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The next Facebook and the ‘reputation economy’

feature-like-200At first it was organising and selling user-generated content and data, now it seems “they” don’t even need you.

What if there was a company that scraped the web and mapped your connections, showing you how many “degrees of separation” you were from other power players in your industry? Key decision makers? Policy makers? Unlike Facebook and Linkedin, it doesn’t require any input from you – as your data is already out there.

And to see these connections, it would cost say $3000 a year. You could type in “James Packer” and the search engine would scan for people you know and who also know James Packer, mapping secondary or tertiary connections.

It will then tell you how you are connected, maybe through friends or boards or organisations and even grade the quality of those connections (strong, average or weak).

And it’s already here according to an article in the New York Times by Andrew Ross Sorkin. It seems this is another technology that will be in play in the “reputation economy”.

Neil Goldman is the founder of the start-up Relationship Science that is focusing on mapping the corporate elite of America. As Goldman comments in Sorkin’s NYT article: “We live in a service economy… building relationships is the most important part for selling and growing.” Yet, there are limits, says Mr Goldman; while the technology provides the map, you still need the “art” of relationship building.

The way this technology provides a map of network ties, relates to classic sociological ideas about networks; ideas that are increasingly important to articulate in entrepreneurship education. Beyond widely understood notions of six degrees of separation, sociologist Professor Mark Granovetter coined the now classic phrase “the strength of weak ties”.

This refers to the value that comes from having access and connections to many diverse groups of people. These ties, while weak or casual, are indispensable for entrepreneurs in identifying opportunities, gathering knowledge across multiple industries or multiple levels in an organisation, creating and recognising market trends, and hopefully positioning yourself as a broker between these diverse groups.

This is important in our understandings of the entrepreneurial process as most new ideas don’t come from the strike of a lightning bolt, they are often borrowed, adapted, transplanted from one industry or sector to another. What might seem old fashioned in one industry is breakthrough in another.

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