April 1, 2013

Studying Hurricane Sandy via data on _your_ mobile phone

My lab, with the support of the NSF, is launching a crowd-sourced study of Hurricane Sandy, so as to better understand how people react in emergencies. If you were affected by Hurricane Sandy and use an Android phone, I hope you will be willing to help out. This will take 10-15 minutes of your time. And if you weren't, then I hope you can pass this post on to someone that was affected by Sandy.

How do people respond in large-scale emergency situations, like earthquakes and hurricanes? Understanding this should inform more effective responses to save lives and reduce hardships. Getting hard behavioral data in the moment and aftermath is difficult--because people have better things to do than to participate in a study. There is quite a bit of valuable research based on interviews after the fact, but such research necessarily relies on reconstructed memories of behavior.

There is another path--which is to study the data passively collected about people by the sociotechnical systems relied upon during emergencies. An outstanding example of this is the paper by Bagrow et al that examined behavior as captured by mobile phones during a set of emergencies. The power of this approach is that it offers hard behavioral data at massive scale. The shortcoming, however, is that it cannot contextualize (beyond geography) the data. Who, exactly, are people calling? Their spouses? Friends? What are they communicating--the need for help, reassurances that they are ok?

Here we are launching a study that sits between these two approaches. Essentially, we are asking people to load an app on their Android phones (iPhone users: sorry, but for now we could only afford to develop for one platform), and the app will ask about their situations during Hurricane Sandy, and look at their calling and texting behaviors, asking them about their relationships with those individuals. We will therefore get a precise record of behaviors before/during/after Hurricane Sandy, and contextualize within personalize circumstances and particular relationships.

My motivation here is scientific and personal. I think there is the possibility to do great science here that is potentially consequential for people's lives, that can inform interventions that will help people. And, having grown up on Long Island, and spent the early part of my career Red Bank, New Jersey --near the shore ("shaw")-- I could see a lot of suffering occur among my friends and family in the aftermath, where there was very little I could do. But this study is at least something good that I can make out of a terrible thing.

We have posted more information about the study on our newly launched crowd-sourced science website, Volunteer Science, or you could go directly to the Google Play store.

July 13, 2010

Mood, twitter, and the new shape of America

Twitter is a gigantic repository for our collective state of mind. Every second, thousands of tweets reveal what everybody and their mother had for lunch, what Justin Bieber is up to, or what magnificent link you should be checking out right now. Individually, each tweet is mostly interesting to friends/fans of the tweeter, but taken together they add up to something more.

In analogy to individual neurons firing together to add up to the human consciousness, the billions of tweets have meaningful macro-states that contain information about the whole system rather than the individual tweeters. But we need to do a little data mining to extract meaningful information about these states, to expose our collective states of mind.

As a proof-of-concept we've1 been studying the mood2 of all of the public tweets. While there are many services that will allow you to study the mood of your own tweets (and also an neat little DIY project to show you the global average of twitter), much less effort has gone into studying how the mood breaks down according to geography. Below, I show a brand new video displaying the pulsating 24-hour twitter mood cycle of the United States (I'll explain just what you're looking at, in the following).

In the video, green corresponds to a happy mood and red corresponds to a grumpier state of mind. The area of each state is scaled according to the number of tweets originating in that state. Note how the East Coast is consistently 3 hours ahead of the West Coast, so when we're sleeping in Boston, the Californians are tweeting away. It's also interesting that better weather seems to make you happier (or rather, that better weather is correlated with happier tweets): Florida and California seems to be consistently in a better mood than the remaining US. Also note how New Mexico and Delaware behave very differently from their neighbors. Full results, individual maps, and a high-res poster can be found on the dedicated Twitter Mood website.

How to construct the mood map
Since many twitter users list their location, we've assigned every tweet in our (massive) database to a US county and extracted their mood. This allows us to average over tweets and plot the mood of the US as a function of geography (and time). However, since the US is unevenly populated, the resulting maps are boring since only a few counties (the centers of cities) contain most of the tweets (not too many tweets in Ellsworth, Nebraska yet).

Luckily, brilliant people have come up with a cool way of solving this problem using a technique called density equalizing maps3 (or cartograms). The idea here is simple: warp the map in such a way that certain features of shape are conserved, but in such a way that the (population) density becomes the same everywhere. The resulting maps look like something from an alternate universe and allow us to show the US mood much more clearly.

[1] The twittermood project members are Alan Mislove, YY Ahn, JP Onnela, Niels Rosenquist, and undersigned.
[2] For a deeper explanation of how we evaluate the mood of tweets, see the Twitter Mood website.
[3] An easily accessible explanation of the density equalizing maps, is posted on the Twitter Mood website.

February 10, 2010

More (Steve) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs (and Wozniaks...)

In a relatively recent New York Times OP-ED, Thomas Friedman ( argues that: "Obama should make the centerpiece of his presidency mobilizing a million new start-up companies [...]." Friedman then argues that if: "[y]ou want more good jobs, spawn more Steve Jobs."

This emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship is well placed. A substantial body of research going back to Adam Smith, Max Weber, and Joseph Schumpeter has demonstrated how innovation and/or entrepreneurship are associated with prevailing social and economic conditions. However, Friedman's emphasis on "spawning" more Steve Jobs is somewhat misplaced. Rater, as former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich noted in a 1987 Harvard Business Review article, it is often the entrepreneurial team that is the hero. Indeed, even Apple was initially founded by a team of entrepreneurs: Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne.

More generally, research generally finds that entrepreneurial teams tend to outperform solo ventures. And research suggests that including "weak ties" or social connections that can access distinct factor or knowledge markets may be key to novel (re)combination that is the essence of "Schumpeterian entrepreneurship" as novel combination. However, research by Ruef, Aldrich, and Carter (which appeared in the American Sociological Review) finds that very few founding teams include such ties. This implies that at their founding most ventures (in a representative sample of would-be US entrepreneurs) do not have the "social DNA" that is best suited to creating truly innovative products or services.

This finding presents unique challenges for those creating public policy intended to foster entrepreneurship. (It should be noted that some researchers believe that entrepreneurship implies innovation whereas others do not.) While tax policy may be important for entrepreneurship generally defined, serious consideration should also be devoted to issues concerning intellectual property and structural features--including social networks--that can be harnessed to create the conditions for innovation.

October 12, 2009

You Lie 2.0

You Lie 2.0: How disrespect can get you thousands of new friends and a million dollars

At first, Congressman Joe Wilson's outburst during President Obama's health-care address looked like a career killer. Members of both parties blasted him for his dramatic breech of decorum, and most Americans, regardless of ideology, reacted with disgust.

But the South Carolina Republican used the incident to build a massive audience that has helped him raise more than a million dollars in new campaign funds. He's arguably more influential than ever before.

Welcome to Twitter-era politics, where a moment of fame -- even one as inglorious as Wilson's -- can translate into political power.

The night Wilson shouted "you lie" at the President of the United States, he hired a new-media strategist, who went to work immediately.

Within 24 hours, the Congressman's Twitter account had sent out 50 new messages, and his followers had increased by an unprecedented 500 percent to over 10,000.

Without any sincere apology to the American people or to his fellow Members of Congress, Wilson managed to create friends or, in Web 2.0 lingo, "picked up people" wherever they were -- on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

He replicated the Campaign 2.0 success of his political foe, President Obama, and increased his fans on his congressional Facebook fanpage to more than 11,000.

At the same time, he also equipped his Facebook campaign page with a donation option and added the following pitch:

"Washington Democrats and their liberal allies want to divert attention away from the concerns about the massive government takeover of health care. In fact, they have made me their Number One target -- already raising millions of dollars for my opponent. But I will not give up and I will not back down from our fight. We will not be muzzled. Will you please make a donation to help me fight back against these unwavering attacks? Thank you for standing with me in this fight.".

The result of the Congressman's breach of protocol and subsequent social-media broadcasts: Enormously enhanced name recognition and more than $1.5 million dollars in donations in the week following his outburst (and as of today $2.7 million).

What is most interesting here is how a whole new kind of message spin has emerged -- one that specifically focuses on targeting new media channels and is directed by a whole new kind of PR expert.

It's not just about talk radio and the Internet anymore. In the old days, Wilson's best course of action would have been to sincerely and thoughtfully apologize and then hope that his constituents would forgive him. Not any more: Today's messages are not about damage control but about turning a wrong into a right.

In other contexts, such misbehavior is not acceptable to anyone: Kanye West was shunned by his celebrity colleagues for jumping on stage at the VMA awards during Taylor Swift's acceptance speech; Serena Williams lost her match and received a fine of $10,500 dollars for insulting a line judge during the US Open finals on the same weekend.

Both found themselves in the dog house, both apologized profoundly, not only directly to the person they harmed, but also to the public. Their standings were arguably hurt by their behavior, while Wilson's appears to have been enhanced among those who share his views.

In a recent tweet, he says, "I will not back down from speaking the truth. Please stand with me.".

In Wilson's world, shouting at the president during an address to Congress is now called "speaking the truth." And by being able to communicate with thousands of followers directly on social networks, he can have his own version on the truth, unfiltered by journalists, academics, or pundits. He can directly spin the public, and doesn't need to worry nearly as much about spinning what we normally think of as the "opinion makers."

Democracy may well be better off as a result of the Internet's ability to build audience and supply that audience with direct, unfiltered communication. But as Wilson has shown, it is also a challenge for civil society, loosening norms of public behavior, and giving those who wish to cater to the extremes powerful new tools.

July 14, 2009

The complexity of Government 2.0

In today's post, I would like to address three issues related to Government 2.0: transparency, citizenship and agenda hi-jacking.

First, while we read a lot about transparency, it is easier said than done. For example, transparency levels may be highly dependent on the government context and its potential (unintended) impact on either discloser or public behavior--whether citizens or corporations. Second, when participation is emphasized--whether online of offline--, we need to revisit our understanding of citizenship today and in the future. Thirdly, political agendas/policies may be "hi-jacked" by bottom-up Internet-based approaches of proposing alternatives which also relates back to the question of citizenship and legitimacy.

Government 2.0 is the flavor of the year. Other terms now being introduced are WikiGovernment, Collaborative Government, Information Government or the U.S. administration's Open Government. While the terms might differ and the authors that introduce them slightly vary in their description and priorities, all of them intend to convey the same ideas: participation, collaboration, transparency and technology jointly allow for a new form of government and governance. Certain things are here to stay; others will pass out of fashion quickly.

The following quotes may illustrate my concerns:

A memo released by the White House, called federal agency heads to "upgrading the capacity of regulatory agencies for using the Internet to become more open, efficient, and responsive". The National Performance Review (NPR) recommended to "[u]se information technology and other techniques to increase opportunities for early, frequent, and interactive public participation during the rulemaking process and to increase program evaluation efforts."

This sounds familiar. However, the White House memo dates back to Dec 17, 1999 and NPR's recommendation back to September 1993. Therefore, policies that connect openness and responsiveness to the potential of technology have been around for over 40 years in government. Some think that eGovernment is dead. But its ideas are quite alive; especially thoughts on eDemocracy seem to finally become reality. eGovernment (the internal/external use of technology in government) does not contradict Government 2.0 anyways. On a 50.000 foot level the use of social media in government is the use of technology.The envisioned transformation requires patience and long-term support from policy makers because government is a complex ecosystem which is resilient to change.

Along these lines, I recently read an interesting blog post (Steve Radick) which reminded me of a post I contributed to this blog (why government is ahead in web 2.0 in 2008.

Of course we should not let the past constrain our vision about the future. Yet, the past may prevent us from being overly optimistic or in other words, overly disappointed when all things envisioned don't become reality.

The Obama administration's agenda on transparency (the latest move was making information on government IT spendingavailable) is amazing but these policies as a form of regulation are not new to government. For an overview of transparency initiatives and regulations visit, or Wikipedia. The European Commission also introduced a directive on the re-use of public sector information in 2003. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get a full overview and understanding of the level of progress of the latter in EU Member States. Consequently, it should openly be discussed how the level of transparency of a government or any of its agencies can be measured.

While Vivek Kundra agrees in principle that all public government data should be online, he also cautions that the reality is government data sits in more than 10,000 different systems, many of them written in old programing languages or are still locked in dusty paper archives. Accordingly, eGovernment is not dead. Without the appropriate infrastructure (interoperability standards, electronic records management, enterprise architecture) projects such as can only achieve parts of their true potential.

In general, for transparency we have two primary actors: the discloser and the user. There are many ways for discloser to provide less than complete information or hide important information by providing excessive amounts of information. Placing data in the public domain does not guarantee that it will be used or used in the intended way. Data may be ignored, approached with indifference, misunderstood or misused. For example, data may make it easier for special interest groups to lobby for their own interests. Transparency activities are complex and need full commitment of a government body.

Finally, government and politics are based on the type and flow of information. Transparency policies, social media and the influx of "believers of openness" in government have slightly altered the process. That may have two effects.

On the one hand, it has become more difficult to contain information. At the same time the need to monitor the "global thought stream" is increasing to be able to proactively react to emerging "crisis". These continue to be defined by traditional media (tv, radio, press) once they declare some Internet trend "news" (Note the change: Digital collective action can quickly lead to more media coverage; past: media leading to collective action).

On the other hand, transparency and social media could lead to even tighter confidentiality protocols and altered behaviour of elected officials. "Negative" media coverage/spin continues to be "sunlight" which government tries to avoid at all costs. A recent episode of "The Daily Show" provides a case in point.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Cheney Predacted
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

Mainstream media also like to quote twitter messages of U.S. members of Congress and adding their spin to 140 character thoughts. Some of the early adopters still offer unique commentary. How long will this be he case?

Citizenship and Participation
Despite all the anti-American sentiment around the globe, the Obama administration has remarkably managed to export its open government policy around the globe. It spread virally through the Internet. Inspired by U.S. and UK based initiatives, individuals (early adopters) in other countries have started applying these initiatives to their national context (mostly exact copies) or supporting calls for government action ("democratization"). Numerous "experts" are presenting (mostly the same) ideas and good practice cases to government officials. Many of those officials are still struggling with the topic. For example, many are still wondering about the best way of "eParticipation" which is the current buzz.

However, there is an underlying question we need to answer that is far more complex and fundamental than eParticipation:

How do we define citizenship in an era of Government 2.0?

This requires a return to political theorists such as Aristotle, John Rawls and Jurgen Habermas as well as multi-disciplinary deliberation of what we would like citizenship to be. Because in the near future, every established form of decision making--especially on the political level--will experience collective action based on the increase of expressive capability of the Internet (Everyone can claim for a democratization of "something" pointing to the potential use of social media). In addition, the digital divide between those who are offline, those who are online and those who "live" online ("Netcitizen") continues to exist.

Similar to transparency, the opportunity to participate may simply be neglected until a true need arises. An average worker might only have 2-3 hours available per day to engage in participatory action which are competing with many other leisure activities. Consequently, there is also the issue of legitimacy of those participatory actions that were either offered by government or started by citizens.

Agenda hi-jacking
To prove my last point, I would like to draw on a current example from Europe. In November 2009, the EU Ministerial eGovernment Conference will take place in Malmoe, Sweden. It is planned to present a ministerial declaration on eGovernment in the EU for the next seven years. This declaration will be the result of back-room dealings between EU Member States (MS).

However, this year a group of people led by two companies decided to use a
social media facilitated bottom-up approach to create a declaration
alongside the official one in Malmoe for eGovernment 2015 It is also their goal to get official endorsement of their version from the European Commission. As the content of the platform is openly accessibly, ideas might even find their way into the official document. The group's motivation is probably a mix of self-marketing, fascination for social media and spirit to influence policy making.

So far, 75 individuals participated in the activity. It will be interesting to see how many people will sign the declaration. It will also be interesting to see whether and when the media will pick-up the story of alternative agenda and how much pressure this will exert on policy makers. Considering the total population of 500 Mio EU citizens, legitimacy of this initiative is questionable.

Nevertheless, the EU is at a crossroads: If it does not open up more, it will further strip itself of legitimacy. Gov 2.0 type activities provide one avenue to strengthen the EU and its institutions.

Finally, with regards to research, I see two issues. First, old and new research from various disciplines relating to Government 20 is not connected. Second, researchers can hardly keep pace with the current output of Government 2.0 policies and projects being implemented.

June 18, 2009

Talk: Impact of Social Media on You

In line with David Gibson's recent post I would like to recommend watching the following video from a talk of Clay Shirky (NYU) at the U.S. Department of State on June 17th. Its a great summary for government and enterprise executives to better understand the issue and impact of the Internet, social media and the emerging networking society on their organizations/work.

There is a follow up interview with Shirky on the emerging events in Iran and the role of social media.

Source: World Bank

June 3, 2009

Twitter - New Research: Men Follow Men and Nobody Tweets

by Bill Heil and Mikolaj Piskorski

Twitter has attracted tremendous attention from the media and celebrities, but there is much uncertainty about Twitter's purpose. Is Twitter a communications service for friends and groups, a means of expressing yourself freely, or simply a marketing tool?

We examined the activity of a random sample of 300,000 Twitter users in May 2009 to find out how people are using the service. We then compared our findings to activity on other social networks and online content production venues. Our findings are very surprising.

Of our sample (300,542 users, collected in May 2009), 80% are followed by or follow at least one user. By comparison, only 60 to 65% of other online social networks' members had at least one friend (when these networks were at a similar level of development). This suggests that actual users (as opposed to the media at large) understand how Twitter works.

Although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15% more followers than women. Men also have more reciprocated relationships, in which two users follow each other. This "follower split" suggests that women are driven less by followers than men, or have more stringent thresholds for reciprocating relationships. This is intriguing, especially given that females hold a slight majority on Twitter: we found that men comprise 45% of Twitter users, while women represent 55%. To get this figure, we cross-referenced users' "real names" against a database of 40,000 strongly gendered names.

Even more interesting is who follows whom. We found that an average man is almost twice more likely to follow another man than a woman. Similarly, an average woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman. Finally, an average man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman. These results cannot be explained by different tweeting activity - both men and women tweet at the same rate.


These results are stunning given what previous research has found in the context of online social networks. On a typical online social network, most of the activity is focused around women - men follow content produced by women they do and do not know, and women follow content produced by women they know. Generally, men receive comparatively little attention from other men or from women. We wonder to what extent this pattern of results arises because men and women find the content produced by other men on Twitter more compelling than on a typical social network, and men find the content produced by women less compelling (because of a lack of photo sharing, detailed biographies, etc.).

Twitter's usage patterns are also very different from a typical on-line social network. A typical Twitter user contributes very rarely. Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one. This translates into over half of Twitter users tweeting less than once every 74 days.


At the same time there is a small contingent of users who are very active. Specifically, the top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production. To put Twitter in perspective, consider an unlikely analogue - Wikipedia. There, the top 15% of the most prolific editors account for 90% of Wikipedia's edits ii. In other words, the pattern of contributions on Twitter is more concentrated among the few top users than is the case on Wikipedia, even though Wikipedia is clearly not a communications tool. This implies that Twitter's resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network.


Bill Heil is a graduating MBA student at Harvard Business School, and will start at Adobe Systems as a Product Manager in the fall. Mikolaj Jan Piskorski is an Assistant Professor of Strategy at HBS who teaches a Second Year elective entitled Competing with Social Networks. Bill undertook research for parts of this article in the context of that class.

i Piskorski, Mikolaj Jan. "Networks as covers: Evidence from an on-line social network." Working Paper, Harvard Business School.
ii Piskorski, Mikolaj Jan and Andreea Gorbatai, "Social structure of collaboration on Wikipedia." Working Paper, Harvard Business School.

Crosspost. Original version published as "New Research: Men Follow Men and Nobody Tweets" on 6/1/09 @ (c) Harvard Business Publishing

May 22, 2009

ISPRAT 1st international government CIO knowledge exchange

I just came back from the three-day event (5/18-20) "ISPRAT 1st International Government CIO Knoweldge Exchange" in Washington, D.C. ISPRAT is a non-profit think tank based in Germany. The think tank's scope is on technology and innovation/trends in government and bridging the gap between disciplines. Thus ISPRAT's members come from industry, academia and government. Usually it organizes government CIO summits and government related studies in Germany. The U.S. event brought its activities to a new level. The underlying idea was to bring German/EU and U.S. government CIOs together to exchange ideas/experiences on current challenges and trends.

The first day was spent at CSC, Falls Church, VA, talking about identity management (linked to post @Shaping Network Society inspired by the movie "Beyond the shadow of a doubt"), privacy, trust and enterprise architecture (case stuides on MITA, IRS and DoE). Many might not be aware of it, but both areas - identity management and enterprise architecture - are fundamental to Government 2.0. A couple of former CIOs joined the discussion and offered their insights on issues such as cross-boundary collaboration: Dan Mintz (DoT), Pat Schambach (DHS) and Mark Kneidinger (NY, VA, DoS).


The morning of the second day we spent at the White House Conference Center. Officially Supported by GSA and the U.S. CIO Council , we had a couple of acting CIOs present to offer their insights in a roundtable discussion with German, Austrian and Mexican government executives. Unfortunately, Vivek Kundra couldn't come as he had to testify on Information Security on the hill. (Update 5/29: Read the Whitehouse Cyberspace Policy Review).Two take-aways. First, when talking about new collaboration tools, the CIOs admitted that it is quite a challenge to align social media with the existing laws and regulations--some dating back to the 70s--"they can get you fired, put you in jail or burden you with huge fines". Second, will go live on May 1st--it now is.



Using Cisco's telepresence center in Herndon, VA, the group--including gov execs sitting in Germany--exchanged thoughts with the Paul Cosgrave (NYC) and Teri Takai (California). It was the first time I participated in such a"video conference" (Cisco doesn't like that term) and I was amazed. The world really becomes a small place (D.C., L.A., New York, Berlin) and while there are still some minor glitches to it, you quickly emerge in a conversation that feels quite real. For dinner, we had Jackie Patillo, the acting CIO of DoT who was also willing to share her knowledge with the group.


The final day we spent time at IBM's Institute for eGovernment with an introductory part by Sherry Amos from SAP on the economic stimulus package and transparency. A vivid discussion started and I am curious to see how some ideas will be transferred to Germany/Europe. Many were skeptical about the use of Web 2.0 tools in the coming national election in Germany. Unlike the Obama campaign, Angela Merkel and Frank Walter Steinmeier, the candidates running for chancellor, lack a comparable story and mission. Moreover, a survey among participants conducted on the first day, showed that most perceived the level of transparency in government in Germany as rather poor. Other topics included: cloud computing (Among others, people wondered about: how does this connect the security needs of government?), government 2020 and "smart cities" (everything connected).


Several people twittered about the event: Ines Mergel (Ines also recently posted some Twitter recommendations), Anke Domscheit, Thomas Langkabel and Philipp Mueller.

We also managed to convince/bring Harald Lemke, the former CIO of the German State of Hesse, to the Twitter community.


April 13, 2009

Twitter? You can not be serious!!!!

Do any of you actually use Twitter for work?


Sure, it's fun, and does something that Facebook does a bit better ("What's on your mind?").
I see it as the next generation of social software ......
friendster --> myspace --> facebook --> twitter
(with of course hundreds of other, equivalent, competing platforms)

But to use it for work stuff? To use it for anything more than goofing around with your buddies? Really? You are not serious, are you?

October 21, 2008

Neighbor to Neighbor vs Voter to Voter

Interesting blog posting from techPresident comparing Obama's "Neighbor to Neighbor" tool to McCain's "Voter to Voter".

Some key observations:

If you do a Google search for the words Obama and "neighbor to neighbor," Google returns 479,000 hits. A search for McCain and "voter to voter" returns 325 hits.

According to Google, the total number of sites linking to is 475, with 396 of them being blogs. The total number of links to is 18, with none from blogs.

April 25, 2008

Virtual course and blog: Government 2.0

Technology, societal changes and new management practices influence how we perceive the roles of government. Moreover, they may transform how government does business and creates public value. However, we might as well fall into the trap of technological determinism--moving from eGovernment straight to Government X.0 hype. Therefore, many predicted a significant transformation of government thanks to new technologies such as ICT, in particular, the Internet while current research shows that the transformation has not happened (e.g. work by West, Norris, Fountain or Lazer). eDemocracy also remains a rethorical promise (Mahrer/Krimmer; UN).

In any case, while I am still working on my contribution to the discourse on Web 2.0 & Government, I have two recommendations for any of our readers interested in the matter:

First, Philipp Mueller, who has already contributed some guest entries to this blog, is offering a course on "Government 2.0" for master students at Erfurt University's School of Public Policy (ESPP) (Spring term 2008). The course covers various aspects such as Web 2.0, open source, NPM, PPP, citizen-centric governance or performance management. The sessions can be viewed online or downloaded as an mp3 file.

Second, a blog by David Osimo, a researcher at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre IPTS, who is working on the impact of Web 2.0 on public services.

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 28, 2008

Interview: Thorsten Jacobi on the current state and trends in social software

I have come up with a new format for our blog. In the next couple of months I will post interviews with leading Internet entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who can share their insider knowledge on the current state and future of social software/Web 2.0. Hopefully this is inspiring to those with entrepreneurial ambitions in the area as well as interesting to researchers who want to work on the "next big thing".

Dear Thorsten, you have been involved in various internet ventures either as part of the management team (21Publish, kinkaa, Newtron, Creative Weblogging) or as investor. We are very happy that you are taking the time to answer our questions.

Please tell us about your latest activities.

Hehe - that is a broad question - I did run my first marathon, saw my first two kids born and I do continue to bootstrap two startups - Kinkaa (a meta travel search engine for Europe) and Creative Weblogging (a blog media network).

Will the social software industry be affected by the economic downturn? Have you recognized or experienced a change in entrepreneurial or investor activity within the last couple of months?

People are certainly more cautious as everyone is trying to figure out what the impacts could be (less marketing spend, less advertising). However its just psychology so far - I haven't seen any early stage deals fall apart (as it happened with many private equity deals). Overall it seems that early stage deals show a healthy consolidation but its hard to forecast this further for me.

Let's say someone would like to start a social networking venture today. What would be your recommendations? Do you believe that the ideas are still of interest to Angel investors or VC's?

They are - just look at a Hamburg (Germany) based social network for classic car ('oldtimer') lovers. It just raised funds in the end of last year. Social networks must have a convincing organic growth and should target a certain specific demographic. If there is a good business model or good idea to make money besides running ads that can indeed be an enticing mix for investors.

Google executives recently said that it is harder than expected to generate revenue from online social networks. What is your opinion on the potential revenue models for social networks?

CPMs (price per 1000 impressions) will continue to be below average compared to other internet services. Nevertheless social networks market themselves mostly and can claim enormous amounts of users with very little marketing needed. So most will break even eventually.

Many social networking platforms have made it easier for companies to mine their user data for marketing purposes. Do you think this is the right move or will the internet community strike back?

I feel it's not a good idea to move into that direction. It was felt like going 'under your skin' as a user. Most initiatives have backtracked already from their former stance.

A follow-up question. Aren't you tired of keeping your profile up to date in all those social networks. Wouldn't it be the best way to create a single XML type online identity?

Absolutely - but remember each social network has a (slightly) different purpose - my identity in LinkedIn and MySpace may never be the same.

Merging data from social software with the real world has been discussed in the past under the name of "location based services". Though we have yet to see applications and devices that are available and used by a majority of users. When and how could this change?

It must become ubiquitous - all (or most) phones need GPS. Data plans must be included into a normal mobile phone subscription. Mobile phone displays and UI must improve so that even your grandma can login to Facebook from her mobile phone. Seems a coupe of years off - judging from my grandma who has yet to buy a mobile phone...

As a pan-european investor you are seeing and hearing about trends before they emerge. Is there an area of social software that we should be aware of in the near future? Will we be seeing more crowd based business concepts such as the trend to allow users to share almost anything?

I like the idea of Amazon Mechnical Turk a lot - it's basically an API for the human mind. It's still a lot of theory and only so much practice, but social networks with all the user data could eventually build their business on a similar platform. Social networks as an API to knowledge and human services?
I kept it short - hope it still helps. Please let me know if you have any more questions.
Best, TJ

Torsten Jacobi or 'TJ' is a serial entrepreneur and investor with experience in the software and media industry in the U.S. and Europe. He lives close to Silicon Valley with his family.

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.

February 4, 2008

Watching you watch us...

Every once in a while I take a look at how much traffic we get on the blog (we get around 2000 unique visitors a month). Tonight I was rather startled to see a striking drop in daily traffic over a several day period last month:


It is a striking little example of the collective patterns we create, and how those patterns can create signatures of "distress" (in this case a collective communication breakdown). I am sure if you analyzed the years of day to day data, this drop off would pop out as a statically unique event, begging the question: what happened?

I am actually pretty sure of the answer, but let me throw the question out to the readers of the blog, since you presumably, collectively, know the answer.

November 6, 2007

Changing private spheres and other issues

Online social networks and other applications have changed our private spheres. That is, information that was formerly only shared with friends close to us (e.g. those holiday and party pictures, our daily mood) are now distributed with all those that are part of our network or beyond. Because these networks not only include our closest friends but also random acquaintances the boundaries of private spheres are beginning to blur. In particular this applies to OSNs that offer a wider range of functionalities like picture sharing. Of course this observation is not new and has probably been addressed by Danah Boyd and others. Yet I would still like to reflect on some issues which have been on my mind and which might add to the discussion.

Will future generations have a different perception of privacy?
Social software is a nightmare for all those that have been trying to protect an individual's privacy for all those years. Warnings of putting too much personal information online can not only be found in the discourse on the issue but also be derived from real life examples (e.g. Drunken pirate). However, if there is one thing that separates the younger generations (22 and below) from those in their late twenties and beyond it is the willingness to share what the latter consider private. From my point of view this aspect is very important. Most of today's discussion is based on the normative believes on privacy developed by a generation that grew up without social software. Whether this should remain the position of the generations to come is again a question to be discussed. May be it won't remain the position of future generations. Because they might have the tendency to share more "private" information than less. So that in 10 to 20 years from now there will be so much "private" information available that the value of that kind of information changes. For example, the picture of some alcohol excess won't be of interest to HR managers who now seem to develop the habit to screen the OSN behavior of their candidates. Personal information that is public and that is of not much interest to the public loses its value (e.g. to the journalist who aims at revealing a "dark" past in his social engineering efforts). Because one reason for the tabloids out there to exist is the basic human curiosity in personal/secret information of other individuals. Personal information might also not exactly lose its value because that might depend on everyoneour norms and cultural background. On the other hand this prediction might be wrong if we consider in the NYT of last September. It showed that "even among the MySpace generation, there is such a thing as too much information." Along these lines the blog entry on reputational mortality might also be of interest to our readers. Moreover, the trend to reveal private information might make those that will be able to leave no electronic trail to be of greater interest.

The awkward impact of networking behavior in OSN on social relationships.
A friend recently told me about someone who requested to be connected in an OSN after they got to know each other during a party. My friend decided to grant the person only limited access to the personal profile. In particular the pictures. It didn't take long and my friend received an email from that person complaining about the lack of access to the kind of information. The behavior of my friend - I would consider it quite normal - was interpreted as a clear act of distrust. I am sure by now many of us have already struggled with these problems that did not exist in the pre-OSN era. In the past you might have had a conversation but never exchanged addresses. Contacts many times remained one-time coincidences. Many times there was a reason why we chose to walk down this path. Now its common for oneself or others to search for the names of all the newly acquired acquaintances in the various OSN and request to be connected after some kind of event. How a network is used depends on the individual. Some prefer to keep it as an exact replica of their offline networks (stronger ties). Others simply use OSN as a basket to accumulate any kind of person they meet. Furthermore, the design of the OSN has an influence on the struggles a member might get into in the offline world. Business networks like Xing or LinkedIn probably result in less difficulties than Facebook and its offsprings. Because the latter allow to present much more personal information which also increases everyone's expectations to share that information. Thus the differentiation between closer friends and acquaintances becomes much more obvious. Furthermore, what happens if you decline a connection. We know its a small world out there so may be that decline will come back at oneself in the seems we all need to develop new skills and strategies in shipping through these uncharted waters.

June 13, 2007

Social Finance - P2P lending - Could Web20 provide the people with the power of banking?

In line with David's recent post on social networks and investing, I stick to the topic and would like to point your attention to Social Finance...

VoIP companies such as Skype, now owned by Ebay, are having a big impact on the telecommunication business. Youtube and blogs are threatening traditional business models in media and communications. The business of head hunting is most likely altered by online social networks. Yet, the tools and structures to do money lending or investing have remained the domain of professional organizations such as banks. Could Social Banking or P2P lending change this?

Social Banking or people-to-people (P2P) lending is a term that is describing web based ventures that provide people an alternative opportunity to lend/borrow money. The banking is called social because it uses social mechanisms used in social software. The purpose of social banking can be for profit or non-for-profit.

How does it work? was the first people-to-people lending market place (starting in mid 2006). Others followed such as the UK based Zopa, the German based Smava, CircleLending or the soon to be launched Microplace (bought by eBay). Lending club recently announced its collaboration with facebook where its application can be integrated by the 25 Mio+ facebook users. P2P lending allows people either to lend money or borrow money. People who want to borrow money name the amount and their maximum interest rate they are willing to pay. In addition they need a social security number, drivers liecense, a bank account so that prosper can verfiy the identity and other credit information. Borrowers also present their reason for lending the money (i.e. pay for K-School tuition, extend a business), their personal income and expenses and a picture. This information is available to anyone - even non registered members. Former lenders or others such as family members may endorse a borrower. Combined all these measure aim at creating an environment of trust, community and control. Borrowers may also found groups to improve their average credit rating which creates a level of pressure for all group members to avoid late payments which will have an effect on everyone else. Yet, only $25,000 can be borrowed at one time per group or individual borrower.

Lenders can bid on those loans although Prosper is essentially providing the loans and sells it to the lenders. In order to diversify risk, lenders can decide to lend small amounts of money to several borrowers with different credit rating.

Some thoughts
The boundary of interest rate elasticities is obviously determined by the market (central banks and major credit actors). Therefore, lenders are less likely to consider investing money once a borrower's interest rate is below the one lenders would receive in a risk-free money market account. On the other hand borrower's are most likely on willing to pay an interest rate that is the same or below the one provided by major market players.

I am just wondering whether this concept is transferable into any culture and nationstate. According to a survey 74% of British citizens would consider using social banking websites. In contrast, anyone I talked about the idea in Germany was very critical about it, especially the trust component. Trust, cultural norms, social circles and government regulations likely play an important role. Social Banking will certainly be an era where economists and experts of social networks and social capital can enrich each others discussion. This is an emerging trend and as I heard a hot topic for online business investors. Its too early to judge whether social banking can be a disruptive to the banking industry. However, that might be an interesting alternative to many people who are afraid of investing in stocks. Speaking of stocks, may be the next platforms allow individual users or groups of users to do their own IPOs - from P2P lending to P2P stocks!?

What do you think about social banking?
Where do you see its advantages and disadvantages?
Would you participate in it?
Can it disrupt the banking industry?

Continue reading "Social Finance - P2P lending - Could Web20 provide the people with the power of banking?" »

May 8, 2007

EU policy: Can Social Software facilitate the inclusion of immigrants and minorities?

Today's blog entry raises the question to our readers how social software could facilitate the inclusion of immigrants and minorities. Furthermore, there is a link to two post-doc positions.

I recently attended a EU policy finding workshop which aimed to contribute ideas and suggestions drawn from social capital and ICT (Web20, social software) perspective to the preparation process of the EC Communication (2007) and subsequent Initiative (2008) on eInclusion within the i2010 framework initiative. The Riga Ministerial Declaration dentified the participation by immigrants and ethnic minorities (IEM) in the European information society as important to improve their possibilities for economic and social participation and integration, creativity and entrepreneurship. Greater employability and productivity of minorities are specifically mentioned as a target, for which tailored ICT training and support actions are deemed to be important.

The following questions guided our discussions during the workshop which I would like to post here to collect further ideas and suggestions:

- Under which conditions can social capital be used as a lever to counter a number of risks of digital exclusion and to exploit ICT-enabled opportunities to promote greater socio-economic integration and cultural diversity?

- Which contribution especially in a social capital enhancing perspective, can new ICT applications and services (particularly mobile phone and social computing) make to address crucial integration challenges, on the one hand, and to support the creative and entrepreneurial usage of ICT by IEM, on the other?

- Which kind of instruments can the European Commission mobilise to enhance social capital and its cohesive effects through the use ICT? How should innovation and research agendas be inspired to respond to the considered challenges? How successful experiences can be best replicated?

Accordingly, recommendations were structured around the following areas: deepening understanding, research and innnovation, cooperation, awareness & marketing, good practice promotion, monitoring and benachmaring, legislative action and finally provision of "public" services. Now its your turn. One example for an "immigrant" oriented website was a project in the Netherlands for Moroccans.

Besides your comments to this blog you can also go directly to the eInclusion of immigrants and minorities project website and gather more information or share your ideas.

There are also two post-doc positions available at IPTS in lovely Seville, Spain. The Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) is one of the seven scientific institutes of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) so you should work in a very interesting environment. Paul Timmers who is leading the project was the former head of the EU eGovernment Unit. If you are interested in investigating, from a technological and socio-economic point of view, the future of eServices and Web 2.0 technologies, and have knowledge in one or several of the following research lines: eInclusion, eLearning, eGovernment and eHealth you should send them your CV by no later than May 25.!

March 28, 2007

Digital Identity Map

I found this neat map covering our emerging digital identities on Flickr by Cavazza:


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" »

February 28, 2007

WYSIYN - Build your own social networks

It was only a matter of time. Remember those years when the creation websites was only something for programmers? But then came WYSIWYG HTML editors and thereafter blogs and Wikis, which allowed almost anyone to participate in the web. However, while many of us joined online social networks, the creation was the domain of software developers of the respective platforms (i.e. MySpace, Xing, ASW , facebook to name a few). This is about to change with "what you see is your network" (WYSIYN) Web20 solutions such as ning. There are other companies like coghead or teqlo which allow users to take advantage of other web technologies in an intuitive way. Ning, of course in endless beta, offers the usual features (see a video walkthrough and another review) most of us are now used to from the existing online SN platforms: public/private network, member profiles, forums, blogs, picture and video sharing.

This development raises an interesting set of questions. More on the business side: Will the private online social networks (OSN) canibalize the business models of the existing "professional" platforms? Will this lead to an uncontrollable rise of thousands of OSN that are short lived (Sustainability of OSN was adressed earlier by Ines) just like many blogs (Managing an online community costs certainly more time and effort than running a blog). There are still millions of people who are not using online social networks at all. On the other hand, should these very specific communities be of interest to marketing, advertising, campaign managers anytime soon? Will the majority of individuals create the OSN to manage their offline social networks or would they rather create these OSN around an area of personal interest. The latter might support the notion that we will see the emergence of short-term OSN in the near future. I am also wondering what kind of innovative ways these individuals might develop to market their OSN and keep it alive facing competition from big players, the usual time constraints of daily life and decreasing motivation to participate.

More on the network side. Yesterday Thomas underlined the importance of having critical mass of users in online communities which consists of members that can be grouped around certain roles/ characteristics. What is the maximum number of OSN people are willing to connect? Would Meta-SN Plattforms be next once user demand spurred by their multiple memberships in OSN force even the big platforms to agree on some joint standards (i.e. OpenID) to be more user friendly, thus making it easier to manage multiple online identities and prevent entering redundant information over and over. The big players are already opening up to third-party providers according to a recent article in BusinessWeek.

Finally, would the readership of this blog be intersted in an OSN of "Social Network and Complexity Researchers" instead of our current attempt of creating a Global Social Networks Researchers Mash-up which so far only attracted 43 individuals to join.

February 27, 2007

Show me your links and I tell you about your political ideology - Applying Network Theory to the War Blogosphere

While doing research on a different topic I stumbled over an article in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication by Tremayne, Zheng, Kook Lee and Jeong on "Issue Publics on the Web: Applying Network Theory to the War Blogosphere". They looked at 79 political blogs and 899 posts about Iraq before and during the year of 2003 to examine the process by which certain blogs become hubs of activity while others remain on the periphery. In addition they tried to analyze the role of political ideology in network formation.

One of the many findings presented was that...

"blogs coded as very conservative were twice as likely to link to other blogs as were blogs coded as liberal or very liberal. Conversely, blogs coded as very liberal were more than twice as likely to link to media sites as blogs coded as conservative or somewhat conservative. These results lend support to the notion that conservatives distrust the mainstream media more than liberals do.(...) While the New York Times and Washington Post were the most linked-to media overall, a finding also reported by Adamic and Glance (2005), liberal bloggers were more likely to link to these media than were conservative bloggers."

...which probably confirmed what many of you expected. Next time you read a blog make sure you take a closer look at the links to determine your information on the political spectrum. Going further, an analysis of the links of an individuals blog would allow one to learn more about the individuals information sources which combined with other information easily obtainable on the net should be of interest for campaigners and marketing experts to influence or spread information.

February 2, 2007

Government Social Software - SNS in Japan Part IV: Connecting the cases to the literature

Today's post ends my entry series on the use of local Social Networking Services by Japanese municipal governments. If you would like to read the entries in order just click here: Introduction, Yatsushiro Case, / Nagaoka case, discussion (organizational aspects).

Even without knowing the respective research and terms interviewees made the correct assumptions about social networks or tell stories reflecting results of social networks and social support in disaster literature. Drawing for example on the narrative of the family that was helped by many strangers after a the mother of a sons friend (weak tie) wrote about their flooded house in her “Gorotto Yatchiro” blog which supports Granovetter’s weak tie and Burt’s structural hole role in non routine activities (2004; 1983). Those interviewees who joined the local SNS found new friends on the platform and expanded their social network as concluded by Tindall and Wellman (2001). Furthermore, Soiga NPO is a great example how an organization, once brought into existence for one set of purpose (environmental activities), can also aid others for different purposes described by Coleman, thus constituting social capital available for use (1988). The NPO’s blogs were considered a trusted source and can provide an alternative to the mass media which is regarded by many individuals as a more credible source of risk information than government (McComas, 2001). A centralized approach to the provision and publication of local information might not be fine-grained enough to cater to the viral and capillary spread of word-of-mouth information anyway. This informal interaction can only be supported by recognizing the peer-to-peer nature of local interaction which is distinct from the conventional many-to-many, few-to-many, or one-to-many broadcast nature of other online interaction (Foth, 2006). In the past this role was taken by neighbourhood organizations which are already impacted by demographic and cultural change (young generations are not really interested in joining).
Finally, if the majority of the population would be represented on local SNS platform, sociograms could provide snapshots of networks and interaction structures. From these types of diagrams government and citizens can visually identify emergent positrons and clusters of interaction. By examining these patterns of mediated and unmediated interaction they could gain an added perspective on communication structures that underpin explicit community processes as well as those that support affective, less instrumental behaviors (Garton, Haythornthwaite, & Wellman, 1997). Privacy might be a concern for citizens of course. At the moment, local SNS can serve the functions of managing and building social networks. In disasters it covers the areas of “observe and report” and “warn and inform”. Along the lines of La Porte, I argue that the design and rules of the network constrain the character, use and content of member roles and exchanges and the network (1996). Consequently, local SNS could support the community and government beyond its current scope.

Sidenote: As I heard this week MIC is planing to extend their local SNS pilot with 10 other cities. I will keep you posted.

January 20, 2007

Government Social Software - SNS in Japan Part III: Some observations

In today's entry I would like to make some comments on the two Japanes local government SNS case studies (Yatsushiro / Nagaoka) I presented earlier.

Mr. Kobayashi, the member of Yatsushiro's IT department, has a key role for the future development and functionalities of the SNS platform. He started this local SNS completely on his own, inspired by the rise of private social networking platforms and personal interest in technology. His government membership and high level of personal involvement ensure the sustainability of “Gorotto Yatchiro”. By comparison, “Ococo Nagaoka” is managed by an actor outside of government. The NPO, although well connected, has less leverage on the level government support and involvement. Government officials reportedly evaluate success by the quantity of users which influences their willingness of support. Therefore, "Ococo Nagaoka" is in a critical state (only 600-700 users).

Many online activities (i.e. exchanges) are depending on a critical mass for others to be attractive, a criteria which has not been met in both cases (1%< of the total population) and both mostly exclude older generations. In addition, both are competing with big platforms like Mixi.

If the local SNS has more users, the load on technology and burden on involved managers will also grow. Mr. Kobayashi would not be able to monitor user behavior without further help if that happens. Although officials claim to learn something from citizens, there is nobody checking the information in the citizens' blogs.
Mr. Kobayashi is right when pointing to the importance taking a gradual approach of getting more users and introducing the platform. However, government marketing is not helping much and poorly done which reminded me of discussions with administrators who were wondering about the slow user uptake in their eGovernment projects.

Although Mr. Kobayashi added the map feature, functionality and design of existing platforms led to an early framing of his understanding of the possibilities and limits of local SNS. The lack of feedback by other people in the creation process is certainly a reason why its use in disaster or the government citizen relationship is not fully exploited. Administrative members would also be more willing to join, add content and engage with the citizen if there would be a considerable and visible amount of support by executive level administrators. Again, Mixi and Gree formed their perception of SNS so that in their words local SNS is mainly a way to interact with the public and offer it a way to interact with each other. They miss the aspect of building social capital.

Moreover, MIC should have planned a longer pilot phase since the tendency of a slow user uptake was already visible in the data for Yatsushiro. Central government is still influential in Japan so MIC could have also done more to inform and motivate the public and administrators alike.

January 17, 2007

New PEW Study on Online Social Networking Websites and Youth

The PEW Internet & American Life Project has just published a new study on Online Social Networking Websites and Youth.

They define online social networking websites as:

A social networking site is an online place where a user can create a profile and build a personal network that connects him or her to other users.

One of the main and interesting findings is that 55% of the teens between 12-17 are using social networking platforms to connect with their friends online - girls mainly to reinforce existing relationships and boys more to connect to new friends or dating purposes. The findings also show, that 82% of the respondents said, that they are using online social networking sites to stay in contact with friends who they rarely see.

This supports the theory in our working paper on the sustainability of online ties, that social networking platforms can support the maintenance of existing ties or to reconnect with former friends. See my earlier entry on the sustainability of online ties here on the IQ blog and also on my social networking blog.

January 13, 2007 - first age-relevant search engine/social networking plattform

I just discovered the first age-relevant search engine - slash social networking plattform: It is targeted towards +50 year olds (seniors and baby boomers). They intend to provide information on specific topics such as jobs after retirement, how to become 100 years old, how to make new friends, etc.

I like the “How to make friends” section - which ties into what Thomas and I are working on: people in specific phases of their lifes are only adding specific types of (new) contacts to their network of friends. Especially when you retire - you won’t see your co-workers on a daily basis anymore, your routines are changing and you might loose some of your contacts. See my earlier post on the sustainability of online ties.

It’s also great, that the most relevant topics are pre-sorted by relevance (to avoid being overwhelmed by too many results), there are some prominent buttons to increase the text size and you can top 10 yourself, so that information can be pushed at you.

January 8, 2007

Government Social Software - SNS in Japan Part II: Nagaoka City

The following describes my findings from Nagaoka city. Follow the highlighted area to read the first part about on government social software in Yatsushiro.

Nagaoka is a city located in the center of Niigata prefecture spanning from the northern coast inland of Japan’s main island Honshu. Just like Yatsushiro, Nagaoka merged with a couple of surrounding cities and towns between April 2005 and January 2006 increasing its population by approximately 100.000. Nagaoka was completely destroyed during Second World War and always had to cope with some form of disaster (earthquakes, snow, flood). This fact left its distinctive mark on the now roughly 283.000 people living in Nagaoka and is a reason why the Phoenix was chosen as a symbol of the city. The recovery of the Chuuetsu earthquake (More on the geophysics) in October 2004 is still taking place in some mountainous areas. The community is said to be better connected in those rural areas than in the city. According to city officials internet penetration is now at 60%. During the earthquake the internet and basic mobile messaging were the only communication channels working.

Before Nagaoka introduced the local SNS platform, it had a web bulletin board besides its official city website. Citizens showed the same frustration with the language and inappropriate behavior of some users which led many to abandon the platform. The city’s local SNS called “Ococo Nagaoka” was introduced in mid December 2005. As it is based on “Open Gorotto” I will not go into detail about its functionality. By now (December 2006) there are 600 registered users compared to 300 at the end of the MIC test phase in February. Only a few forums around casual topics like food eco-tourism can be considered active. The local SNS was marketed through publications in city newspapers, banners and section on the city website. In contrast, Mixi has 2000 members just for Nagaoka.


The process that ultimately led to the Nagaoka local SNS started in 2004. Soiga, an NPO, originally founded for environmental activities in April 2004 used a blogs and RSS to inform the public when the region first experienced a severe flood in April and earthquake in October. They provided faster information than government which received wide media attention, especially when they took over communication after Nakanashima government was operational ineffective through flooding. The NPO tried to convince government officials later that year to start an official government blog but their idea was rejected because nobody saw any need or importance in it. Thereafter, the head of the NPO was asked by MIC to join a newly formed working group on local SNS. (Furthere information in Japanese) The group consisted of academics, members from MIC and members of local administrators among them Mr. Kobayashi. They formed two groups to cover the theoretical and implementation/system aspects. First, they all looked at Mixi and Gree as the majority of them had never heard of SNS or used it before. To get the funds, the official project goal was officially about improving civic participation in Nagaoka and Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. Although they could not think of a different kind of use, improved information sharing in disasters was a secondary object. MIC covered the costs (¥ 1,500.000) for the local SNS pilot phase whereas the NPO was asked to manage it and work together with local government. Running costs are at around ¥ 30,000 per month.

When Nagaoka’s local SNS started, many sections except for information policy did not understand the SNS concept and why Nagaoka was chosen. In fact, of those interviewed, many admit that they are still wondering what SNS is all about, why they should put their information online and how it could be further utilized for government. Many immediately joined Mixi to get a feeling for SNS. Perceptions of local SNS vary. The dominating view is that local SNS provides a convenient location for communication and information sharing for citizens and government. In the past neighbourhood associations (NA) were the link between government and citizens. However, most leaders and people in the NA are now very old and lack knowledge or interest in the use of IT. Some interviewees think it could complete or add value to real-life relationships. People could help each other more by learning more about each other, what they could do for the community and as a result rely less on government. One mentions a group that started discussing how to have a nicer city and improve economic growth which members first got to each other through the local and later offline. A member of the disaster section adds that it is strengthening the community by building broad networks between the newly merged cities. Sceptics think that there are more dominating means of communication like mobile phones. A council member who uses multiple blogs and the SNS, thinks that the level of impact on the community of the local SNS is very low. To stress this point he compares his networks on Mixi (112 contacts) and the local SNS (12 contacts). In general though, SNS helped the council member to interact with the younger community.

Currently the members of Soiga (Japanese only) are working on an updated version which should be online by early 2007. The biggest change lies in the use of the Google Maps API. They are as well talking about online advertisement space and how to attract more users to the platform. Significant changes to “Open Gorotto” can only be introduced if they are implemented by Mr. Kobayashi or someone with his skills.

December 8, 2006

What makes online ties sustainable?

Recently we heard more and more that online social networking platforms don’t really work - Alexa teaches us, that people tend to sign up for MySpace, Facebook or openBC, but platform providers have the hardest time to keep the network alive: people tend to sign up, but don’t or only infrequently come back to their profile.
This made my co-author Thomas Langenberg, EPFL Lausanne in Switzerland, and me start to think about the question: What makes online ties sustainable? We came up with a research design that looks at four different phases of a life cycle of online ties.

Here is the abstract of our paper:

Recently, the Pew Internet & American Life Project published a study about the number of social relations people maintain online and the omnipresent question was raised again: are actual face-toface contacts declining over time and are they replaced by online social interactions. Our virtual life is scattered in online profiles across sites such as,, or There are currently more than 400 different online social networking sites – with new sites popping up every day. Building on existing factors of persistence and sustainability of network ties in general, we address the key research questions: Which factors lead to the creation, maintenance, decay and reconnection of online network ties? Our research draws on prominent issues in the social network literature, which address the gap between research on offline and online social networks. We examine individual, dyadic, structural and content-related characteristics to understand how and why actors in different phases of their life cycle turn to online ties. Within the presented research framework, we derive propositions and develop a research design to collect and analyze qualitative and quantitative network data. The overall goal is to develop recommendations on how online social networks can become sustainable over time, and we develop questions and avenues for further research.

We came up with the following taxonomy of online vs. offline networks in our paper:

You can download the full paper on our Working Paper website of the Program on Networked Governance.

Full citation:

Mergel, I./Langenberg, T. (2006): What makes online ties sustainable? A Research Design Proposal to Analyze Online Social Networks, PNG Working paper No. PNG06-002, Cambridge.

December 6, 2006

Government Social Software - SNS in Japan Part I: Yatsushiro City

As I wrote in an earlier entry I am currently in Japan doing research in 2 areas. First, I look at local SNS (social software) and how this could be useful for disaster management. Second, I will do another case study for my research on Citizen Relationship Management.

Yatsushiro is the second largest city of the Kumamoto prefecture and is centrally located about 40 km from the Kyushu west coast, the southernmost of the four Japanese islands. As part of the eGovernment efforts in 2002/03 the city started “Gorotto Yatchiro”. It offered a bulletin board, calendar, link posting and email form functionality. However, it never got quite of the ground with a final community size of 600, 40 truly active users and 10.000 page views per month. Usage decreased over time and since membership offered anonymity some members did not stick to accepted conventions of online behaviour. As for Japanese culture, this keeps a lot of people critical of such initiatives paired with general mistrust in government and public administration in Japan. More than 900 local governments around Japan had set up citizens’ virtual conference rooms by 2004 as part of their eParticipation efforts. Though, most of these projects met the same fate as the one in Yatsushiro city.

Meet Mr. Takao Kobayashi who had/ still has the biggest influence on local government social networking services in Japan with his ideas and "Open Gorotto" platform which is available free as openSource software (click the above link to download the latest version).


In response to the decline of the bulletin board and inspired by bigger and popular social networking platforms such as Mixi, Mr. Takao Kobayashi, a young member of the Yatsushiro IT department, decided to design and program a new version of Gorotto in 2004. Interestingly, he was neither ordered to do so nor did he ask for permission. Within three months the first version of the “Open-Gorotto” SNS using openSource software as Free BSD, PostgreSQL, and PHP was developed. Except being inspired by existing social networking platforms no additional surveys on user needs were conducted. As the platform is hosted on government servers and development was done in work and free-time costs can be considered insignificant. Up to this day there is no additional budget set aside or significant recognition of political or administrative leadership except that that there is no interference.

Mr. Kobayashi mentions four points that motivated him to create the SNS platform: First, citizens are much better at sharing government information, so each citizen’s network serves as a multiplier. Second, the platform helps the community to grow stronger, meaning that people who share mutual interests can get together in a pleasant atmosphere. Third, the platform presents general and government information in a different way. Finally, administrators can interact and learn from citizens. Disaster is missing here but was picked up by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) as a goal. MIC conducted empirical testing of SNS communities in the City of Nagaoka which will be described in LINK and in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward in early 2006.

The SNS platform exists parallel toYatsushiro city's website which links to the former. “Gorotto Yatchiro” functionality includes a blog, networking, personal profile, picture/media library, calendar and newsgroups (see picture below). Its uniqueness compared to sites like Mixi, Gree, MySpace or Xing lies in additional features as GIS/Google maps mash-up, a fire alert or open architecture with allows for integration of other features. Besides that the platform is mobile friendly. Although everybody can use the platform registered users can invite contacts. In order to prevent a development similar to the bulletin board “Open Gorotto” includes the “Alien” or “Grey Person” feature. This automatically scans for swearwords and the like and also sends a quick note to the administrator (Mr. Kobayashi) and another person supporting him with this task.


Since the new version was made available online by end of 2004, member expansion was left to invitations of users only. Mr. Kobayashi thinks that this allows for a healthier online community and avoids the objections citizens might have towards government although it is much slower. Advertising was only done through links on the city website, flyers and ads in the city magazine. Additional public attention came through press articles first in the regional and later in national press which is visible in higher website traffic after key interviews. By now the platform has around 2800 members with 70% being from Yatsushiro. Average age of members is 39 with males tending to be more active than females (ratio: 7:3). 400 users can be counted as truly active in terms of their blog, commenting or in forum behavior. The most used features are the diary followed by the internal email system and forums. 400 users have also subscribed the RSS feature. Smaller forums are managed by citizens; bigger ones are managed by the admins. 100 members of the community belong to the local administration or politics. When asked, Government officials see the local SNS mostly as another communication channel. They are still thinking about further use, especially with regard to disaster though.

Mr. Kobayashi is currently promoting the idea of having local interconnected SNS in all of Japan's municipalities that also mirror each other in case of a failure/disruption like a disaster. Modifications of "Open Gorotto" are already used by other local SNS throughout Japan. However, many times Mixi is able to attract more people from the same area as the local SNS. This relates very much to questions raised by Ines Mergel regarding individual social networking platform online behavior.

In any case, the actions of Mr. Kobayashi are unique. It is proof of an individual's impact on a smaller and ultimately broader scale. I could not find similar projects of government SNS in the world with regard to eDemocracy or disaster management. Hence, "Open Gorotto" is an innovation for local government worthwhile spending more time thinking about.

October 12, 2006

Social Networking Services and disaster management in Japan

Apparently, the government in Japan is promoting the use of Social Networking Services (SNS) as they are hoping to take advantage of this for consultation and during a crisis like a disaster. As I will take a look at the attempts in my case studies of Yatsushiro-city, Kumamoto prefecture and Nagaoka-city, Niigata prefecture I will keep you updated in the upcoming weeks.


Let's take a look at one of the big social networking platforms in Japan the meantime. Its called Mixi and has some of the following features:
- Invitation only
- It includes a sort of diary or blog which can be shared only with the people directly connected.
- Users review goods and services
- Miximusic / iTunes integration
- You can see who visited your profile
- Anonymous profiles mostly.
- Groups. Mixi has up to a million groups that users have created
- Heavily mobile-based / friendly. Japanese people spend a lot of time commuting on the train so there is plenty of time to take advantage of the 3G network and advanced phone features like chat, mms or GPS.

I begin to wonder when we will move into the mobile SNS world. Imagine when vast ammounts people start tagging their environment with the integrated GPS or connect with their direct or in case of dating, interested "peers". This will also allow for new types of government citizen interactions with regard to disasters and everyday management.

Update: If you would like to read the full story on government social software follow this link.

September 25, 2006

I want to make a pitch for anyone out there involved in technology used in campaigns to register on This is a website set up by Professor Christine Williams of Bentley College (who is leading expert on technology and campaigns), and it is meant to serve both as a resource for campaigns (and as a way to get some attention for those individuals in campaigns doing innovative things) and for researchers interested in studying technology in campaigns.

In the website's own words:

This site aims to provide a database of campaign technologies being used in the 2006 elections by candidates for all levels of office. Registrants are asked to provide information about their candidate so that those using the database can search to find those campaigns that interest them. A search will produce tabulated results of the number of campaigns that meet the search criteria specified as well as a listing of those campaigns and their contact information. Besides the database registry, this site provides a discussion board where those associated with campaigns can ask and answer questions about their use of technology. Finally, the site provides a directory of technology products and services available as freeware or from commercial vendors. The overall purpose of this site is to gather and provide a knowledge base of political campaign technologies in the market.

Candidates or their campaign staff are invited to register and provide information about their use of technology in the 2006 elections.

May 29, 2006

Looking for an answer? Get a little help from your friends' computers

Today's New York Times announces a new service from Tacit Software that will allow users to search for answers to their questions on the local computers of friends and colleagues - anonymously. The software (called Illumio) relies on a reverse auction model to determine who the "best expert" is in one's network. Sounds like a good idea to me, especially considering the problems people incur when searching for answers on listservs or through personal contacts. In a project I'm working on with David Lazer and Ines Mergel, we look at how people search for the knowledge they need to get their job done. Not surprisingly, we find that they generally don't look in the best places, but turn to those sources they are most comfortable with. We're hypothesizing that their comfort zone depends on their personality (a shy person would rather not post a question to a listserv, risking public humiliation in case their question is considered common knowledge) and the degree of familiarity with their peers, among others. On the response side, one's closest friends or those posting answers to questions on listservs might not be the "best experts" on a topic. (David and I will be presenting some early results of this project at the Academy of Management meeting in Atlanta; see our paper.)

Below is the full article from the Times.

Continue reading "Looking for an answer? Get a little help from your friends' computers" »

December 19, 2005

Causal consulting

My sense is that social network analysis has increasingly been used for consulting purposes. This raises a couple of concerns and an opportunity. The concerns are two-fold: first is that a body of complex and sometimes conflicting findings are inevitably hyped and simplified as they pass through the prism of the consulting world—I think sometimes beyond recognition. Second is that, as noted in my previous posts, a lot of these findings rest on fairly shaky causal legs—particularly when you consider the lack of studies on system-level network structure and system performance. That is, perhaps importing these ideas into practice is the organizational equivalent of hormone replacement therapy. We make prescriptions based on correlational evidence, and make recommendations that may have adverse effects.

That said, ultimately ideas only matter if they have some impact on how people think and act—that is, people outside of the insular world of academia. One hopes that SNA can offer insights into how organizations (and other collectives) function, and how to operate more effectively. This all points back to my earlier arguments about the need to strengthen the foundations of causal assertions in the field.

This, in turn, points back to what (consultant and other based) interventions can offer back to the field—better insight into cause and effect. For example, do particular types of “network strengthening? actually improve outcomes at group and individual levels as predicted? Does making expertise and social networks transparent increase knowledge sharing? Do efforts to increase relationships across silo’s improve coordination and access to information? And are there any unanticipated negative consequences? Etc etc. Of course, all of this presupposes building in evaluative measures into the intervention, and then a rigorous evaluation of whether the intervention worked, and it may not be reasonable to expect those that recommend certain interventions to rigorously evaluate them. But one problem at a time….

November 17, 2005

Adapting to different social circles: Are people changing their online personality depending on the social context?

When it comes to social software, a myriad of platforms and websites sprang out of the ground during the last couple of years: The Social Networking Services Meta list shows 380 different social networking platforms, covering interest areas such as business networking, dating, friend networking, pet networking, photo sharing or face-to-face facilitating sites.

It seems as if all these content areas are targeting different user groups, therefore different social circles in which the users are active.

Even though, it might be that some of the circles have overlapping neighborhoods of actors, it is more likely, that people would chose different social networking platforms for different purposes: for example, A might probably want to connect to B for dating purposes on a different platform than the one he uses with C for business contacts.

This leads to my question: Are people changing their personality (or at least are they (inter)acting differently, displaying different kinds of information = showing a different face) on different platforms? If so, where are the differences and why are they occurring?

One way of analyzing these differences would be a) to conduct a self-study or b) to collect data on people that you know of who signed up for different platforms. What would be a robust way to analyze these differences?

Looking forward to your comments :)