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Innovation

Intersections In Real Life

We’re part of many, many networks, all defined by interactions, between people and between things. There’s the obvious wide social network that Facebook’s social graph tries to map (though Marc Smith of the Social Media Research Foundation is currently working with the Node XL graphing tool to find better and more informative ways of drawing social graphs than just pointing at a person and saying “friend”).
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Written by Simon Bisson and  Mary Branscombe on

We’re part of many, many networks, all defined by interactions, between people and between things. There’s the obvious wide social network that Facebook’s social graph tries to map (though Marc Smith of the Social Media Research Foundation is currently working with the Node XL graphing tool to find better and more informative ways of drawing social graphs than just pointing at a person and saying “friend”). Then there’s the web of interactions between our PCs and the Internet, something that tools like Microsoft’s Live Mesh try to manage more effectively. Or if we’re at work, how about the interactions between our documents and our working lives, captured inside Salesforce.com’s Chatter?

Now there’s another way of exploring some of those networks, drawing the social graph using a different set of interactions, between people, places and events. They’re not so much direct interactions, more intersections – which is why the service that’s trying to provide tools for map these interactions is calling itself Intersect (though as Chuck fans we were a little disappointed that it didn’t try to download the entire CIA/NSA database into our heads).

We spent last Thursday at the annual FiRe Global West Coast event in Seattle, a regionally focused spin-off from the larger Future In Review conference held every May, where the folk from Intersect were talking about their service. What they said sounded really rather interesting, as it’s a platform that addresses one of the things that makes human societies tick: the desire to tell stories.

Stories are something that binds us together, giving us a means of sharing experiences and understanding. We’ve all stood there at a networking event, sharing war stories with compatriots from other companies. Some stories pass along good advice, encapsulating best practice in an anecdote, while others are dire warnings of the consequences of certain sets of actions. But above all, they help bring people together and break down barriers. So how can we capture that story telling impulse, and make it work online – especially when we’re sharing our stories with people who aren’t Facebook friends?

That’s where the intersections come in – especially those of place and time. You might have been on the National Mall in Washington DC in October, but that means you could be any one of a million or so visitors to one of the most popular tourist sites in the USA. Your story would still be important, but only to your friends and to anyone putting together a history of the place. But if you’d been there on the day of the March To Restore Sanity/Fear, then you’d be able to share your story with everyone else who’d been there, generating a larger scale picture. The same goes for a university year, or for a company office…

The folk from Intersect describe capturing things this way as a tool for constructive engagement, for building larger stories that happen over time and that take you to places – much like, they say, real life itself. The idea is that people and places can both use the site as a story-telling platform – perhaps bringing together all the comments that people make about a conference like FiRe Global, and turning them into a timeline that shows just how the attendees felt about the sessions, which ones caught their attention, and what were the key facts they wanted to share with everyone else.

With real time information streaming in from all over the web, what’s now needed is a set of tools for editing and curating that information. By adding dimensionality to this hosepipe of information Intersect becomes more than just storytelling – it’s also a site for collaborative curation of information. The more I think about it, the more that last point makes sense, and the more important it actually is. We shouldn’t get caught up in thinking that social sites and services like this compete with the Facebooks of this world. Instead we should seize on them as a tool for finally making sense of that ever growing social network – and a tool for eventually getting rid of that ever overloaded term “friend”….

Simon Bisson

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