Maya’s Mom, Boomj, and Boomertown. They look like Facebook — with wrinkles.

And they are seeking to capitalize on what investors say may be a profitable characteristic of older Internet users: they are less likely than youngsters to flit from one trendy site to the next.

“Teens are tire kickers — they hang around, cost you money and then leave,” said Paul Kedrosky, a venture capitalist and author of the blog “Infectious Greed.” Where Friendster was once the hot spot, Facebook and MySpace now draw the crowds of young people online.

“The older demographic has a bunch of interesting characteristics,” Mr. Kedrosky added, “not the least of which is that they hang around.”

This prospective and relative stickiness is helping drive a wave of new investment into boomer and older-oriented social networking sites that offer like-minded (and like-aged) individuals discussion and dating forums, photo-sharing, news and commentary, and chatter about diet, fitness and health care.

Continue reading ""Older people are sticky" - social sites for baby boomers" »

June 15, 2007 ( Teaching Case Released

Yesterday, our teaching case on was released. It is publicly available on the PNG working paper series site.

The case addresses several issues from the social network and online social networking literature. The case's objective is to help students understand how existing offline social ties and interpersonal relationships can be transformed into a powerful online social network/online community which is attractive from several perspectives, such as social networking, online advertising, and entrepreneurial activity.

Alexander Schellong and Thomas Langenberg have jointly developed the case in close collaboration with the Program on Networked Governance as well as the support of Erik Wachtmeister, the CEO of, and Louise Wachtmeister, Marketing Director and Co-Founder of aSmallWorld.

June 12, 2007

I am creating my own online social network: Team TriOdy and Social Science Research in Practice

Yesterday, I made use of the social networking platform and created my first online social network: Team TriOdy (link: I am part of a group of active endurance sports enthusiasts that is regularly sharing information about races, trainings, and other related tips&tricks. I therefore thought it might be cool to turn this offline community into an online one. According to my own research results regarding information sharing in online communities, I follow two main strategies:

1. Get a critical mass of people involved in this project that are not necessarily "sitting in the same office or area" (so that there is a reason for them to visit the site). I plan to invite all my sports friends as well as the friends of these friends.
2. Also, I want to be as dedicated as possible and create as much interesting content as possible (in so doing I hope to make sure that people come and visit my site). From my latest research I know that community members with high "emotional commitment" and "high participation in information" exchange are most crucial to the success/sustainability of a user community.

I'll keep you updated on my progress!

March 18, 2007

Digital Life and Design Conference 2007 - Follow up: Video of Online Social Networking Panel Discussion

In case you have nothing to do this Sunday, here is a short follow up on the DLD conference 2007 which I noted in an earlier entry. There was a panel with Erik Wachtmeister (asmallworld), Lars Hinrichs (xing) and Matt Cohler (facbook) which covered various aspects of social networking platforms (i.e. business models, future). Here is a link to the full video of the DLD social network panel discussion "The Link Society" moderated by former Alando and Jamba founder Oliver Samwer. In order to watch the video please click "Monday - January 22" on the navigation bar on the right, scroll down to "10:30 am The Link Society" and then just click on "Play video".

March 13, 2007

Enterprise Social Networking Software

IBM has announced to launch its Lotus Connections software in the first half of 2007 and Cisco buys the technology assets of It seems as if social networking software has become an important business line within large software vendors.

From a researcher's perspective it makes sense for firms to connect their employees through social networking software. Finding information, locating experts and spotting project relevant knowledge effectively are promises social software seems to able to hold. If not, why would people be interested in paying annual membership fees on platforms such as or

At the same time, software vendors haven't got much to offer than whitepapers, prototypes, or other studies. A persistent question software vendors might be struggling with thus is: What is the USP of online social networking software why is it worth a client's effort to go through a massive data migration effort from several expert or knowledge management databases to a consistent social networking platform?

Here are some arguments/talking points that might help:
- Validation through Existing Models: The success of and as two prominent examples of popular professional social networking platforms shows that managers and practitioners are willing to spend time and money in locating contacts, knowledge, and information within social networks
- Tie Characteristics and Performance: Studies in the management literature have shown that the characteristics of ties among managers and employees can have strong effects on the firm's or a managers performance (Hansen 1999, Moran 2005, Obstfeld 2005, references see below)
- Privacy Concerns: People are willing to publish their profiles online (as it can be observed on prominent Web 2.0//online social networking sites and as described by Ines Mergel in her prior blog). Hence, people are used to publishing their profiles online, have experience with it and might ranke the expected benefits higher than potential data privacy concerns.

Hence, why should making ties among people within firms visible NOT help these people to become more effective or productive over time?

Continue reading "Enterprise Social Networking Software" »

March 1, 2007

Control Your Online Public Profile Using Social Networking Platforms

I just taught a segment in David Lazer's Social Networking class at Harvard on how people can analyze and visualize their social networks. David invited the whole class to join him on LinkedIn and we noticed that a couple of students were hesitant to join due to security concerns. We have a very mixed audience of MPP, MPA, Midcareer and PhD students from all kinds of different industries - some of them from the military and security area. One of the students asked me: "Can you give me one good reason why I should join any of the social networking sites?" - given the background and affiliations of some of the students, I couldn't come up with an argument why people should join - on the contrary I understand that some people need to keep a low public profile, so that not too much of their private information or details about their CV will become publicly available.

So I started to think about what are reasons why I have all my information uploaded to all kinds of websites? I have a Flickr page, an openBC/Xing profile, a LinkedIn profile, a personal website, a corporate website and post on my own blog and on our blog at the Kennedy School. Am I too open to give away this much information? On the other hand, I am not working in the military or security area, right?

It turns out that there are ways to control what people can find out about you. I talked with Bill Liao, the co-founder of Xing (formerly openBC) about this issue and he pointed me to the people finder search engine ZoomInfo. It is a search engine that gives summaries of people (Find tab) or let's you create a more detailed profile online, so that recruiters, etc. can find you easier (BeFound tab). Controlling what you actually want other people to find about you comes with a price: pro version for $49/month. But it is definitely one way to control what information can be found about you and also a way to manipulate your online information.

I tried it and was surprised about the result (Remember, I have a at least seven different pages directly connected with my name where I actively produce content). Here is the result:

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So there are four entries - one with the direct link to my Kennedy School subpage, but the others are from older sources tracking some of my (past) academic activities. That's about it. Google on the other hand finds 13.200 different entries.

Another way of controlling what is found by or Google seems to be to ask thems to take down some of your indexed information and not display it when people search for your name.

What are your thoughts on the dangers of having your information publicly available on social networking platforms? Are there any measures you take to avoid having too much information available for the rest of the world?

(hm... guess I just created another piece of publicly available information)