Creating a problem by solving a problem

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An interesting article was recently published by the Washington Post – If this was a pill, you’d do anything to get it – that shows how solving a problem so often throws up a new one

Medical research has taken amazing steps towards curing or immunising people against infectious diseases – acute illnesses responsible for high mortality rates. The results are shown in the image below:

Graph: death rate for infectious diseases

The outcome is people living longer. When we live longer, we are more likely to suffer from a chronic condition – an illness that develops slowly over time and often cannot be cured but can be managed through early detection and ongoing medication or lifestyle changes.

And so healthcare is being disrupted by its own success.

In the US (as reported in the article), one healthcare program adopted a new approach. They targeted individuals based on their medical history (had a chronic condition and had been hospitalised in the past year) and instead of waiting for potential patients to phone when they get sick, they arranged for a nurse to visit the patient’s home on a regular schedule (weekly or monthly depending on the severity of the condition).

The results: Reduced hospitalisations by 33% and reduced Medicare costs by 22%.

You should read the article for what happens next. Not quite a happy ending and the clue is in the title of the article. Perfoming house calls is assumed to be expensive and inefficient, despite the success of the program. If the same results had been achieved by giving the patients a pill…

It’s a great demonstration of the need to think differently when solving one problem creates another.

Reference

The value in gossip at work

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I watched a fascinating TEDx talk this weekend and have embedded it below to share. If you’re not enthralled at the start, I encourage you to stick with it. It leads to the conclusion:

Celebrity gossip is the conversation that exposes who we are… a reflection of modern human behaviour and culture. In observing the changing nature of standards and morality, gossip is the play-by-play of our social evolution

We often see nicknames for forums and comments sections of web sites such as ‘the water cooler’ or ‘chatter box’. But we kid ourselves if we think they are true replacements for the real thing. And gossip can be such a powerful mechanism for collaborative working. Many people have been criticising Marissa Meyer over the past week for the announcement that all Yahoo employees must now work at offices and not from home apart from exceptional circumstances. Whilst I think that is too strict an approach and there are big benefits working from home in terms of individual productivity, I do feel that organisations often under-value the benefits of informal collaboration through hall-way meetings and unplanned disruptions that tend to occur in close proximity rather than over long or digital distances.

Here’s the video. Make a brew and set aside 20 minutes for a very different TED talk

[ba-youtubeflex videoid=”oFDWOXV6iEM”]

Valuing friction in social networks

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Putting the words ‘social’ and ‘network’ together doesn’t always work. Traditional networks perform at their best with as little friction as possible – eliminate interruptions to the flow. But interruptions are at the heart of social networks. If you are not interrupting someone, you are talking to nobody or trying to interrupt everyone.

O’Reilly published a great article last year – The End of Social – talking about this very concept. How automated posts from apps such as Spotify and Foursquare remove friction and lower the value of interactions in the process. Do I care what music you just listened to or what location you just checked-in to when it’s an automated update to everyone vs ‘hey, I’m in the area, let’s catch-up’.  The article references research into the effect such automatic updates have on trust, linking to a Microsoft Research post – In Defense of Friction.

The MSR team conducted a test of trust, comparing automated handouts of credit versus human handouts. They observed that credits given out by a human being gave a signal of appreciation that you simply can’t automate. And that word is key. I wonder, have too many become obsessed with achievements (the ‘gamification’ of systems using badges to reward effort) when knowledge-sharing of value is far more likely to happen in appreciative networks.

Eliminating friction in a social network may benefit the provider of the service, automatic updates make it easier to collect data about users for whatever purpose. But the benefits to the participants in the network are less clear. Too many automated messages may award you an achievement badge but increase the noise:signal ratio to a level nobody appreciates.

Flickr Image courtesy of Adam Rosenberg

Lessons from Facebook’s experiments

[Update] Adding links and references as they bubble up on this topic…

There has been a range of news recently about Facebook’s latest approach to users’ privacy.

Wired has an article – Facebook’s Gone Rogue; It’s Time for an Open Alternative – explaining the concern being raised by many. By default, Facebook is now connecting and publishing every piece of data you choose to share on the platform. You may think you are only sharing your photos with your friends and family, but you are granting permission for Facebook to share your content with everyone and anyone on the Internet.

Robert Scoble has an article – Much ado about privacy on Facebook – with the counter argument. That we’re kidding ourselves if we ever thought anything we share on a computer, especially one connected to a network, is private. Facebook is just exploiting that which others have exploited less visibly (or easily – and that’s the key difference) in the past, and in the process helping people find what they need in ways Google never can.

Robert has a point. However the picture is a little more complicated. Not everyone wants to share their entire life online with everyone else and every organisation on the planet. Some people have very good and legitimate reasons not to. You could argue that such people simply shouldn’t be on Facebook. But in the past, it wasn’t a problem – the default behaviour in Facebook’s privacy policy was that information would only be shared amongst your network, which could be as large or small as you choose it to be. And your content stayed within the walls of Facebook unless you chose to opt-in to third party applications. That has now all changed and Facebook does not make deleting anything easy. Even if you choose to leave, if your ‘friends’ have already shared your content or tagged their own content with your name then your identity will continue to persist without you. And if you choose to stay, for certain content it is now all or nothing – if you try to opt-out of sharing with everyone then it will be removed from your profile and friends will no longer see it either.

Facebook is transitioning from a site for building social networks between friends to being one giant social network. A new mesh of connected personalised data is being created that has never before been possible. And that mesh is being shared with whatever organisations Facebook chooses to do business with. At the same time as we are seeing new tools arise that can mine massive amounts of data for patterns and profiling… We don’t yet know what all the implications – good and bad – will be. And whilst Robert highlights the good, history tells us there will also be bad. This is a live experiment that over 400 million people (and that’s just the active users) unknowingly volunteered to participate in.

Related Blog Posts

References

Other posts of interest on this topic:

Our connected future

When you reach the giga, peta, and exa orders of quantities, strange new powers emerge. You can do things at these scales that would have been impossible before…

Kevin Kelly has talked about the coming age of data, oodles of the stuff thanks to the Internet and what we’re doing with it. Here’s a nice video visualising how all this data and the devices connecting to it will define the future, albeit at the scale of trillions rather than zillions…

…and the makers of the video have more details on their web site – MAYA Design – including a research paper for download (PDF).

Related posts: Tim O’Reilly’s talk about The Internet Paradigm and Kevin Kelly’s Zillionics Change Perspective

Nlab Social Networks conference

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending the Nlab Social Networks conference, held at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK. Big congratulations to Sue Thomas and all involved with organising the event. What was particularly great about this conference was the level of networking that took place between sessions. Arguably, we could have done with double the time allowed for coffee and lunch. Unheard of at your average conference…

All the sessions were great but three stood out for me (a.k.a. I took some notes). Here you go:

The Future of Work: Amplified Individuals, Amplified Organisation – Andrea Saveri, The Institute for the Future

Andrea introduced a new term (for me, at least) entering the workplace: Amplified Individuals (perhaps a flavour of AI that will really happen…) Amplified Individuals are highly collaborative, highly improvisational and highly augmented.

Highly Collaborative: Able to tap in to and contribute to the intelligence of crowds. Act as social filters for massive amounts of information (demonstrated in the use of tools such as del.icio.us, Flickr, Diff, Friendfeed etc.) Enable the use of prediction markets (see related blog post: More on idea markets)

Highly Improvisational: Create ad-hoc resources and infrastructures, as and when needed to achieve a specific goal. Have the motivation and know-how to bypass traditional constraints and form new relationships within and across organisational walls. Serena Software are a great example of this, what started with ‘Facebook Friday’ (see related blog post: Web Wisdom) became their new intranet (see recent news: How one CEO Facebooked his company, Fortune)

Highly Augmented: Employ systems, tools and hacks to enhance cognitive abilities and coordination skills (the drug Provigil, aka Modafinil, crops up again).

Amplified Individuals possess Superhero powers for business, including:

  • Mob-ability – ability to work in large groups, a talent for organising and collaborating with many people simultaneously
  • Influencing – able to be persuasive in multiple social contexts and media spaces
  • Ping Quotient – your responsiveness to requests from other people for engagement
  • Protovation – fearless innovation in rapid, iterative cycles (i.e. prototype first, discuss requirements later…)
  • Multi-capitalism – fluency in working in different capitals: social (reputation), financial, intellectual, natural (green)
  • Signal/Noise management – able to filter meaningful information
  • Co-operative radar – able to sense, almost intuitively, who would make the best team for a particular task (across employees, partners, customers, etc.)

Bioteams: What we can learn about nature’s social networks – Ken Thompson, Swarmteams Ltd

It’s difficult to describe Ken’s session, because it mostly involved an experiment requiring audience participation. And my inability to use my mobile phone (ruins my Ping Quotient) at anything more than a snail’s pace interrupted note-taking. You can try it for yourself at the Swarmteams web site. It’s an interesting concept. You create a group on a web site. People can then join the group by sending a text message from their mobile with the line ‘join group username’ (e.g. ‘join nlabs joiningdots’). The web site sends out a question, and everyone in the group receives it on their phone and can send a response back, all via text messaging service. (Great, given I have 3 billion unused text messages on my phone contract.) And the web site gathers all the messages together in a single folder. It’s a little like Twitter. And is a great way of organising groups on the fly for a niche event, or to gather feedback on a given subject (i.e. a perfect tool for those Amplified Individuals).

What was most interesting was Ken’s reasoning behind this idea. The use of short instant messages to communicate (or, rather, synchronise) is common place in nature – the bee’s waggle, fireflies flash, ants waft pheromones. Be it motion, or emitting light, sound or smell, most animals have the need and method for instant short-term communication. Humans do too, but few organisations recognise, acknowledge or take advantage of the tools freely available…

If you’re interested in the connection between nature and business, here’s some books I have enjoyed on this subject:

Social Networking beyond the Dogma: Let’s Make Some Money – Jim Benson, Modus Cooperandi

Wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw the title of this session. But Jim delivered some grounded comments about why businesses should be using social networking tools. His use of concept maps, rather than traditional slides, to convey his message was very effective. I’m planning to try something similar when I get the chance (it reminded me of a comment Euan Semple made a couple of years ago, about how the software interface for collecting knowledge should be like walking through a village…) Here’s a sample of what was said:

  • Small businesses do not need more stuff to do… but they do need advice, peers, customers and partners, all of which comes from communities
  • Communities create value through participation, which takes time
  • Time is expensive therefore invest it wisely
    • Understand intangibles, which include more clients, future services and business partners
    • Employ judgment – in the use of social tools like networking sites and review sites
  • Learn – your community, your limit, your market – by experimenting
  • Start now – small and directed, what fits immediate needs and your personality

Finally, Steve Clayton did a great kick-off presentation about how Microsoft has approached blogging and social networking. My non-amplified self sulks at giving him links when I’m wallowing in the lower ranks of Technorati 🙂 but his presentation is available online. Multiple hat tips to all the speakers. They delivered some great content and I have captured a mere sound bite of it here. And thank you to everyone I met on the day and have chatted to since on Twitter, some great conversations all around.

References:

And hat tip as always to Wikipedia for assisting with references. (Even if I did have to navigate past the band Fire Flies to locate one of the pages.)

Related Blog Posts:

Filed in Library under: Social Networks

Technorati tags: Social Networks | Social Computing | Collective Intelligence | Smart Mobs