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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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Small Pieces Loosely Reviewed

Recently I read Small Pieces Loosely Joined, a unified theory of the web, by David Weinberger. This by way of preparation for the Blogtalk conference in Vienna, May 23rd-24th, where David Weinberger will be a key-note speaker.

It is a well written, easy to read book, and that is where I at first got off on the wrong foot. The conversational tone of Davids book is not what I traditionally expect of serious reading, which Small Pieces is. But that, in the end says more about me, and about the environment I was taught in (what's difficult is serious, what's fun can't be worth much), than about the content of Davids book. In fact it's one of the points David wants to make, I think. (see the paragraph on knowledge further down)

Small Pieces Loosely Joined sets out to chart the Web as a New World, which brings with it the need to rethink our concepts of Space, Time, Perfection, Togetherness, Knowledge, Matter and Hope, to see how these concepts might work out different between the Web and the physical world of our everyday surroundings. No technology in this book? No, of course wires, chips, condensators, coils, are the infrastructure the web is build on, but that's not what takes place within it. The Web is a world we've made for one another. It can be understood only within a web of ideas that includes our culture's foundational thoughts, with human spirit lingering at every joining point. That's philosophy, not technology, and rightly so.

Central observations in this book are:

We experience the web as a world, a space, we can travel around in. That's because we've come to confuse Measured Space (the 3d grid we have laid upon the universe to specify locations) and Lived Space, the places we live in with the things that surround us with the emotions, associations and memories that are attached to them. On the Web there is no space at all, but it's full of places, which makes us experience it as a space. Nearness on the Web is created by interest; if something is interesting it will be linked to.

Time we generally perceive as a string of beads, when a moment has passed it is gone forever. On the Web past moments (messages etc.) turn into places, and become part of the Web-world. Also different timelines, different stories, we can leave and come back to when we wish. All these timelines intertwined become part of the one timeline that is my life.

Perfection is not something for the Web, except in places like on-line stores where we expect the information to be accurate and the functionality to be flawless. The Web celebrates our imperfection, which is a basic trait of humanity.(p.94)

Togetherness. The web is a new social and public place. We form groups there based on our interests that aren't unique. In the physical world however, when groups swell to masses we become faceless, our individuality becomes invisible within the mass. Not so on the web, there we retain our individual recognizability within the multitude. (p.120)

Knowledge has become too boney says David. Defining knowledge the traditional way as true statements we are justified believing, is like explaining sex without saying it feels good. (p.142) Boney knowledge is context-free and universal, whereas the Web adds context and locality again, putting meat and fat on the bones. It's a plea for knowledge as storytelling basically, and as a knowledge manager I recognize the value in that. However by denouncing 'boney' knowledge as reductionist David in my opinion goes of the track a bit. He uses a whole expose on thought experiments concerning artificial intelligence to show how 'boney' knowledge wants us to perceive our brain as a mere algorithm, and contrasting it with the full range of experiences we have. I don't know if David read Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Daniel C. Dennett, but maybe it would help him appreciate the fact that reductionism in itself helps greatly in understanding how we came about. It's 'greedy reductionism' (the phrase is Dennett's) that is to be denounced. But reductionism in itself does not take away from the wonder of our full range of experiences, of feeling alive. It merely aims to provide a non-miracular explanation of how that came about. Greedy reductionism tries to do away with enjoying the wonder of the results as well.

We have become used to favouring the physical over the mental. We understand our mental processes somehow as representations of the outside world in our brain. Thus we say things like what we call 'fear' is really just the release of powerful chemicals in our bloodstream. How about saying the release of powerful chemicals into our bloodstream is really just 'fear'? (p. 154) The former is a picture of us locked into our heads, but we actually live in the midst of friends and family. Our passions and feelings are part of us discovering the world and assigning meaning to it. In the same way knowledge is made boney, the emphasis on matter versus mental takes our human contextuality out of the equation. The Web puts that back. The Web is all things considered unreal, bits don't exist yet they convey information. It's the connections, the links, that make the web what it is. Thus with our lives: it's the people we live with, what we share, that makes live 'real' to us.

The Web has been heralded as a revolution several times over. But after the dot com bust we could also say that nothing has changed much with the advent of the web. However the Web is not about revolution, but about evolution (and that's why I think David should not have done away with reductionism so easily). The idea of it will have its deepest effect, not it's current state or form. The Web is set to change and challenge some of the basic cultural default believes we hold, and will do so gradually, or better we will do it ourselves as the citizens of this new world the Web is. We will bind it to our physical world and existence in a myriad of ways, and will try to translate the things we think useful or special on the Web into parts of the physical worlds, and vice versa. It will take time, this journey to make our Web what we want it to be, and the journey will reshape us; the paradox of life itself. This blog is merely one little face in the mass adding to it.

I'd say read it, this conversational book of philosophy!
And the universal theory of the web? Oops, haven't mentioned it, now did I? Must be because it's not there, that one place that expresses our knowledge for all time and perfectly states what ultimately matters to all of us together. If you pick up the book hoping for the One Final Answer, that will be hope in vain. But on the other hand, the book will explain exactly why that is: the Web's about humanity. So pick it up anyway.

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The Techie Viewpoint

Last Friday I attended the presentation of a fraternity friend of mine who presented his masters thesis, as the last step in finishing his study in informatics at our Alma Mater.

He had made a theoretical model for, and built a prototype of, a webportal for a defense contractor here in the Netherlands. From his presentation I concluded I have moved away significantly from the technological viewpoint and also the more industrial organisational model. In his presentation much emphasis was given to security issues, in fact the whole model was focussing on it. Not very strange for a defense contractor, but in all his story the people meant to use the system were never once mentioned.....
Pondering how it was that apart from the users, his presentation also left out almost all aspects I would deem important in these kinds of projects (e.g. sharing to name but one), I came to the conclusion I could have held the same presentation 8 years ago, and believe every word of it. It's just that I, while still understanding the technological aspects, have moved away from the techie viewpoint. It's in building bridges between people and technology that I have found joy in my work, and I now seem to have built my dwellings on that bridge in good old medieval style.

Making my home on the bridge (picture: Ponte Vecchio, Firenze, Italy)

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Merging Your Blog Seamlessly

One of the things that can become a pain in the proverbial you know what is having to do things twice. That's why I bought a PDA, and want to synchronize my PDA with both my Outlook and my CRM calendars, in stead of keeping more than one diary/calendar at a time. Via Terry Frazier here's the story of how to add items from your calendar to your Blog seamlessly.

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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.
This is my blogchalk:
Netherlands, Overijssel, Enschede, Bothoven, Dutch, English and German, Ton, Male, 31-35, knowledge management.