Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Social Relationships don't count until they count

There is a game called "the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" which tries to link between any Kevin Bacon and any other actor in less than six steps.  This is a popular version of the "small world" thesis put forwards by Stanley Milgram.  In these days of Social Media and "relationships" there is a massive hype around farming these relationships with an implicit assumption that someone with lots of relationships is more valuable than someone who doesn't

The problem is that in reality this is all a version of the Travelling Salesman problem with everyone assuming that every link is of the same value.  The reality is that links have different values based on their strengths so understanding how individuals are actually related is significantly more complex than many social media "experts" would have you believe.

What do I mean by this?  Well my "Obama Number" is 4 as, via my wife, I can trace to Obama in 4 steps with each individual step being reasonably strong.  By reasonably strong I mean that each link has met the previous link several times and probably could put a name to the face.  Now the variability of strengths on these links is huge, from my wife (hopefully a strong link) to people who move in similar social circles and then into the political sphere where the connection to Obama is made.

I've a Myra Hindley number of 2 as I have a friend who met her more than once (before her conviction).

So for Republicans and Tea Party nut-jobs this means that its 6 steps max from Obama to a child killer.  Does this mean there is a relationship worth knowing or caring about?  Nope.

So how to weight relationships and how to weight each step within the graph?  Well this is actually pretty simple.  Lets say A has a relationship to B via a social network, lets call that a score of 0.0001.  Lets say that B (who is the person) has a score of 1.0.  So for each interaction between two individuals you then look at the strength from A to B.

  1. How many times does A post to B?  If  > 10 then add 0.0001
  2. How many times does B post to A?  If > 10 then add 0.001 (i.e. B connects to A, hence more likely to be mutual) for each multiple of 10
  3. How many times does B indicate that they are at the same place as A? If > 10 then add 0.001 per 10
  4. How many times does a voucher provided to A get used by B? If  > 10 then add 0.1 per 10
  5. Are they directly related or married? If cousin or less then add 0.5
  6. Do they work closely together? If within 1 reporting hop add 0.2
  7. How many times have they met? If > 10 then add 0.05 per 10
What I'm saying is that its actually the interactions that matter to back up the social experience rather than the existence of a social link.

So while from Obama to me is 4 steps I'd say that overall its pretty weak (0.8 * 0.2 * 0.2 * 0.2 =  0.0064) a .64% link which really means I'm not worth lobbying to get influence over the US president.

This is where the combination of Big Data analytics could really deliver value, by understand the true weightings on individual relationships and from that determining the real genuine paths to the maximum possible market for the minimum effort.

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

iCloud 2.0 - CloudApps

2 years ago I wrote a post on why Apple might dominate the cloud and how an integrated offline/cloud backup solution would both offer more value from Apple's cloud but also offer more of a lock-in. I do like it when a prediction comes pretty much spot on, even if they've only just started doing what I thought they would.

Now the iCloud 1.0 is just a pretty basic sync, and as predicted, it does provide a premium service that includes the ability to sync your whole library. It doesn't appear to do the interface suggestion I made of integrating it directly into the iPod player but instead requiring you to go via the iTunes application, but that really is a minor improvement (and not a difficult one to do either). So we can see that now they've added in the cloud backup for iOS it surely can't be long before its extended to include OS X, especially as its effectively including it for photos already.

What next for Apple and the cloud?

Well one thing they haven't done yet is automate some of this sync, so when I say in iTunes "last 5 un-played" it doesn't automatically do the update on your device but this is a minor piece really.

The bigger thing that isn't in there yet though is the idea of using processing on the cloud rather than simply storage. So doing things like fancy video effects rendered on the cloud would be a good way to extend the experience on both the desktop and the mobile world to include a whole new generation of Apps.
So you don't just have the back-up/sync and all of those other elements but once you have your information being exchanged in this way you open the world to more consumer focused applications, or cloud extensions to existing applications.

Microsoft already have a limited part of this with their cloud services, but they don't appear to have either the co-ordination, brand or vision to make it really happen. Google might have an opportunity with their services and Android but the control of the handset manufacturers and operators might stop them.

The other people who should be worried are Facebook. The point of CloudApps is going to be towards collaboration and multiple users, sharing and the like. So while Ping hasn't been a success this application centric cloud approach could give Apple just what it wants - control within the social media space.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

What REST needs to do to succeed in the enterprise

In the spirit of constructive criticism here is what REST needs to do in order to succeed in the enterprise and B2B markets, the sort of markets that make actual revenues and profits as opposed to hype markets with the stability of a bubble.

First off there is the mental change required, four steps here.
  1. Focus on how people and especially teams work
  2. Accept that HTTP isn't a functional API
  3. Accept that enterprise integration, B2B and Machine to Machine require a new approach
  4. Accept that the integration technology isn't the thing that delivers value
The point here is that REST won't move on and be successful beyond blogs and some very cool web sites and technologies unless it shifts away from technical purism and focuses instead on making the delivery of enterprise software solutions easier. This means helping disparate teams to work better together, and how do you do that.....
Seriously its that easy. The reason why WSDL succeeded in the enterprise is that it gave a very simple way of doing just this. The interface contract needs to define a limited number of things
  1. What is the function being invoked (for REST this could just be a description)
  2. What data can be passed and will be returned
  3. How to invoke it (that would be the URI and the method (POST, GET, PUT, DELETE))
This contractual definition should be a standard which is agreed, and adhered to, by core enterprise vendors and supported by tools. Now before people scream "but that is against what REST is about" well then you have a simple choice
  1. REST remains a niche technology
  2. REST becomes used in the enterprise
Now in order to become more used we need to also agree things like how you do user authentication, field level security & encryption, rules for reliability on non-idempotent requests, so you know whether your POST request really worked....

So what else does REST need to do? Well it needs to focus on tools because plumbing has zero value. Dynamism does happen but its measured in weeks and months not in days which means an agile release process can handle it perfectly well so all that dynamism and low level coding doesn't really add anything to enterprise development.

This is a key point, something I raised in 2006 (SOA v REST more pointless than vi v emacs) the value is what happens AFTER the call is made, focusing on making the calling "better" is just pointless, the aim is to make the calling as simple as possible.

So basically to succeed REST needs to copy the most successful part of SOAP... the WSDL, sorry folks but an "improved" WSDL based around REST and the associated tooling is required.

Or alternatively the REST crowd could just bury its head in the sand and pretend that its the fault of the enterprise that REST isn't being adopted.

And remember:

There is no value in integration only in what integration enables.

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