Citizen Kane


Many years ago, there was the door-to-door salesman. He would vend encyclopedias, vacuum cleaners, cosmetics, housewares, etc. There are no more door-to-door salesmen; they all use the telephone and work out of a massive call centre in India with their university-taught mid-western-American accent. Saves gas; good for the environment.

In my job I receive many calls from vendors interested in offering their products and services. Often these calls are unsolicited. I generally thank them for considering us in their marketing campaign. In one sense it elevates my sense of importance; that I was chosen to receive the call. They wouldn’t call me if they didn’t think I had some influence, some power, some ability to make things happen. Their perspective must be substantiated on some reputation.

Many of my reputable colleagues also receive calls from vendors. They too must feel good about receiving these calls. Quite often they are the same vendor. In some instances a vendor will call many people in our firm and thus in all likelihood make many of them happy too. I think this is why our firm is such a great place to work. However, in reality the barrage of calls is really an attempt to try and get a foot in the door: try enough people you’re likely to get a hit.

Recognizing that a barrage is underway displaces that initial happiness about receiving the call with distrust. On several occasions some colleagues and I have tried to co-ordinate among ourselves a record of the vendor contacts we have made. This would help us in our dealings with such vendors and help us identify those that are making cold-calls across our firm. But this is easier said than done. The difficulty lies in the completeness of individual record submissions, getting all those contacted to contribute and then sustaining the effort.

However, if one imagines a scenario where everyone in our firm did record all their vendor contacts with complete detail the resulting information base would be quite interesting. There must be hundreds of contacts made each day. With a complete record we would know how many contacts were made, with how many vendors. When a vendor cold-calls me, I could quickly find out who else they have been talking to and get a sense of what they have been talking about. I could minimize the situations where a vendor calls and says “so-and-so suggested I call you” when in fact the opposite message was given by so-and-so.

In technical terms, one can imagine a gigantic web of conversations linking vendors and my happy colleagues. Properly tagged this web can be searched to find specific conversations on some topic with a vendor. Going further, a tagged web can be subjected to analytical tools to provide regular reports on vendor contacts, or should the situation arise, to review a history of contacts.

These technologies are already exist today. Many social networking programs, such as FaceBook, establish such webs (called Social Graphs) and meanwhile services like Flickr offer the means to tag photographs. But there are hundreds of tagging services that cover photography, news, and people. The pieces are available.

Twine is a service that puts these things together.

Twine is a new service that intelligently helps you share, organize and find information with people you trust. Twine offers the means to collectively contribute and share information among your colleagues in a more productive and organized manner. With Twine one can keep track of emails, bookmarks, documents, RSS feeds, contacts, photos, videos, product info, and data records.

This sounds like an ideal tool to address the vendor challenge. Based on the list of media that it is able to record and its ability to “intelligently help” it is likely to support other collaborative processes. For example, we might narrow our vendor contact example to focus on a specific purchase. The issuance of a Request For Proposal (RFP) initiates a formal process for purchasing products from vendors. The process has to be uncorrupted and incorruptible. Tracking all related documentation used to develop the RFP, all internal communications on the subject, background market research; a record of all the collaborations that went into preparing, reviewing, negotiating and actual purchase of the product would offer a record and demonstrate the integrity of the process. From an operational perspective, it could materially enhance the productivity of the team assembled to undertake the RFP. Often these teams are drawn from multiple different departments, and locations, each contributing different skills and expertise. Physically assembling the team and then co-ordinating their contributions can be a major challenge. Twine could mitigate many of the challenges related to contributing information but may be more importantly communicating what’s going on.

The Twine web site offers a vision of the extent to which this tool can be used. It starts rather philosophically by stating “You are like a snowflake – you are totally one-of-a-kind.” This starts the path into a discussion that is less about a corporate application and more about the individual. “Twine recognizes what makes you special: your unique interests, personality, knowledge and relationships, to help you find and discover things, and be found by others, more relevantly.”

Technology Review summarized Twine:

Twine is a website where people can dump information that’s important to them, from strings of e-mails to YouTube videos. Or, if a user prefers, Twine can automatically collect all the Web pages she visited, e-mails she sent and received, and so on. Once Twine has some information, it starts to analyze it and automatically sort it into categories that include the people involved, concepts discussed, and places, organizations, and companies. This way, when a user is searching for something, she can have quick access to related information about it.

It all sounds rather Orwellian. No doubt the information is already there. The cookie crumbs of ones travels across the internet are already laid each day in many of those forms. But there’s been nothing in public hands to orchestrate it all. However the data collection doesn’t stop there. Imagine if you could share the information collected on other people?

Twine also uses elements of social networking so that a user has access to information collected by others in her network. All this creates a sort of “collective intelligence,”

“Collective Intelligence.” It all sounds rather ominous to me, yet not totally unexpected. No doubt a tool born of idealistic social service, but gradually evolving into one enabling the ruthless pursuit of power and ego at any cost [1].

I’ve signed up for the service. With fewer vendor calls, I’m going to need to supplement my sources of happiness.


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