Categories blur ... cloud, social and mobile dominate
Cloud technology is ideally suited to integrating applications, according to Bottum. "With its contemporary application architecture using Web services, cloud technology is actually designed to integrate with multiple applications to deliver just the right information to each individual. Cloud, social and mobile are coming together now to deliver rich applications in a very lightweight manner," he says.
Because cloud applications are so easy to start up, it's also possible for users to evaluate them by using them, rather than doing an extensive requirements analysis. "It is still important to consider requirements in developing a strategic view of applications," Bottum says, "but for just seeing if a product will meet user needs, experiencing it is better than reading about it."
Big data challenge
Aster, now owned by Teradata, provides analytic solutions for "big data" through its SQL-MapReduce software. Big data is of great interest because many businesses are generating vast amounts of data. The concept includes not just large volumes of data but also many different data types and the need for rapid analysis. Examples of big data include weather information, seismic information and Web analytics such as path analysis (how the visitor to a website travels through the site). At a certain point, traditional data storage and analytics methods break down, and therefore, new techniques are being developed.
Aster hosts customer meetings to discuss ways of solving problems in big data. When an attendee at one gathering mentioned the need to develop a better way to "sessionize" his company's Web traffic (to find meaningful time intervals at which to analyze clickstream data), another individual at the meeting offered to send a piece of code that would help do that. "On the spot, we decided to form a user community based on social software," says Ryan Garrett, senior marketing manager for Aster.
Garrett chose Mzinga for an online community in which developers could hold discussions and share code. "Mzinga is very robust," says Garrett, "and it can be as flexible or as simple as you want it to be." He established discussion forums for different topics. "This is where we see a lot of action, as well as in our downloads area" Garrett says. "Users can come in, quickly find the function they need and download it."
The community also has a blog in which internal thought leaders post on a variety of forward-looking topics such as what the next generation of BI will look like. Users can also comment, review and rate content on the blog and elsewhere. "The site is a work in progress," Garrett says. "We expect the forum area to grow as the group publishes new materials, training documents and analytics that people can run."
For organizations that have existing sites that are working but do not have a social component, Mzinga can be used as an add-on. "A company that sold vitamins online had an e-commerce site that was struggling because it did not have a way for customers to review and comment," says Mike Merriman, director of strategic services at Mzinga. "One of the market realities is that more people now go online to look at ratings and reviews before making purchase decisions." After deploying Mzinga, the company experienced increased traffic and sales volume. "The analytics in Mzinga allow these results to be linked to social interaction," Merriman adds.
Social software, whether presented as a standalone platform or embedded in an existing application, is allowing relationships to form among workers, partners and customers. Improved integration is allowing more applications to work together as well, and mobility is bringing the resulting functionality to workers wherever they are.
How beliefs proliferate in society
Social media has had a significant impact on events throughout the world over the past few years, dating back to the U.S. presidential election in 2008 and continuing through the recent Arab Spring and riots in England. Yet, few systematic studies have been carried out to determine how beliefs, opinions and actions are transmitted through social media.
At the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (SCNARC), a multidisciplinary team of scientists led by Professor Boleslaw Szymanski created mathematical models to explore the effects of individual beliefs on collective opinion. The surprising result was that when just 10 percent of the population holds an opinion strongly, the opinion will become the prevailing one in a relatively short time.
"In the models, we designated nodes to be speakers and listeners in pairwise interactions, and posited them to be in one of three states at any given time indicating a positive, negative or conflicted opinion," explains Sameet Sreenivasan, a statistical physicist who participated in the study. "Links among them reflected connections that form the network." Three different networks were modeled, each one with a different number of connections among individuals.
The results in all three cases were consistent in showing that with just a small percent of committed individuals, a new opinion could be introduced and take root. That outcome has implications for many situations, ranging from product marketing on the Internet to the dissemination of lifesaving healthcare practices in rural society. Future research at SCNARC will explore other models, such as the effects of a polarized society on the beliefs of a society at large.