Emerging Technology: Who Loves Ya, Baby? Interesting article about Social Network Mapping by Steven Johnson. It includes work being done by Valdis Krebs, called InFlow that maps organizational relationships. It also covers some research being done by Judith Donath and her team at the MIT Media Lab called, Social Network Fragments. The article uses a reference from Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle to capture the goal of both efforts. The idea that throughout the world, there are formal organizations (called Granfalloons in Vonnegut's book) that are easy to recognize but often ineffective and informal organizations (referred to as karasses) that are difficult to discern but often highly effective. The classic example of the latter is a successful but temporary project team made up of individuals from multiple organizations.
The most interesting example from Johnson's article was Kreb's work in mapping Amazon purchasing circles. According to Johnson,
"Krebs used InFlow to analyze the network of book purchases surrounding two best-selling titles, one from the left (Michael Moore's Stupid White Men) and one from the right (Ann Coulter's Slander)." What he found was that there was almost no overlap between the people and the titles they purchased. The one exception was Bernard Lewis' "What Went Wrong" a book about the collapse of relations between the Arab World and the West. It is particularly interesting to note that the area of common interest (terrorism) is itself based on temporary "karass" organizations that come together informally to accomplish a task.
This is such an interesting area for me. It seems to be such an active area and one that is empowered by computing and the networked world. Napster, Friendster, Instant Messaging all seem to be leveraging the power of the personal netowrked computer to make visible (and harvest) what was before invisible or at least eclipsed by more dominant hiearchies.