A blog about social, economic and spiritual networking

Thursday, May 27, 2004

LinkedIn Gets More Cash?

Loic Le Meur says he has participated in an investment round of business angels to be announced in a few weeks. This is a follow-on to the Series A Round of $4.7M they closed last November with Sequoia Capital, the venture firm behind Yahoo!, Google and Paypal.

Spiderware.com - "Under-known"?

Peter Caputa, in his ongoing Weblog Invasion Tour (WIT) named my blog as one of his four selected sites this week, along with Greg Narain's SocialTwister, Fred Wilson's A VC, Bob Wyman's As I May Think.

Pete writes this:
"All four of these weblogs are "under-known". Under-known is a word [I believe] I've invented to describe a weblog that is excellently crafted, but isn't known too widely. All four of these webloggers write extremely well, have lots of orignal thoughts, like to try out new things, and analyze things in interesting ways."

and this:
"Joe Bartling and Gregory Narain both write almost exclusively about social software. Gregory focusses a lot on the social implications of technology. Joe talks a bit about the spiritual side of networking. They both cover a lot more than that too. But they definitely are enamored, like me, by the whole online social networking phenom."

Thanks to Peter for finding my blog and the nice comments. Go visit his blog by clicking here!

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Serendipity and the Emergence of Social Networking

For the last twenty years or so, I’ve had a prophetic gifting. It's not something spooky or mysterious. In fact, it has led me, serendipitously, into the most exciting aspects of life. It's not a "sixth sense", because I know it’s not from me. I don't call myself a "futurist", though other “visionaries” commonly use that title today. I have a deep, sometimes spiritual, understanding that certain things are more important and more relevant than they seem to be on the surface.

Looking back, it’s easy to see. In 1983, I started networking CPM computers together with RS-232 cables and using software, developed in Pascal, for different people to communicate with each other with phone lines and 300 baud modems. I was spearheading into something new that I called "CompuNet". Shortly thereafter, Compuserve started an online revolution on a somewhat larger scale by providing an online, character-mode service with local dial-up numbers which would be absorbed into an even later-emerging AOL.

In 1985, my systems engineering work at NASA-Kennedy Space Center, led me into a study of relational databases, and in 1986 I found an obscure VMS-based product called Oracle. Recognizing the import of what I had found, I quickly became an advocate and evangelist, starting what would become the largest online unofficial Oracle group in the world with nearly 100,000 members.

On March 8, 1993, I registered my first domain name with the non-profit company, UUNET, which ran the domain name service and InterNIC for the National Science Foundation (see history). I was amazed at the time that there were only 116 other commercial firms in Virginia with their own domain names.

In 1995, I started Spiderware to continue building the virtual communities I envisioned on the Internet (pre-web and web-based), following on to the years of providing dialup network sharing through BBSes and fledging, store-and-forward dialup networks such as FidoNet and RIME.

In 1998, I started ADSDAQ, an Internet advertising network for the masses, for the millions of webmasters who have niche, passion-based, websites and the millions of potential advertisers whose only other option was the Yellow Pages.

On December 12, 2003, I found out about LinkedIn. I was the 152nd person to join up in the metro Washington, DC area. But I knew, and know, that this will be big. It presents itself to me as having the potential to emerge as a giant component. It has all of the characteristics of revolutionizing business culture, just as Ebay has done for used junque, Amazon has done for books, and Google has done for searching.

But this is much bigger than that. It's not about "hits". This capability can and will inculcate itself into business practices, just as important to us as our email or cell phone is now, and how WiFi will be. It will then emerge as an energetic force in tranforming social and economic culture, around the world.

I'm looking forward to hearing about the first "billion dollar deal" instigated through LinkedIn. I'm working on a few multi-million dollar deals using my new LinkedIn relationships, and I'm just getting started. And there are now 600,000 others out there on LinkedIn just getting started.

And you can take my word for it, this will be BIG!

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Online Business Networks

I was humbled and honored by Scott Allen of Online Business Networks, where he mentioned me as an "industry expert" in the area of social network software. Scott is leading a series of teleclasses called LinkedIn Unleashed.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Socializing for the Sake of Networking

I'm a member of a number of social networking sites, including LinkedIn, Spoke, Ryze, and ZeroDegrees. I've looked at Orkut and ItsNotWhatYouKnow. Everyone has their own opinion of the usefulness of these services.

I've long thought that the killer app on the Internet would be the place that was your "Number 3". The place where you went that wasn't related to your “Number One” and “Number Two” interests, like family and work, or God and family, which happen to be “my” number one and number two.

So I went to work in the mid-90's building community-based portals. I built “orafans.com” for Oracle software users, dollfans.com for avid doll collectors, and rushfans.com for people to duke it out regarding liberalism and conservatism. As I soon found out, our diverse society has so much diversity that building and managing a family of niche sites would be impossible to maintain, along with the hope of generating profits from those sites.

Some of the social software sites I've been a part of attempt to do what I tried to do 10 years ago: Try to come up with all of the little clusters of characteristics you can, and try to get people to link up with other people in those clusters.

The problem is that our entire social fabric is actually too complex to be represented in the two-dimensional aspect of cluster "membership" or cluster "non-membership". I like to buy and sell things on Ebay from time to time, but that doesn't mean I should join an Ebay group. I’m interested in politics, but I’m not a groupie or a mindless political drone, and certainly don’t want to sign up for a particular candidate cluster so that I can be bombarded with campaign spam and spew.

The fact that I have sent or received, or worse yet, been cc:ed on an email from someone does not mean we should be connected socially in any way. Social software may imply that we should be connected, not infer that a social connection actually exists. I personally have shied away from using my address books as a primary source of my social network connections, instead, opting for contacting individuals, one at a time, using the context of our “relationship”, rather than some implied bond based on email software.

I have focused my efforts on building relationships with people in my LinkedIn network. I like that it is MY network, the scope of which I have built, one connection at a time. If I want to expand my network in St. Louis, I find someone in St. Louis and develop a RELATIONSHIP with them, explaining to them what my need happens to be in St. Louis. Those in the trusted path of that connection request also find out that I have a need in St. Louis, as I get to explain in my connection request WHY I want to be reach out to a particular connection in St. Louis. I’m not sure I could get what I need by just clicking on a “click to be connected to people in St. Louis” link.

So, I’ve been socializing for the sake of the networking, rather than networking for the sake of the socializing, and the end result is that I have more friends and closer connections than I could have had without the LinkedIn service. And that, to me, is worth something.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Social Network Dysfunction - Part I

You've probably heard that "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link". While that's true if I'm trying to pull my Bobcat 763 out of mud, it’s not true of social networks. Although social networks are comprised of both nodes (which are hubs when highly connected) and links, the fabric of the network itself is somewhat self-healing. This is because traffic going from point A to point E in the network has numerous optional paths available. Sometimes the network itself can be programmed to take various paths between points for efficiency, reliability or speed.

Consider the electric power grid where on-demand electricity is generated and delivered within seconds across a dynamic path across many hubs and links determined by the operational policy of clusters of independent system operators.
 U.S. Electric Power Grid
map courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy

Another example is the U.S passenger airline system. Passengers can choose various routes and levels of service in air transportation, based on their budget, schedule or airline preference.

But networks do have dysfunctional components, and although the impact of dysfunction is negligible to member nodes, the dysfunction has an impact in the aggregate quality and overall effectiveness of the network.

The concept of node fitness was introduced by Barabasi and is discussed in the book, Linked. Understanding a node's fitness, leads us to our first dysfunction, a dysfunction that I call node dystrophy or node dysfunction, which in technical terms would be equivalent to a node having no fitness, as opposed to a node having great fitness. In an online social network like LinkedIn, this would be like entering "Bob B" for a name and nothing else in his profile. If "Bob B" was connected to anyone, his dystrophy would have a minimal impact on the network as a whole, but maintaining a network link costs the network something. If there were 100,000 atrophied nodes in the network, the network performance and effectiveness would surely be noticed. It would be similar to having thousands of potholes on an interstate highway, avoidable, but quite a nuisance and it would affect one's speed and comfort of travel. Interestingly, if "Bob B" wasn't connected to anyone, there wouldn’t be ANY impact on network traffic or performance at all, as no path would ever be chosen that would pass through "Bob B".

Another dysfunction is what I call link dystrophy or link dysfunction, which occurs because two nodes are not connected well enough, or don't know each other well enough to add value to the transmission through the link. In network science lingo, this would be the condition where coupling strength is low or near 0. This is the potential problem with "link spam" where people just try to get lots of links, not considering the quality of each link connection.

We’ll go into some other symptoms and causes of social network dysfunction in Part 2.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Synchrony and the 17-year Cicada

No discussion of the science of social networks would be complete without a study in synchrony. The word "synchrony" happens to be in the paper every day, at least around here. I live in Northern Virginia, where the 17-year Cicada is currently making its appearance in massive numbers. We moved here in 1990, so we weren't here when the cicadas last emerged, back in 1987.

My backyard is home to hundreds of trees, all older than 17 years, whose roots have been the host food for the cicadas who have been instinctively waiting for their glorious appearing. According to the kids, who get to hear them while swinging on the backyard playground, they sound like a chorus of chainsaws. In a few days, they should be even louder as the emergence intensifies.

According to people who research these unique creatures, some cicadas come out all the time, though they are easy pickings for birds and other predators. Obviously, those cicadas fall victim to natural selection, and are eliminated from the landscape.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has a writeup about the cicadas, exploring the mathematical and scientific reasons why cicadas pick 13 and 17 year cycles, both prime numbers, in order to reduce the chance for extinction if the different broods happen to emerge at the same time.

Not only do the cicadas demonstrate synchrony, in that they emerge at the same time, they demonstrate rhythmicity, by repeating at a determined time interval. Sometimes we are so amazed at something's synchrony, we miss the miracle of its rhythmicity. Do we notice the fireflies that miraculously blink with synchrony, but miss that they do it every summer evening in the first 30 minutes of dusk? Do we notice that just about all of us sleep and wake at almost the same time every day? Do we notice the beautiful sunset, the full moon, the high tide, or football season, only to miss that they all occur in beautiful rhythmicity?

It just so happens that I'm in the process of reading Steven Strogatz's book, Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order. Perhaps its just a mere coincidence that I happen to be reading that particular book at this particular moment, and perhaps its something more.

Why do we mow our lawns in a pattern, or drive the same route to work every day, instead of in some random manner? Is it that we are all instinctively longing for order, perhaps a divine order in our lives?

The Bible says in Romans 8:19-22, "The created world itself can hardly wait for what's coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both the creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. All around us, we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs." (The Message)

The birth pangs speak of the rhythmicity and synchrony of a "living, breathing" creation as time winds toward a climax. Let's not miss that birth pangs always lead up to the birth of something. I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Social Networking and Abu Ghraib?

You might not think that the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and social networking have much in common. But I would strongly disagree. We humans are a social species and we automatically and instinctively cluster into groups. The groups we form have characteristics and abilities beyond the capability of individual members. Sometimes, this synergy, and the motives behind them, is used for good, sometimes they are used for bad.

In social conformity experiments, Solomon Asch demonstrated that the majority of seemingly "normal" people, when given a multiple choice question involving which of three lines was the same length as a given line, would answer incorrectly, if given the information that 80% of the group had answered incorrectly. This is despite the fact that they knew the right answer and suppressed it in order to remain a part of the "group".

Stanley Milgram, who was the first to coin the term, "six degrees of separation", took Asch’s studies a bit further and examined them in the light of obedience to authority. Milgram wanted to see if obedience to authority had a similar impact in the decision process as social acceptance. You can read about Milgram’s experiments in his book, Obedience to Authority.

Milgram's experiments demonstrated that 65% of seemingly "normal" people would comply with instructions from a person in a white lab coat and a clipboard, and subject another person to pain, in the form of near-lethal electric shock, in order to comply with authority. All of the participants were actors, and the subjects were informed of that later.

Social groups of as few as two or three, especially those with an authority component, are very effective and powerful, for good or evil. There are examples all around us, from the prison MPs at Abu Ghraib, the sniper duo in metro Washington, DC, the individual groups of 9/11 hijackers, Saddam and his sons, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, and terrorist suicide bombers in Israel and Iraq, who act as part of an extremist conformity group, not as individuals.

Each individual is responsible for actions he or she takes, even as part of a group or as one under authority. Each of us must have the courage to stand up for what’s right and what’s wrong. We must resist group conformity pressure or pressure from authority. Ultimately, how we choose determines our stature and effectiveness as an individual and as a leader.

Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Maybe he was telling us to make sure that we hang out in the right groups under the right authority.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

"Another Level, Another Harvest"

"Another day for You [God] to manifest Your promises." So go the lyrics to a beautiful new song by Israel Houghton and New Breed.

Today, I find myself working at another level, on another harvest. This one, to advocate for young orphans in South Africa and get them adopted into U.S. families.

I was surprised to find that, since 1997, according to the U.S. State Department, who keeps such records, less than 20 children, total, were brought into the U.S. for adoption from South Africa. Having adopted a daughter from South Korea in FY 2003, one of 1,790 to find their forever family here from that nation in that year, I was surprised that the numbers for South Africa were so low.

So, I connected with a few of my friends and some of my LinkedIn network members to begin the formulation of a program to begin routine adoptions from South Africa. Two of my friends are flying to Johannesburg on Thursday for three weeks to meet with our orphanage program coordinator there. They will also be meeting with the U.S. Consulate officials there regarding this. I'm working from this end, coordinating and recruiting the appropriate partners, legal advocates, adoption agencies, social workers, prayer partners, and potential benefactors and contributors to this effort.

Our goal is to find forever families in the U.S. for 50 orphans from South Africa in the coming year. According to Africa's Orphaned Generations, a report by UNICEF, there were 1,528,000 orphans in South Africa alone, not to mention the rest of the HIV/AIDS-ravaged continent.

This truly is a day for another level, and another harvest, and another day for God to manifest His promises.

If you have any ideas or can help in any way, send me an email at adoptkids@spiderware.com.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Needed 20 Million Parents - No experience necessary...

Our friend, David Webb, visited our church this week. David and his wife Caroline, and their "then" five kids, sold their suburban Northern Virginia home about 8 years ago and started an orphanage in Kenya. Caroline stayed home because someone need to take care of their 91 children.

David and Caroline Webb, Johannesburg, South Africa, with some of our church member missionaries and some of the orphans.

After finding a house family to take over the management of the orphanage in Kenya about 4 years ago, the Webbs moved to Johannesburg, South Africa to begin a development program for starting and managing a number of orphanages in Africa, beginning in South Africa. The Webbs added to their family by adopting one of the orphans from their orphanage.

Now the Webbs are embarking on an even more challenging mission, to find adoptive families for African orphans. All are healthy, HIV-free children, who have been left orphans due to the devastating affect of HIV/AIDS in the African continent.

The Webbs remind me of the groundbreaking work of Harry and Bertha Holt, who, led by their strong Christian faith, spearheaded International adoptions in the 1950's by trying to find adoptive homes for Korean children of GI fathers during the Korean war. The Holt International adoption agency they started is the largest adoption agency in the United States, having found families for over 200,000 children.

Having personally adopted two children who used to orphans, and a third who will be joining our family this summer, I can tell you that our family would not be complete without each one of these special kids. They are truly a blessing from God.

Although we are happy to endorse World Vision and their efforts to help feed and clothe orphans in Africa, we're developing a program to get the word out to get families in our network of friends and families to adopt these children. David can be reached through His People Christian Church, in Johannesburg.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Stand back from the impeller!

Our swimming pool pressure was too low, so I called our pool service company yesterday. The eager and knowledgeable pool technician calmly recited, as if from a troubleshooting guide, "If pressure is too high, there is air in the system; if it’s too low, the impeller is clogged." Seemed to me that he was telling me to unclog my own impeller.

This brought back to remembrance an incident I had a year or so ago. At that time, I actually tried to clear out the impeller myself, frustrated by darkness, agitation, and a pool party scheduled the next day for 30 people from my son's high school class. Now, at that time, I had no idea that there was something called "an impeller", or that cleaning it would solve the problem. Frustrated with failure, we cancelled the party and called for the pool service the next day to fix the problem. Of course, it was a 5-minute job for them, and they left with these encouraging words, "You *almost* had it, you were so close to fixing it yourself!"

Fast forward to yesterday, I went out to the pool equipment with a couple of wrenches to tackle the problem, emboldened by the remembrance of those encouraging words from last year, "You were so close!"

Well, I failed again; unable to get the ring secured that holds the impeller housing to the motor housing. To me, the bolt was 1/4" too short, and no matter what I did, I could not get the "custom" bolt to grab.

Of course, being the techno-geek guy, I scoured the web for manuals, diagrams, how-to guides, anything that might help me fix the problem. Someday, I hope to be able to find a “pool technician” among my LinkedIn network of local Metro DC connections. And maybe DodgeBall will someday be able to send an SMS text message to a pool technician in my network who just happens to be in my neighborhood, when I have this problem again.

Of course, I couldn't find help online, and called the pool service again to see if they could finish my unfinished project, which they did yesterday afternoon. There's probably a trick to this, which is part of that secret troubleshooting guide that all new pool technicians get along with the secret handshake, that my eager technician has who first answered my call. But since I never actually SEE them fixing it, I'll just have to call them right away when I suspect that the impeller is clogged.

Or maybe, I'll try to fix it again... I was VERY close!

Thursday, May 13, 2004

They'll respect your cane!

I'm sending my blind nine year old daughter out into the world. And its quite enlightening. She has been using a cane during mobility class around school since she was 4, but that's usually only an hour a week. And she is completely proficient at correct cane technique. Now, its time for her to venture out.

My wife took her to a Northern Virginia mall the other day, red and white cane in hand, to familiarize herself with cane travel at the mall. Walking a few steps behind her, my wife watched as my daughter, barely four feet tall, attempted to correctly trail the right wall, which happens to have all of the store openings.

Merchants had their displays protruding out into the main walkway, and the mall stores design their entrances to be stylistic appealing, with different physical entrance designs for every single store. My daughter successfully navigated them, with a bit of frustration, which was expected.

But even worse than that, was that many people basically ignored her, plowing over her, and into her, and her red and white cane, as they rushed through the mall on their super important shopping errands. Now, picture a little 2nd grade Korean blind kid, slowly walking and carefully navigating her path on the right side of the walkway with her mom a few steps behind, and hustling, bustling adults coming toward her on the LEFT side of their walkway, the WRONG SIDE, packages in tow, talking on cell phones or listening to headphones, totally ignoring that SOMEONE ELSE NEEDS THEM TO PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT THEY ARE DOING!

After a couple of incidents, my wife stepped up and told our daughter, "Keep going, THEY'LL RESPECT THE CANE!"

We cannot insulate our daughter from people who are just rude and inconsiderate. But we can raise the awareness for people who just are too busy to notice that there are others in the world that depend on us to notice, that they need our help.

I ride mass transit every day and am always watching to see if someone else might NEED to use my seat. They won't ask. We have to NOTICE!

Be on the lookout for someone who might need your help today! It will make YOUR life more worthwhile, and less busy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

My LinkedIn network is up to over 390,000 members.

I'm third in Washington, DC out of 16,100 locals with 245 connections. I am meeting new people every day with LinkedIn. This is a long way since December 12, 2003, when I joined the other 151 people in the DC area in LinkedIn.

Reid Hoffman, founder and CEO of LinkedIn,accepted my invitation to connect with me yesterday.