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Moving Blog

Please all be advised that I have MOVED MY BLOG to WWW.ZYLSTRA.ORG/BLOG!

In the coming days I will still be posting my messages in both this and the new blog. Please adjust the rss-feed you subscribe to for my blog in your news aggregators.
You can find my new RSS-feed here: .

I would appreciate meeting you all on my new URL to continue the discussion, as I have greatly valued all your input in the last 6 months. Thanks!

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Tipping Point Questions

In my last post I talked about the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. The point of view it offers is certainly intriguing, but at the same time I formulated several reservations. I'll try and list my questions here.

Law of the Few
Three specific type of people, Mavens, Connectors and Salesmen, are the ones to target for creating your own epidemic. These types of people are proposed to be scarce, yet "everybody knows one" in their own circle. I'm not bothered with the classification, and I do know several people who would fit the profiles, but what about all the other people. The poor saps that aren't one of those three, what's left for them? The role of sheep following the lead of their herdsman?

It's not so much that I believe everybody should have a 'special' role, but it's the sheer absence of a place in it all for ordinary people and the total passivity that that seems to imply that I find odd. It reminds me of the mindless consumer mass marketing wants to target. In the end it is all the John and Jane Does that make your little epidemic a success, isn't it?

As to finding out who the Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen are that you need to target, could Social Network Analysis help you find them?

The Connectors would be the easiest to spot with SNA I think. They're the community straddlers, the ones linking different circles. Mavens might be found by asking specific questions when collecting data for your SNA. Questions like "Who in your community would you go to with questions about......." And the same goes for salesmen, I think, if you ask who you think has authority on certain issues in your community.

But SNA probably would only work within a small and well defined setting, such as a SME, or a neigbourhood community. It's not the route to spot all connectors that could matter to you within the EU. How to find them then? Mavens probably could be found through forums, mailinglists etc. Salesmen? Connectors? I don't know.

This is an interesting part. Stickiness in the book is an elusive concept. The cases it describes summon a picture of rigorous testing until you find the right packaging of your message that sticks with your target audience (again, leaving out looking at the message itself).

But that is precisely what you cannot afford to do if you're the one without extensive means that wants to create big change with little to go on, the one that this book says to provide hope for.

Testing your message until it sticks brings to mind testing panels, going into communities and groups and see what doesn't work. And then going back again after each adjustment to do it all again until it works.

I am very curious what Lilia Efimova comes up with regarding the stickiness of blogs. (And would she also be able to say something of who blogs? Mavens, connectors and salesmen alike, or in different proportions?)

All in all I think in order to say something more about stickiness, the cases in the book provide too little substance. But I bet in communication sciences and even marketing as well as pihlosophical aspects of language clues can be found as to what might be sticky and what not.

Power of Context
Two aspects are mentioned in the book. One, the effect our living space can have on us and our emotions. Two, the size of our social network we are able to handle. These are both factors Malcolm Gladwell says can be used. Other contextualities, such as broader cultural traits, and individual history are not mentioned. Because they can't be influenced, at least not by the small changes sought for? Nevertheless they will probably influence acceptance of the idea you want to spread.

The sizes of network we can handle, with the magic number of 150 as a limit, based on our channel capacity is interesting if you compare it with what amongst others Ross Mayfield has been blogging about types of blogs and their audiences. Maybe I did not read the text closely enough but Malcolm Gladwell seems to say this 150 is a definite maximum. I think it is more like not being able to handle more than that in a given situation, but very possible to handle multiple networks of that size, just not at the same time. Otherwise Connectors would be in dire straits wouldn't they?

The challenge: starting an epidemic
What I really would like to see, and I wrote that yesterday as well, is a predictive application of these epidemical concepts. Can we, a group of let's say twenty bloggers, think up a message or idea we want to spread, and then purposefully start or own little epidemic? I would love to experiment with that. Maybe Blogtalk in Vienna is a great place to get together and discuss this more vigorously. In the mean time we could start by proposing what message to spread and whom to spread it to. Any takers?

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The Tipping Point

How little things can make a big difference is what Malcolm Gladwell sets out to show in his book The Tipping Point. He does this by outlining how epidemics can be characterized. This book certainly was an interesting read, as it offers a way of looking at change from a different perspective. Because how is it that a brilliant idea might not become a huge success, and other lesser ideas turn into the biggest current thing?

Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point
(interview with the author)

The standard reaction, stemming from a century of command and control mass production, of managers would probably be that there must be some big and crucial factors at play in such a situation. Malcolm says it’s more likely to be trivialities that determine the outcome. Trivialities that turn your idea into an epidemic. Or do not. The tipping point is the moment in which something suddenly spreads in exponential fashion, and becomes epidemic.

There are of course technological examples of how trivialities determine outcome. We now all have electrical refrigerators humming in our kitchens in stead of the more efficient and totally silent gas operated ones, because one of the original players in the market in the 1920’s and 1930’s, GE, also had a stake in energy production, and added $0.50 worth of revenue for electricity consumption per annum for every refrigerator sold. Now this is a trivial fact, but clearly not a trivial business decision. Here evidently the better idea lost out.

The problem with technology assessment as with predicting the future in general is what inputs to adhere weight to and not. Usually this is easily done with 20/20 hindsight, and that is also the bit that bugs me reading the Tipping Point. The big question that remains after reading this book is, how to apply this, how to combine this very interesting epidemic perspective with my own decisions and e.g. attempts to implement KM ideas in organisations? And also very important, how to apply this without it becoming pure manipulation? In short I would like to see planned for epidemics documented which took this book’s construct as a basis for action, in stead of cases that in hindsight fit the description.

But let’s have a look at a summary of the book to familiarize yourself with its terminology. (or read a summary by Robert Paterson)

Central to the book are three theories regarding epidemics:

The Law of the Few

This ‘law’ says it takes only a few, but crucial, people to turn something into an epidemic. Mavens, Connectors and Salesmen. The mavens are knowledgeable about a certain topic, the Connectors know a lot of people and can spread ideas from one circle to another, the Salesmen ‘sell’ the idea within their own circle. It takes one or more of these chains of maven connector and salesman to make an idea reach a broader audience and become a success.

The Stickiness Factor

Now an idea can be great and it’s spreading can be huge thanks to the types of people above, but if a message is not sticky it will only be a temporary blimp on anyone’s radar, and then die. No buzz, in short. Stickiness is the packaging of a message you have to choose in order to make it irresistible. Stickiness in this book remains somewhat elusive, except that stickiness might be greatly enhanced by knowing a lot about the people you want to reach with the message and design the packaging accordingly, and that simple changes to the packaging if it’s not catching on are often much more effective than total repackaging. But in the end, there is a simple way to package information, which under the right circumstances can make it irresistible. You just have to find it In Dutch we would call such a statement kicking in an already open door.

The Power of Context

Context is also important in reaching the Tipping Point. Malcolm Gladwell names two contextual factors, environmental aspects, and our social networks.

The first factor, environmental aspects, is based on the notion that our emotions and actions can be shaped by the space we live in. If a street is full of graffity and broken windows, the resulting atmosphere attracts crime like street robbery etc. However if it’s neat and clean, with flowers from every window that chance is much smaller. Likewise if next to a waste bin at a bus stop there is already one piece of litter on the ground, chances are people will add to that. If there’s nothing on the ground, people tend to throw their litter in the bin as well. Change these environmental factors and you can change behaviour. It is on this notion that the New York City Police based its zero tolerance policy.

The second factor is the number of people around us. We have a limited capacity in dealing with keeping track of the relationships between us and the individuals of the group we live in, and those between other individuals in our group. This channel capacity is seems to lie around the number of 150, with a much smaller group of about 12 to whom we feel the strongest ties. Go beyond the 150 and alienation between individuals will occur. Nomadic tribes seem to adhere to these numbers, as do military units.

For an idea to become epidemic you will have to keep this threshold of 150 in mind. It will not do to convince a whole stadium with 15.000 of something; the mass will go home not remembering you. But reach a 100 of those groups of 150 and you’re rocking. Now the book seems to imply that each of us functions in a context of about 150 people.
That does not sound right to my ears, especially if I look at the examples given. For instance a company is mentioned that is organised in independent business units of 150 people. But each of those 150 employees will have a life outside of the company as well, so even if those workers indeed know 150 people, they won’t be all colleagues. Is Malcolm Gladwell implying we can only keep track of a group of 150 people at any one time, but can easily switch groups, because that is what seems to fit my own experience more? Or is it that I’m more the connector type that I think that threshold of around 150 people doesn’t hold up?


What seems to be unsettling to me in this book is that, even if it places human interaction, and especially face to face conversations, at the heart of epidemics of ideas, it also seems to provide a mechanistic, command and control like approach to stuffing you ideas through someone’s throat. Find the right people, find the right package and you’re in business. Or did I miss the part where he says that if the message stinks, or is some bogus marketing line, an epidemic will not happen even if you got the right people and message?

Nonetheless the book is intriguing, and well worth reading, because it promises the possibility of success, of reaching the tipping point without having access to vast resources. In the next post I’ll try and go into questions and consequences.

one match can set everything alight: how small things can change the world

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Broadband for Rural Communities

My brother in law works with 1st Broadband, a company that sets up wireless broadband internet infrastructures in rural communities where the big telco's are unlikely to provide wired infrastructure any time soon. They've just kicked off their first project in Penwith in Cornwall, UK. I think these are great initiatives.

First of all they only start a project if a community is explicitly asking for it. So there is a lot of community effort behind these projects, and it is always amazing of what community initiatives can achieve with next to nothing to work with in terms of funding and material. The generation of that kind of energy is a benefit in itself, and something many companies might learn from. Second connecting villages to the internet positions them closer to the outside world. Not geographically of course, but as David Weinberger said in his book, nearness on the net is determined by interest.

This works in two ways. It reduces the villagers distance to outside sources of information, enlargening their scope of what the world is they live in. And also it reduces the distance of us to the village as well, possibly making these villages more attractive for us city dwellers to locate a business or do business.
The former, enlargening scope, based on research, is an important in improving independence and self sustainability of people and communities. The latter might help in turning around the trend of a slowly depopulating countryside because jobs are found elsewhere, leaving less and less people behind, until there are not enough people to sustain primary services like local schools, foodstores etc., which in the end kills the community entirely.
Now three villages in Cornwall have indicated they want to do this too.

making a village even more attractive with full connectivity

And after all, if broadband is available in the countryside, it might even be possible someday to start living 'outside' and still enjoy all the connectivity I'm used to here in the city. ;)

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Planning to Move

After writing this blog at Blogspot for 6 months now, I have found that it increasingly bothers me not to have personal control over content and comments and being dependent on third party services, that sometimes proof unreliable. Not really surprising since these are all free services. Since I think the experimental phase of my blog is now over, in the sense that blogging has become part of my regular activities, I have decided it is time to take things into my own hand.

For that I am now configuring Moveable Type on my home based server, and have bought two domain names. I could not choose between the two, so I took both.
The first is, which I took because it is nice to have a domain featuring my own name. (it's a .org because all others are taken, also my name is spelled with ij in stead of y, but that has proven to be too difficult for non-Dutch.) The other is since I think Interdependent Thoughts is a good name for a blog, and sort has become a brand in that respect. However Interdependentthoughts is probably not so attractive, thus I decided for The .biz again because all others had been taken. What do you think about these domain names?

In the coming days I will move everything from this blog to the new server, and then stop using Blogger. I will not take Blogger of line in order not to let all the references rot. Maybe I'll rewrite the Archive pages to point to the new site, but that is not on my list of priorities now.

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Or in English "Queens Day", is a national holiday in the Netherlands, celebrating the Queens birthday, even if April 30th isn't her birthday, but her mothers. It's just that her own birthday on January 31st isn't exactly the ideal time of year to turn the country into one big open air festival.

Koninginnedag is the day the country turns brightly orange, after the name of the Royal Family which is the House of Orange. It's the day everybody turns out to what must be the biggest jumblesale and open air festival and party in one. I am on the local committee in my home town organising all the events, and for me it is sort of the busiest and funniest day of the year. Had a great time!

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Blogtalk Papers

Jose Luis Orihuela (blog: eCuaderno) has posted his paper for the Blogtalk Conference, titled 'Blogging and the eCommunication Paradigms'.
Lilia Efimova has posted some of the collected data for her paper online as well, and struggles to keep to her schedule.

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Ton/Male/31-35. Lives in Netherlands/Overijssel/Enschede/Bothoven, speaks Dutch, English and German. Spends 80% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes knowledge management.
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