On the Beach

Try and disappear for a few days of sunshine and while I’m away, hell breaks loose. Blaster has the media once again predicting the end of the digital world as we know it, somebody turns the lights out in New York and your license fee is spent on a tenacious BBC news crew, tracking me down, quite literally to an interview on the beach, in the search for an opinion on something that I’ve never seen.

A week further on and I think I have worked out what he BBC may have been interested in. It’s to do with new software that allows for the creation of a kind of personal network space we haven’t seen before.

Following-on from the Blog phenomenon, online journals, we are starting to see the arrival of software that manages personal networks and by this, I mean networks of people and relationships. If you visit www.friendster.com you’ll see roughly what I mean. Forget online dating, the next big thing is six degrees of separation by another name.

Let’s say, for the sake of example, that you and I are friends and I have created a personal network space online, with all the bells and whistles, email and instant messaging, a profile and so on. A good example to look at here is www.eCademy.com, which is a network of business professionals but isn’t really a personal network in this sense, because it’s centralised, rather than distributed in a peer to peer fashion.

In the friendster.com example, you might subscribe to my network and perhaps I subscribe to yours. You might also have a friend or colleague of the opposite sex, who also joins in. In this age, where meeting people is hard – remember my column on udate.com last year – you now have the basis of an instant introductions agency, where friendships and introductions overlap into hyperspace.

So far so good I hope?

Now take this one step further and this is where the BBC enters the picture. Imagine a commercial product, aimed at the enterprise, which does roughly the same thing, isn’t quite CRM but allows you to build-up a list of professional contacts, your own business or supply chain which defines your relationships. Your boss could then have a snapshot of who is who in your world as could any of your colleagues. At the same and here’s the catch, people in that supply chain could opt in to a public directory, so that your contact in company A could also see your contact in company B and so on.

What rather interested the BBC and apparently the security services, is that if your employer happens to be called Osama Bin Laden, that “supply chain of contacts”, running in an encrypted environment, starts to look rather interesting.

So what’s the problem? Well, given that I haven’t actually seen the enterprise version, I can only speculate but I see two issues. Firstly, in the United States, unlike Europe, information privacy is not a fundamental right. Many people are going to be reluctant to share the list of contacts, the supply chain, which gives them value to a company. After all, in many cases, the value of the person to a business, is defined by the value of the relationships he or she has built-up over time. However and my second point, this rather depends on everyone in the supply chain between companies, opting-in to a kind of private b2b exchange, which in turn, becomes a kind of trusted environment. This end-to-end list would be highly valuable to anyone wishing to compete in the same business environment and at the same time, it might encourage a cartel-type mentality, which is commercially unhealthy.

If you could look at a screen and see the relationship chain of anyone in your organisation and directly introduce yourself to anyone on it or see their relationship chain as well, would this be useful or worrying and if so why? It’s tomorrow’s next big thing and if the BBC thinks so, then it must be true.


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