Tim Buckley Owen Networking – smarter and darker?
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By Tim Buckley Owen

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Bosses who still think that social networking is just for time-wasting airheads must be feeling a bit besieged by now. Not long ago it was Gartner and the Economist Intelligence Unit praising its business virtues http://www.vivavip.com/go/e12906 – now the social and political think tank Demos has weighed in with findings on how social networking can ‘contribute to organisational resilience, a vital attribute in an economic downturn’. Smart businesses recognise that ‘social’ networking is not neatly separable from ‘professional’ networking, says the report, Network Citizens: Power and Responsibility at Work http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/networkcitizens. Bans on Facebook or YouTube are almost impossible to enforce anyway, and may end up damaging the organisation in the long run by depleting its network capital, Demos suggests. The internal economic value that networks add is usually worth the risk – that ambitious staff may network themselves into a better job, for instance, in which case the value of employees who have left an organisation should also be captured wherever possible. But there is a dark side to social networks too, Demos suggests; they can become ‘self-sealing, exclusive clubs’. Like it or not, evidence continues to mount that social networking is also moving into swathes of territory that were once regarded as the exclusive preserve of one-way information providers. Outsell’s 2008 market forecast and trends report on B2B Trade Publishing & Company Information – details at http://www.outsellinc.com/store/products/774 – charts the rise of combinations of editorially generated and user-fuelled business networking services, such as Hoover’s Connect, which combines Visible Path’s e-mail traffic analysis with Hoover’s core data. With its skyrocketing brand awareness and media presence, Outsell also sees LinkedIn as a key disrupter, which explains why conventional information providers such as OneSource, Business Week and Dow Jones are scrambling to integrate with it. Networking is challenging the dominance of traditional company and executive information providers, Outsell believes. Networking is set to get smarter too. Finding experts has always been one of its key applications, and HP Labs is dissatisfied with the way it’s done now. Only ‘naive text-matching techniques’ are currently used to rank experts for a given requirement, it claims in a recent paper http://digbig.com/4xwnb Finding Experts by Semantic Matching of User Profiles. So instead, it’s working on multiple techniques to match user profiles for better ranking of experts, proposing a new set of metrics for computing the semantic similarity of user profiles. This means, HP says, using clever algorithms to determine for example that one expert on ‘jazz’ may actually bear a close relationship to another whose area of expertise is ‘music’. Well – yes. But, like so many of the issues underlying social networking and how we get to grips with it, this sounds more like common sense than rocket science.

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